Event marketing is an experiential marketing strategy that involves creating live events and experiences to engage customers. It provides opportunities for brands to connect with consumers in memorable and meaningful ways.
For restaurants, event marketing can be a highly effective way to boost popularity, increase sales, build loyal customers and position themselves as go-to dining and entertainment destinations. This comprehensive guide will provide restaurants with strategies and best practices for leveraging event marketing successfully.
Understanding Event Marketing
What is Event Marketing?
Event marketing refers to the creation and execution of themed, interactive, in-person and virtual experiences used to promote a brand. It provides ways for companies to directly engage with current and potential customers.
While events can be external (held in venues) or internal (at the brand’s location), external events often provide restaurants with greater exposure.
Types of Events for Restaurants
Restaurants can choose from numerous event types and themes. Popular options include:
- Live music events – Host local bands, musicians, DJ nights
- Holiday parties – Halloween, Christmas, NYE, Easter, Mother’s Day brunches
- Cocktail/Wine events – Tastings, release parties, pairing dinners
- Cooking classes – Classes on cuisines, skills, dishes
- Trivia/Game nights – Themed trivia, bingo, poker tournaments
- Arts/Culture events – Art exhibits, cultural music/dance performances
- Charity events – Fundraisers, donations, partnerships
- Pop-up restaurants – Limited menus and dining spaces
Speed Dating Events
Dating events offer a novel way for restaurants to position themselves as lively social venues. Rotating timed mini-dates between strangers create an energetic vibe. Consider fun icebreakers, drinks specials, and priority seating for matches made.
These events allow patrons to connect professionally and socially. Facilitate interactions through mixers, games, or topic-based seating charts. Sponsors can underwrite costs in return for branding and lead generation.
Mic nights, karaoke nights, singles nights or decade parties drive excitement. Alluring themes based on pop culture, holidays, or local interests work well. Go big on decor, costumes, music, and menu specials to immerse guests.
Wine Tasting Events
Highlight your wine program through guided flights paired with apps. Include meet and greets with winemakers, cheese pairings. Upsell to bottles afterward.
Food Tasting Events
The tables were lined with small plates, each featuring a different appetizer. The aroma of simmering sauces and sizzling meats filled the air. Eager attendees make their way from dish to dish, nothing flavors and textures on the brochures in their hands.
Guest Chef Events
Hosting visiting chefs keeps things fresh while cross-promoting brands. They can cook collaboration meals, lead classes, or provide entertainment through live cooking demos.
Creative themes like masquerade balls, supernova parties, or around music acts and eras help events stand apart. Reinforce themes through costumes, activities, decor, hashtags, photo ops, keepsakes.
Guests nostalgically party like it’s 1999! Pick a decade and go all-out with music, attire, decor, and menu items from that era. Contest for best-dressed. Share throwback photos.
Host open mic nights for amateurs or book professional stand-up comics. Offer drink specials and small plate deals for showtime.
Feature discounts on apps, drinks, and select entrees. Add activities like games, live music, or craft demos to make it more eventful.
Leverage codes to enhance events through contactless menus, payment, surveys, contests, social network sharing, rideshare discounts. Position strategically around venues.
Benefits of Event Marketing for Restaurants
Hosting events provides restaurants with numerous benefits, including:
- Increasing brand awareness – Event idea attract new audiences and promote your restaurant to the local community.
- Driving sales revenue – Events encourage food/drink purchases and merchandise sales.
- Building customer loyalty – Unique, memorable experiences lead to repeat visits and brand advocacy.
- Generating buzz – Events create excitement, word-of-mouth, and social networking engagement.
- Acquiring customer data – Collect contact info from tickets/promotions to nurture leads.
- Enhancing brand image – Events portray desired branding, personality, creativity, and values.
- Community engagement – Local events position restaurants as community partners.
- Staff development – Events provide training opportunities in hospitality, service, promotions.
Preparing an Event Marketing Strategy
Success begins with laying the proper groundwork for event marketing. Critical steps include:
Measurable Event Marketing Goals and Objectives
Having clearly defined goals and objectives provides direction and alignment. Restaurants should determine:
- Target outcomes like sales, leads, engagement, and brand metrics
- How events will attract and engage both existing and new audiences
- Resources required to execute events successfully
- Sample event goals for a restaurant:
- Goal Target
- Increase restaurant traffic +20% over prior year
- Generate event revenue $5,000 per month
- Grow social media followers 15% over next quarter
- Capture customer contacts 500 new contacts
Researching and Selecting Target Audiences
Events can target various audience segments. Conducting market research helps identify and select the right targets.
Ideal targets include:
- Locals – Community events attract nearby residents seeking entertainment.
- Foodies – Specialty food/drink events appeal to culinary enthusiasts.
- Family days – Weekend/holiday events cater to parents with kids.
- Nightlife crowds – Evening events draw after-work and late-night diners.
- Industry crowds – Wine/cocktail events attract beverage professionals.
- Corporate clients – Private events for team building and entertaining.
- Charity supporters – Fundraisers attract givers interested in specific causes.
