Marketing a Family Owned Restaurant on a Small Budget

Tips for marketing a small business or family owned restaurant with a small marketing budget

The majority of small businesses, including family-owned restaurants have a lot to focus a small budget on. However, a small marketing budget does not necessarily equate to a small impact. Some of the most effective restaurant marketing tactics do not require large investments.

What are some ways to make a small marketing budget go a long way?

To help answer this question, I turned to you all for some advice. In a closed Facebook group for only “Bar and Restaurant Industry Pros,” I  posed this exact question. Small, family-owned restaurant owners and managers told me what works best for them when marketing on a tight budget. Here are the top ways you can optimize your family-owned restaurant’s marketing budget.

Establish Local Partnerships

There are dozens of other small businesses in your community open to partnerships, or already looking for one. Local family-owned restaurants should first look at partnership opportunities with local entertainment and event businesses. They are often involved in planning local events such as festivals, music events and even ticketed parties for holidays and special events. Offer a discount to cater their event  in exchange for the brand exposure. The event’s expected audience should line up with your target market.

Other potential partners include: event venues (like comedy clubs and sports stadiums), car dealerships, radio stations or a local craft brewery. Local breweries are also frequently family-owned and operated small businesses, and would benefit from a partnership. Many only serve beer…giving you the opportunity to partner up. Suggest catering at their location a couple times a week. This will help them retain customers, and help you by with new customer generation.

Partnerships also open up opportunities with advertising. Advertising that may otherwise be too costly, is possible when each party only pays half.

Hire a College Intern or Freelancer

As a small business owner, you’re often  pulled in many directions and forced to wear many hats. But most small restaurant owners agree that there should be a designated person to organize your marketing efforts. Hiring a full-time restaurant marketing employee may not be feasible, but there are other budget-friendly alternatives.

Some restaurant industry Facebook group respondents suggest bringing on an intern. Specifically, one that is studying marketing that will work for your reference and to build up their resume. Others suggest that “…you get what you pay for.” What’s right for you?

Small business and restaurant marketing strategy

For those that have the knowledge and expertise in marketing, and are able to guide an intern, that makes a great option. However, the amount of guidance required may take just as much time from your day as if you had done it yourself. Keep in mind that school experience does not equate to business, or restaurant experience.

So for those of you that lack marketing experience, or are time-limited, hiring an experienced freelancer is the better option. A freelancer is still going to be a small cost, as you will not be responsible for the benefits or taxes affiliated with a full-time hire.

Should you hire a freelancer to run your restaurant marketing?

Sponsor a Local Charity Event

The primary target market for a small, family-owned restaurant is local. By getting involved with local charity events, you are able to directly reach this target market. You also give off a great impression of your business to that target market.

Your local Chamber of Commerce can tell you how to get involved in an upcoming local event. The best charity event opportunities are those that you can cater or supply food for. You will have the food and labor costs, but this will still save you big bucks on highly targeted local marketing.

The “try before you buy” method is very effective for consumers’ food purchases. Additionally, to maximize your local brand exposure, ensure you have branded food containers and custom plastic or styrofoam cups. This will ensure that every attendee sees your impressionable brand.

Local Press

A local charity event also makes for a great opportunity to reach out to local press. A press release blast to large networks is a major cost, but reaching out to a select few locals costs you nothing. You can simply pitch them the idea. However, based on experience, I find greater success in sending an already written article. They see this as free content, and love that they don’t have to do any work!

Other ideas for article content include: your unique brand story, your restaurant’s unique theme, or an interesting story about your restaurant’s past.

For local Houston restaurants, here some bloggers and media groups that write up about restaurants. For others, a good place to start is by searching “best restaurants in [your local city here].”

  • Houston Eater
  • Houston Chronicle
  • Thrillist Houston
  • Zagat Houston

Review Pages and Local Listings

It costs $0 to sign up your small business for most review pages, apps and local listings. Ensure your restaurant is registered for pages such as Trip Advisor, Google Places and Yelp. Most of the local apps and local media outlets listed above will also give you the opportunity to register your business. 

In order for these local listings to be helpful to you, make sure you always fill out 100% of your restaurant’s profile. Here’s a free guide to get you started with creating and optimizing your restaurant profiles for review pages like Yelp.

Social Media

Social media marketing is great for small businesses and family-owned restaurants with small marketing budgets. It can be used as a free tool for organic content posting, or as an affordable form of targeted advertising.

Despite Facebook’s recent announcement (back in December 2017) to  restrict business-facing impressions to users, it still remains an effective advertising tool. Facebook ads allow you to target your audience based on specifications like geographic location and interests. For this reason, many restaurant owners still recommend paid Facebook ads to get people in the door.

How to use marketing to get more people in your door - for restaurant owners and restaurant marketers

Some small marketing budgets can’t accommodate paid Facebook advertising. Don’t worry…if this is you, you still have options. This restaurant owner has a great idea for you. Increase your organic post reach across your local community by posting/sharing and sending messages through your personal page. Tag your staff members and friends to increase this reach. This idea also helps to target the audience based on local location.


Social media and Facebook tips for any restaurant owner that are easy to follow


Even though these marketing tips are all affordable at any budget, it is important to keep a few things in mind. One, these marketing strategies are also applicable to large restaurants and even chain restaurants. Two, a lot of these tactics don’t cost dollars, but they do cost time. Make sure you have the manpower to consistently implement these practices. Finally, keep up with the Cup Printing blog for more tips about small business marketing, restaurant marketing and promotions and restaurant operations.