Internal Marketing

Least expensive marketing – HUGE ROI

I am rock-solid convinced of the power of “Internal Marketing” over traditional advertising. 


I am rock-solid convinced of the power of “Internal Marketing” over traditional advertising.  Yes, I tried radio, tv and print ads for my restaurant and I found out pretty quickly that I needlessly spent thousands of dollars on promotion that was difficult, if not impossible to track with no guaranteed return on investment (R.O.I.).  Now, don’t get me wrong, there may be a place for some limited forms of strategic advertising in your restaurant, but make sure you can track performance, know where its coming from and don’t give up on it quickly without some time – Remember, repetition and consistency are the key to any successful marketing program.

Now, back to Internal Marketing – Realize that once you have created your staff “Dream Team”, you now have a marketing task force of Ambassadors for your restaurant.  If you create a fun environment and reward and recognize your staff, they’ll not only produce for you, but sing your praises as well, making new friends for your restaurant every night.  Soon, your repeat customers will be asking for their favorite staff by name and telling all their friends about your place.  Your staff are making more money and having more fun and in turn, your guests are having more fun.  That’s when the Buzz starts to happen.  This is the beginnings of a Brand.  Internal Marketing will always be the most effective and cost-effecitive form of promotion for your restaurant.  Recognize that it is far cheaper to market to your existing customer and let them market for you, than to spend lots of money trying to reach new customers.

(See SALES STARS TRAINING SYSTEM in MODULE 2 to start the Internal Marketing Magic in your restaurant)  

Inside your restaurant, you have numerous ways to market to your existing and first-time customers.   Know that when customers are either on vacation or eating out in a restaurant, they are more free-spending than in other situations in life.  This is because, it is so easy to get caught up in the fun of the moment and to want to sustain that fun.  If you create a fun environment (on-brand) and train your staff well to make suggestions using their “Sales Tools” to bring the food & drink to life, your cash register will ring.  Retail shops have proven that the atmosphere, merchandising and music increase sales.  The same is true in your restaurant.

Begin by brainstorming a list of all your unique “HOOKS” AND the highest traffic areas in your restaurant where you can present these messages.   How about signs at the your host counter.  Your hosts can make a suggestion and then point to the signs as reinforcement. Bulletin Boards and/or chalkboards on doors & bathroom walls are powerful message tools for your hooks and Cash Cows.  I have found that there is at least one talented artist among your employees.  Have them create fun, artistic pictures that present your food, your drink or merchandise.  How about recording fun audio messages and playing these on your phone “hold” function and piped in to your bathrooms.  Remember, be Informing & Entertaining, Not “Salesy”!


The POWER OF FACEBOOK, TWITTER & INSTAGRAM… I bold this because your customer is on it, everyone is on it and your restaurant not only  needs to be ON IT, but ROCK IT!.

That means you need a tuned-in staffer (if that’s not you) to Post and Tweet several times per week.  On Facebook, make it fun… take photos of cool events, your food, special drinks, your staff having fun, ask trivia questions… you get the idea.  The goal with all social platforms is to enhance your Brand and build your followers. On Twitter, its about Tweeting the cool stuff and sharing what’s relevant to your followers, in short, being part of your follower’s lifestyle and how that fits with your restaurant… Instagram is the place for photos, so again take photos constantly and post often.  They don’t need to be professionally shot, just an iPhone will do.


Beer distributors have partnerships with neon sign companies.  Have your distributors each provide your restaurant with a custom Logo neon that you can hang prominently in your restaurant.  They stand out, look cool and best of all Build your BRAND!

One of the most incredible hooks I found was creating a line of 60 Ounce Specialty Drinks that we called “Glacier Bowls”.  Think of the success that Chinese restaurants have with “Scorpion Bowls”.  It’s a Fun drink with a “kick” to share with friends and best of all, one bowl likely leads to two!   Libby Glass Co. sells a large glass vessel they call the “Super Schooner”.. its like a fishbowl with a stem.