Establishing an Event Budget
A detailed budget factors in expenses like:
- Venue, equipment, and rentals
- Food, drinks, and other supplies
- Talent and entertainment
- Restaurant Marketing and promotions
- Staffing and labor costs
- Insurance, permits, security (if required)
- Evaluate ROI and adjust budgets according to performance.
Assembling an Event Team
Depending on event scale and complexity, assigning local team roles and responsibilities is crucial. Typical event teams include:
- Event organizers – Manage planning, logistics, promotion, vendors.
- Chef/Managers – Oversee F&B planning and quality control.
- Hosts – Greet guests and manage event flow/activities.
- Servers – Provide food/beverage service during events.
- Support staff – Setup, parking, coat checks, maintenance.
- Restaurant Marketing – Promote events on social media, email, website.
- Photographers – Capture high-quality photos and videos.
Planning and Executing Successful Restaurant Events
Thorough planning and seamless execution is required to create memorable event experiences.
Selecting Themes and Concepts
- A creative theme helps generate buzz and excitement. Relevant themes tied to the restaurant’s cuisine, location, or customer interests are ideal.
- Themes also allow restaurants to reinforce branding through decor, music, activities, keepsakes, and shareable social media moments.
Choosing Optimal Date and Time
- Consider factors like primary audience availability patterns, seasonal timing, holidays, weather, and other local events when selecting the date.
- For the time, evaluate daypart patterns and avoid schedules conflicting with the target’s routines.
Selecting and Setting up the Venue
- Evaluate venue capacity, layout, logistics, equipment, and ambiance fit. For external venues, conduct site visits.
- Design the space to support event flow and activities. Factor in sufficient seating, acoustics, lighting, A/V, decorations, etc.
Managing Logistics and Coordination
- Create detailed timelines mapping event setup, operation, and takedown. Confirm vendors, rentals, staffing, permits, and insurance.
- Designate an on-site coordinator to oversee execution and problem-solving. Brief staff on timelines and duties through checklists.
Developing Marketing and Promotions
Employ diverse tactics to promote events, such as:
- Social media – Create event pages, post video teasers, share promotions.
- Email marketing – Send special event announcements, invite local, and reminders.
- Website – Post event details, tickets, RSVP forms.
- Print/Radio – Use posters, flyers, local newspapers and radio mentions.
- Partnerships – Cross-promote through loyalty programs, local businesses.
- Hashtags – Create unique hashtags guests can use to amplify reach.
Training Event Staff
Conduct orientation to review event duties, menus, talking points, venue layout, emergency procedures, and service protocols. Have a pre-event briefing to energize the team and address last minute reminders.
Curating Special Menus
Develop unique menus suitable for the event theme and attendees. Include specialty dishes, signature cocktails, limited releases, and specials. Provide options for various dietary needs and price points. Limit complex preparations.
Coordinating Talent and Entertainment
Book musicians, DJs, performers and experts like chefs or bartenders to engage guests. Have contests, giveaways, or hands-on activities.Arrange A/V, lighting, power requirements, timeslots, contracts, and greens room amenities for talent.
Creating Takeaways and Keepsakes
Have branded giveaway items like custom napkins, coasters, event shirts, photos, or signature cocktails recipes. Post event photos online and email attendees spotlighting them. Mail thank you notes or discounts to attend future events.
Measuring the Performance and ROI of Restaurant Events
To improve future events and justify budgets, restaurants should measure performance using key indicators, conduct analysis, and track ROI.
Key Performance Indicators
Quantifiable metrics to track include:
- Attendance – Guest count, capacity reached, turnover.
- Revenue – Total sales, average spend per person, ROI.
- Engagement – Social media mentions and follows, email signups.
- Customer feedback – Reviews, testimonials, surveys, NPS scores.
Compare results to goals and summarize what worked well and areas needing improvement. Gather staff feedback on issues.
Document challenges, solutions, and lessons learned for knowledge transfer to future events.
Calculating Return on Investment
Factor costs for food, talent, venue, marketing, labor and supplies against revenue generated. Non-monetary benefits like leads and engagement also contribute to ROI.
Sample Event ROI Calculation:
- Ticket sales revenue: $2,000
- Food and beverage sales: $4,500
- Sponsorship revenue: $1,000
- Total revenue generated: $7,500
- Event production costs: $4,000
- Marketing expenses: $1,000
- Total expenses: $5,000
- ROI = (Total Revenue – Total Expenses) / Total Expenses
- ROI = ($7,500 – $5,000) / $5,000 = 50%
Best Practices for Restaurant Event Marketing
Applying these proven best practices will help restaurants maximize the impact and success of events.
Create Memorable Experiences
Events should provide exceptional hospitality, interactions, and entertainment. Unique atmospheres with music, decor, activities, photo booths, contests, and themed menus and cocktails make the event special.
Keep guests engaged through interactive elements like trivia, games, giveaways, live demos rather than just passive observation.
Make a Strong First Impression
Greet guests promptly and enthusiastically at the entrance. Have clear directional signage to guide guests.
Ensure the venue layout, lighting, music, scents, and temperature support a welcoming atmosphere.
