Independent restaurants don’t have marketing budgets like the big chains, so they have to work smarter to get their business in front of potential customers. Unless your restaurant is situated in a high-tourist area, local residents will make up the bulk of your business. As you put together your marketing strategy, think of ways to attract local residents to your business--and to keep them coming back for more.

Loyalty Programs

Implementing strategies to increase customer loyalty and frequency can pay off big time. In many restaurants, the most loyal customers make up roughly 15 percent of the total guests visiting the business--but in many cases, they account for one-third of the revenues. Since loyal customers who already know your brand tend to spend more, researchers at Harvard estimate that increasing the frequency of customers’ visits by a mere five percent can increase your profits by up to 125 percent.

Experts at Food Service Warehouse suggest implementing loyalty or bounce-back programs to get customers coming back and spending more. Loyalty programs encourage customers to visit your restaurant more frequently or to spend more each time they visit. You could run a weekly event to engage your customers, or implement frequent-purchase programs, such as a typical coffee shop program where customers receive a free bagel for every ten cups of coffee they purchase. Bounce-back programs are incentives given to customers who have just made a purchase to encourage them to return. You could include a coupon with the bill that offers customers a half-price appetizer on their next visit, a free dessert or a buy-one-get-one-free entree.

Online Marketing

Technology and the Internet have created more low-cost opportunities to engage with your customers quickly and easily. Traditional online marketing strategies, such as pay-per-click advertising, are a good way to build brand recognition, but you will need a full-scale website to make it really work. Social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, are the perfect platform to begin a conversation with your customers. Make sure that you exploit social media to engage with your customers instead of hitting them with your sales pitch. Your website and social media pages are a good place to start building an email list that you can use to bolster your loyalty programs or entice new customers to visit your establishment.

Public Relations

Getting involved in your community is a very good way to get your brand in front of current and prospective customers while building goodwill. You can host events at your restaurant, such as wine tastings or cooking classes, or sponsor a booth at one of your town’s local events. Donate or volunteer time or services to local charities, or sponsor a youth sports team. Industry expert Aaron Allen recommends spending 10 to 20 percent of your overall marketing budget on these types of public relations campaigns.

One of the most important marketing strategies for any restaurant is creating a menu that sells your food for you. Menu design is a real science, as even the fonts you choose and where you place the items on the page can greatly affect your sales. Author and menu design expert William Poundstone recommends overpricing at least one item to make the surrounding items look like more of a bargain, and burying those low-profit favorites of the locals so that new customers will have difficulty finding them. Never align your prices in columns, as it makes it too easy for customers to compare prices and head for the cheapest dish. If you have not been trained in menu design, hire an expert. It may be the best marketing money you've ever spent.