Create 3 or more funky drinks using well vodka or rum and fruit juices, lemonades… Fill them to the top with ice, then add a splash of grenadine, blue curacao or midori to color the drinks anti-freeze green, glowing red, etc.. then add a “Glow Stick” that will light the drink up from the inside out.

Come up with catchy names like “IcePick”, “Voodoo Love Potion”, “I Forgot My Name”, etc… and watch these drinks Sell themselves as servers carry them to tables.  They are super profitable and you can charge $15 – $20 for these.

Another huge brand and buzz builder!

Table Tents are some of the most effective ways of promoting your hooks.  We had a talented graphic artist that came up with catchy Table Tent designs that really SOLD our hooks… best of all he worked on trade.  Same with your menu.  A professional menu design not only promotes your food & drink effectively, but your “Hooks” as well.  Your menu is one of your most important internal marketing tools.

Let’s talk Websites..  Every restaurant Needs a top-notch expertly designed website.  Why? Diners do two things before they pick a new restaurant… they check online reviews (Yelp & Trip Advisor) and they check out your website.

Your site is the one place that presents an actual dining experience in your restaurant without actually being there.  With that said, your website must duplicate the Fun of your restaurant and tell your customer what’s on the menu, what’s great about your restaurant,  what entertainment events are coming up, what merchandise you have for sale, Affinity programs, etc… do this with great photography and/or video, record and play some catchy music and don’t forget to include your restaurant’s history.

Your restaurant’s past is also a “Hook”.  How did your restaurant come to be?  Any great founder story?  Did you buy a historic property?, Family recipes passed down from generations, etc..

Be sure your website is mobile friendly.  Customers should be able to easily read your menu on their phone.

On-Line Reviews have become a blessing and in some cases a curse for the restaurant business.  Everyone is on them either promoting your restaurant and singing its praises or tearing it down!

You absolutely must Monitor your reviews at least weekly and then when your business develops momentum at least twice per week.  You simply cannot afford to NOT know what your customers are thinking and saying about your restaurant.  Reply to both positive and negative reviews personally.

As the owner and/or GM, it is just smart to thank everyone who posts a positive review and to personally address any negative comments and to attempt to “Make Things Right”.  Explain the situation, apologize when appropriate and offer the reviewer a token “Gift Card” to return ($10 or $15 is sufficient).

Creating a Retail Center is like selling your own Advertising.  Your customers buy your custom “logo” T-shirts, hoodies, pint glasses, hats, mugs, etc.. and then wear these around promoting your restaurant.  Genius right?   Well, let’s be clear.  To be successful selling logo merchandise, you first need to give your customer many reasons to LOVE your brand.  Then they’ll buy and spread the LOVE about your restaurant. (See Creating Other Profit Centers in MODULE 5).


One of the most powerful brand builders right from the start for my restaurants was printing catchy Logo Decals and passing them out for free.  There is an up-front cost at first (anywhere from 50 cents to $1 each), but you’ll soon start to see your stickers on cars and in public places throughout your area.  The stickers can’t be missed by the public especially when they begin to be seen all over town.  After you start to see the stickers for some time, you may then choose to sell them at a small profit – your call!

NOTE:  Stickers were one of my most profitable Brand Builders.  After a few years, I actually saw them all over the country and all over the world where my customers travelled, and after having sold my restaurants, I still do!


Your restaurant is your brand and you should take full advantage of every opportunity to enhance and spread your brand message.   Take Out Containers are an excellent way to remind your customers of the good time they had at your restaurant and invite them back again.

NOTE:  Any pizza place or restaurant can simply put leftovers and “To Go” items in plain ordinary packaging… the typical “our pizza is the greatest with a picture of a funny chef pinching his moustache, but the smart restaurants custom design their own branded packaging with the history of their restaurant or some other unique “Hook” or nuggets of information printed on the containers.  Even smarter – save money by buying this packaging in bulk to last many months to avoid running out and long lead times for re-orders.

 Photo Contests really move the merchandise.  Once you have a retail program, create a “Photo Contest” that awards prizes for the most creative, fun, etc.. photos of your customers wearing their logo T-shirt, hat or hoody.  Ours was an around the world contest for the coolest photo taken somewhere around the globe and it became super popular with at least 100 entries each season.

