Small Business Saturday Restaurants

Black Friday is the day for big box stores and national restaurant chains, making it hard for smaller restaurants to compete on the same level. Luckily, there’s the Small Business Saturday movement, which is a great way for independent restaurant owners to capitalize on the exciting start of the holiday season.

American Express first started promoting the Saturday after Thanksgiving as ‘Small Business Saturday’ in 2010. It’s a day geared at encouraging communities to support local, independently-owned small businesses. Over the years, the movement has gained traction,  and was nationally recognized by the U.S. Senate. In 2018, 104 million shoppers spent a record high of $17.8 billion on Small Business Saturday, according to the Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey.

11 Small Business Saturday Ideas for Restaurants 

Small Business Saturday may have had its roots in retail, but local restaurants are a driver of the movement as well. Here are some ways that restaurants can embrace the movement and use it as a catalyst to bring in new guests, increase repeat business, and reward your most loyal customers.

restaurants small business saturday

1. Offer Small Business Saturday specials 

A prix-fixe lunch special for shoppers needing to refuel, or a special signature cocktail at the bar during happy hour can celebrate the theme. Try to incorporate the spirit of the day by using only local ingredients or working with independent suppliers in your local community.

2. Host a Small Business Saturday event 

What can you do that’s special for the day, and compliments all the happenings in your neighborhood? Host a pop-up event by teaming up with a local bakery and letting them sell their pastries, a happy hour with a local microbrewery, or run a special deal on your restaurant gift certificates for people who dine and buy on that day. 

3. Hold a tasting 

Tasting events are growing in popularity and a great way to engage with potential new customers. Set up an area for people to enjoy a small sample of one of your most popular dishes or cocktails, and perhaps hand out coupons for 10% off the check or a free appetizer during a future visit to encourage guests to return.

4. Team up with neighbors 

The best part about Small Business Saturday is the community spirit that spreads throughout the neighborhood. Meet with other like-minded (but non-competitive) local businesses to see how you can cross-promote each other. If a local gift shop is having an event, you can contribute a coupon for a free glass of wine to their goodie bag. The idea is for each business to encourage visits to other local participants by working together.

5. Become a Neighborhood Champion 

If you have a highly involved community, you might even become the organizer yourself by signing up as a Neighborhood Champion. You can turn the day into a neighborhood shopping crawl or block party, where guests can win an array of prizes if they visit a certain number of participating shops. Make it fun by adding a trivia or scavenger hunt game where patrons get a card stamped or punched. A completed card puts them into drawings for prizes (and allows each business to expand their contact lists!).

6. Give other small business owners a deal 

Offer other business owners a way to unwind after what could be their busiest sales day of the year by offering them a free specialty cocktail or menu item as a day-of promotion.

7. Register with American Express 

AmEx runs a huge social media campaign around Small Business Saturday so be sure to register your business. Doing so will let you access downloadable materials that can be easily customized with your business name, so you can use them for social media, your blog, and elsewhere. You can also create some signage for your storefront if you’re in an area with a lot of foot traffic. If you use the official hashtags #SmallBizSat and #ShopSmall, your business will be searchable on the American Express website, allowing you to reach a whole new audience.

8. Reconnect with your loyal customers 

This is a great time to reach out to members of your loyalty program with a quick email blast to keep them updated on events and specials. Including an exclusive offer to those receiving the email can help with customer retention and show appreciation to guests who believe in supporting small businesses.

restaurants small business saturday

9. Motivate your staff

Nothing sells your business better than the excitement and passion of your employees, so if you want Small Business Saturday to be a hit, get them in the spirit. Consider a friendly internal competition, in which employees receive prizes for selling the most gift cards, collecting the most loyalty card sign-ups, or displaying the most holiday cheer.

10. Think beyond Small Business Saturday 

Small Business Saturday is the perfect day to forge new relationships. Look for ways to extend the holiday by promoting gift cards and other holiday gift ideas with in-store signage and mentions from your servers. You’ll not only drive day-of sales, you’ll also get the chance to impress even more diners who come in to cash in their gift cards after the holidays.

11. Encourage social media posts 

Make sure patrons know about hashtags for your business and your neighborhood event. Set up a selfie station with some props that complement your restaurant and encourage customers to share photos on social media and tag your business with the hashtag #shopsmall. 

Small Business Saturday can help kick off the holiday season in your neighborhood with a genuine sense of fun and community. Get organized, have fun, and start the holiday season off with an amazing day.

Download Upserve’s free State of the Restaurant Industry Report to learn about the spending and dining habits of guests in your area.

Marketing Your Restaurant for Small Business Saturday 

Not sure where to start when it comes to promoting a big event like Small Business Saturday? Check out some key marketing terms below to help get you started.

Creating a Campaign

Campaign is a term used to reference almost any kind of organized marketing effort.

You may launch an email campaign to promote an event or special, run a series of ad campaigns in local papers, or embark on a social media campaign to drive awareness for your family night specials. An important part of any well-organized campaign should be a clearly defined goal, such as acquiring new customers or increasing ticket averages, and being able to measure those goals.

Return on Investment (ROI) 

ROI is the measure of what you get in return for the investment you make in any given marketing campaign.

While it may seem simple, calculating this number properly can be challenging. For example, does the ROI of a campaign stop after your campaign is complete, or should you be tracking the spend of customers acquired through that campaign as they return to your business again and again?

Your restaurant analytics software should have advanced campaign reporting that allows you to track a group of customers acquired during a specific campaign on an on-going basis to see how many of them return and the value they add to your business over time.


This is the general term given to a series of data points and metrics, presented in an easy to understand visual way that helps to quantify performance.

Google was one of the first to make this phrase popular with their online analytics platform that helps measure website performance, but today offline analytics are a valuable ally to brick and mortar businesses as well. Any business owner looking to optimize operations, grow sales, and create repeat customers need analytics. With the insights analytics provide, you can make better marketing and operational decisions based on real data, not just intuition.

At minimum, a good restaurant analytics platform should provide insights into sales, customer visits, menu item popularity, staff performance, operational costs, profit margins, and staff retention.

restaurants small business saturday

Customer Retention

You already know what this means, but what does this have to do with marketing? While you want to be acquiring new customers to your business on a regular basis through marketing efforts, you also want to hold on to the customers you have and entice them to come back. Customer retention is just as much a part of a good marketing strategy as attracting new customers is.

Loyalty programs play a larger part in customer retention and help to increase the frequency of visits and average spend over time. Your most loyal and regular customers will ultimately add more value to your business and create the foundation on which you’re able to grow.

Word of Mouth Marketing 

Believe it or not, in our technologically advanced age, this is still one of the most effective forms of marketing you have. People inherently trust the opinions and recommendations of the people who they already know and trust.

Social media has certainly done a lot to amplify this method of marketing; every picture of an entree shared on Instagram, Facebook, Yelp, and more serves as a personal recommendation (or warning). Savvy marketers know how to endear their brand to their most avid fans and give them easy ways to share their positive experiences across their social networks. 

The restaurant industry is fast: we move quickly, think on our feet, and adapt to the ever-changing needs of our guests. Stay up to date with the latest trends on menu items, staff turnover, and more in our latest report.

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Written by   |  
Stephanie is a Providence, RI native and eight-year food industry veteran. As Upserve's Content Marketing Coordinator she creates materials that help restaurateurs, managers, and service professionals succeed. When she's not writing, Stephanie is most likely traveling, cooking, or trying new restaurants.