Promote Upcoming Events
Use shelf-talkers, table tents, web/social media posts to tease future events. Offer discounts for early ticket purchases or email signups.
Email people who attended past events reminders for upcoming ones. Suggest booking tables/tickets.
Capture Customer Data
Have guests fill out contact forms to get tickets or access special promotions. Use signup sheets for contests, workshops, demos for follow-up.
Send a feedback survey after events with an incentive to complete it.
Encourage Photo Sharing
Provide fun photo booth props, signs, and backdrops. Remind people to post on social media with your hashtag.
Repost guest photos after the event for user-generated content.
Foster Event Community
Make the event social – create an activity like an interactive mural for people to collectively contribute to. Have lawn games or group activities.
For regular events, recognize return attendees and relationships forming. Introduce newcomers around.
Setup and takedown should be smooth, with staff understanding their individual responsibilities. Test A/V, WiFi, and equipment ahead of time.
Have contingency plans for potential issues like long food/bar lines, technical difficulties, or noisy patrons.
Accommodate guests with disabilities through accessible entrances, reserved seating, dietary options, and sign language interpreters.
Provide rideshare discounts, shuttle transportation from public transit for safety.
Host events supporting causes your community cares about. Donate a portion of event revenue or excess food.
Partner with non-profits for events with mutual benefits.
Adapting Event Marketing Strategies to Emerging Trends
As consumer behavior evolves, restaurants must adapt event formats and experiences. Key trends to leverage include:
With hybrid events, guests can attend in-person or online via livestreams. This expands reach and provides options for people hesitant about large in-person gatherings.
Interactive Digital Experiences
Incorporate digital interactivity like augmented reality, projection mapping, touchscreen surfaces, and gamification through mobile apps.
- elaborate culinary and cocktail experiences through tableside finishing, multi-course dinners, roaming passed trays of samples.
- Buzzworthy pop culture events like trivia/bingo nights on shows like Game of Thrones and retro throwback themes resonate.
Consumers expect sustainability through elements like recyclable and compostable service ware, reduced waste, and energy efficiency.
Facilitate introductions and conversations through mixers, speed networking sessions, or conversation starter cards on tables.
Incorporate meditation, breathwork, positive affirmation wvaleorkshops, or emotional wellbeing elements.
Partnerships Over Ownership
partner with complementary brands for pop-ups, guest chef collaborations, sponsorships rather than doing everything in-house.
Showcasing Restaurant Event Marketing Success Stories
Here are real examples of restaurants executing creative, impactful events:
Taco Bell Hotel
- To promote its menu and brand, Taco Bell created an immersive pop-up hotel in Palm Springs.
- The multi-day integrated experience had room service, gift shops, salon, live entertainment, pool parties, and taco inspired decor.
- It generated massive publicity and sold out instantly, creating huge customer demand and buzz.
IKEA Brunch Release Parties
- When IKEA added brunch to their Swedish Food Market, they wanted to promote it through fun experiences.
- Custom pop-up outdoor brunch parties were hosted in cities across Canada featuring themed menus, music, yard games, and Instagrammable moments.
- The events generated extensive engagement and introduced new audiences to IKEA’s offerings in an interactive setting.
TGIT Trivia at TGI Fridays
- TGI Fridays leveraged pop culture trends by hosting weekly trivia nights themed to ABC’s popular TGIT television programming block.
- Trivia included show soundtracks and clips, themed drinks and prizes, and photo opportunities.
- The interactive events aligned perfectly with TGI’s lively bar vibe and attract customers midweek.
Spotify House of Horrors
- For Halloween 2021, Spotify created an interactive haunted house experience in Los Angeles with rooms portraying music artists’ different horror styles.
- It drove social conversation and positioned Spotify as a dynamic brand in tune with pop culture.
- The ticketed event sold out quickly by creating an imaginative environment visitors couldn’t experience elsewhere.
Dining in the Dark at NoMad Hotel
- Michelin-star restaurant NoMad Hotel hosted monthly dinners served in complete darkness to heighten senses and remove visual judgement.
- Using blindfold dining, guests relied on touch, taste, sound and scent, making for a novel fine dining experience.
- The event was featured widely in media and travel publications for its unique concept that embodied the brand’s unconventional approach to hospitality.
Key Takeaways and Next Steps
- Event marketing enables restaurants to create lasting relationships with customers, increase loyalty, and position themselves as community staples. With mindful strategy and execution, events can provide strong returns across brand awareness, revenue growth, engagement, and customer data acquisition.
- Restaurants of all types and sizes can benefit from events catered to their brand identity and audiences. The key is crafting events that are memorable, sharable, and reflective of the ethos restaurants want to convey.
- Event marketing will continue evolving in tandem with customer preferences and technology. Those staying attuned to fresh trends and applying innovation to formats will reap the greatest rewards.
- With this step-by-step guide of strategies and best practices, restaurants are equipped to start developing successful events tailored for their needs and crowd. The next step is brainstorming creative event themes and messaging aligned to business objectives. With focus, preparation and care put into the guest experience, restaurants can execute unforgettable events that drive results.