“What a business builder and merchandise SELLER”!  Our walls were soon filled with our customer’s photos that brought them back again and again to see and show their photos to friends and family.


One of the most effective ideas I ever came up with was printing certificates with a $10 or $15 face value that were passed out to my customers at the end of their meal.  The certificate was valid for $15 OFF their bill on a 3rd visit, if my customer dined twice in our restaurant and showed us their dinner receipts within a 30 day period.


Much of the country is addicted to Lottery Tickets… the appeal is huge and fun to play.

There are several “Ticket Printing” companies online that can do scratch-off tickets and they will design yours in house.  Ask them for a custom “Lottery Ticket” design for your restaurant with your logo, a catchy name such as “Your Restaurant Name SCRATCH-N-WIN” , Every Ticket’s a WINNER and 4 or 5 scratch off areas on the ticket.

Come up with a few cash cows that you can afford to give away at little cost and then have the tickets randomly printed with one of your “Cash Cow Prizes” under one of the scratch off areas on each and every ticket.  The other scratch off areas should be printed with “Try Again”!

Pass out one Ticket in your check presenters at the end of the meal AFTER the GUEST HAS PAID… this is a powerful “Bounce Back” offer to get these customers back in your restaurant for a repeat visit to redeem the prize won on their ticket.  Make sure you print

“One Prize per Table” and any other limitations in small print.


Comment cards are a great way to capture customer’s email addresses for later communication (see downloadable template below).  Start with an email program likeConstant Contact, MailChimp or Aweber.  You can easily design a custom saved email template with your logo and restaurant identification.

Once a week, craft a loyal customer email that informs, educates and entertains… pack it with relevant information on New Menu Items, specials or promotions, live music, holiday deals, big events, wine dinners, etc…  Make it interactive with a trivia question at the end and offer prizes (Cash Cows) to the first 3 correct answers that reply.  This is a brand builder and great way to communicate with and build your loyal audience.

(See “Affinity Programs” also in MODULE 4).

P.O.S. Receipts:

Your point of sale system can easily be programmed to present promotional messages on the bottom of every guest check.  A great way to advertise your special events with or without a discount incentive.

Kids are super-powerful marketers for your business.  Its FACT that the kids often decide where the family eats out and of course, they want to go to the “Fun Place”.  Make that be your restaurant!

Coloring Contests are super effective and best of all they keep on bringing repeat business.  How?  Begin with a fun Kid’s menu.  It should be “On Brand” and inline with your restaurant’s theme with several pictures or one large picture to color with the usual word search, tic tac toe grids, mazes and the fun food they can order.

Have your hosts pass out menus and crayons to every Kid and explain the contest.  Advertise internally (on your menu, table tents, etc..) that each week you will select the best coloring sheets for a prize and display the artwork on your restaurant’s wall.

Make sure kids put their name and an email address on the back and then contact each and every entry to Award a $5 gift card.  Why is this genius??  Because not only will each kid be honored, but they’ll lobby their parents to bring them back to your restaurant with the $5 incentive to spend more money.  It’s a huge WIN WIN! (See Creating a Kid Friendly Restaurant also in MODULE 4)

Business After Hours events sponsored by your local chamber of commerce.  Throw a party for Chamber of Commerce business members with free appetizers and a Cash Bar.  This serves to introduce your restaurant to those folks who can promote your business to their customers.  Remember to include these members in your strategic marketing plans (See Strategic Alliances below under Guerilla Marketing).

Live Entertainment is also a huge proven draw.  If you can find the room to construct a simple stage, presenting Comedy shows, Street Performers and/or Live Bands have a huge potential for Return On Investment.  Doing so also builds your BRAND. Not only do these patrons stay longer and spend more money, but if the Acts are strong, you can charge Cover at the door (See Live Music/Big Events also in MODULE 4).


Guerilla Marketing refers to strategic and powerful “out of the box” ideas for little or No money.  Get creative but here are a few tried and true ideas to Dominate your Competition – they won’t know what hit them!


I’ve mentioned in MODULE 2’s Finance Section of the power of creating Cash Cows on your menu.  For me, it was Garlic Knots… high perceived value at very low cost and almost pure profit.  Whether you implement my “Garlic Knots” menu idea or find another this cost-effective item becomes the basis for your “FREE COUPON”.  The idea is this:

Design a business card or coupon on heavy paper stock with the Value of your item printed in each corner, such as $10 VALUE!   Then Text Copy reads something like:  “ABSOLUTELY FREE ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS GARLIC KNOTS” big & bold in the center of the card.  In small print at the bottom make sure to print the terms of your offer such as:  Eat In Only, One per Table Only, etc..  Print a few thousand Card Coupons to start.


There are numerous businesses in your city or town that can effectively promote your restaurant.  Think: hotel concierges, bed and breakfast inns, coffee shops, the movie theatre, retail shops, florists, car washes… the ideas are endless.

Here’s what to do:

Meet with the owner or GM of the business and explain that you will give them 10% in Trade back at your restaurant for any business they send you in exchange for passing out your coupon cards with each customer purchase and recommending your restaurant.  Give each business a stack of coupons to start and instruct them to stamp or ID the back so that you can track the coupons when redeemed.

When the coupons come back to your restaurant, instruct your service team to staple them to the back of the guest check.  Keep a running total taking 10% of the Total Check before Tax and then load a Gift Card with the total amount of trade for the business. You can either drop them off in person or keep them behind your counter.

Remember, Identify the Gift Cards so that they can be rung in as a “SALES DISCOUNT” and not as a normal gift card sales for your tax benefits.  Presenting each business with a $25 gift card as a start to the program for the owner/GM to visit your place is a strong thank you/reinforcer.

NOTE:  In my experience, my best strategic partners sent me thousands of dollars in extra business with an average check approaching $100, all for the cost of some business cards and one order of Garlic Knots!


Same idea as Alliances, but individual people.  If you have outgoing, personable customers that love your place and love to make friends with new people, give them a stack of coupon cards and have them pass these out to friends, family, co-workers, etc… Make sure they ID the back of the cards so you can track and give them the 10% trade deal.

NOTE:  The Ambassadors for my restaurant were known as the “Apres Ski Patrol”.  Whenever these folks went skiing and rode the lifts, they talked up  other skiers about my place and drove lots of business in the door.  Worked like a charm!  Golf courses, bowling alleys, etc.. wherever these social people like to hang out are prime places to drive new business for your restaurant.


To really build community spirit and “goodwill”, find ways to give back with a charitable angle.  One of the best ideas is to organize a road race or fun walk to benefit a local charity.. maybe it’s the food pantry, or breast cancer awareness, whatever. The event starts and finishes at your restaurant, creating dining traffic before, during and after your event.  Better still, this idea introduces a new audience to your restaurant who may come back to try you later. … The idea is to plan and advertise your event through the local media.. that way on the day of the event, your restaurant gets local coverage from TV reporters, newspaper press, etc…


If you decide to create a live entertainment profit center in your restaurant, Your Strategic Alliance partners are the perfect place to advertise your events.   Have your artist design, eye-catching Posters & Fliers with your Logo, Brand Message and the event on simple light paper stock that you can distribute in partner businesses and about town on bulletin boards in: super markets, bowling alleys and anywhere else where community events are posted.  Make sure you cover your restaurant’s “Internal Marketing” areas with posters & fliers as well.


When you are designing signs for your restaurant, make absolute sure you include a

“Changeable Message” section on your sign(s).  These are plastic channels attached horizontally to your sign below your restaurant’s name and logo that allow you to install a series of plastic letters (about five inches in height” to spell out dynamic “Marketing Messages” that drive business and promote your restaurant and Big Events. Purchase plastic letters and channels online and depending on the size sign approved, you can have either two, three or four lines to spell out messages.

NOTE:  In my 20 years running restaurants, my changeable message signs were incredibly valuable, creating new and repeat business and were instrumental in building and reinforcing my brand!