The Magical 3-Step Marketing Plan to Jumpstart Your Bar/Restaurant


I know, I know. This one word as it stands by itself is very intimidating. Not because it’s scary, but because it’s so vague. There are so many different ways to market, which one do you choose? Which ones actually work? You could spend years trying to decide how to market and get people into your establishment.

In fact, this subject has so many layers, it’s too much to put into one blog post, so I’m going to do a mini-marketing series that will give you three AWESOME ways to boost sales in your business and make you a super-Samurai marketing expert.

With that said, the mystery of marketing is not only true of our industry but of all industries. If you look online you’ll find thousands of people claiming that they are media gurus and marketing expert, but I have as much trust in them as I do in my dog when I leave the room with a porterhouse sitting on the table.

And why is that? Because it’s so goddamn hard to measure.

I mean, there are ways to measure with codes you put on coupons or if they have to say they saw you on Facebook in order to receive their discount, but the ongoing measurement of these deals is exhausting and leaves you chewing your nails until your fingers are bleeding nubs while you try to figure out if it’s all worth it or not.

So let’s start from the beginning and see what we can do. I follow a basic plan that keeps me sane and is very effective.

First off, promotions are a good idea. I won’t argue against them. They’re fun and I’m fine with them for the most part because they can create buzz and word of mouth, but if they constitute your entire marketing plan, you’re in trouble.

Creative promotions can certainly get people in, and if they are executed well, it will make people want to come back, so definitely do them.

I’m not going to go deep into promotions here, but if you go to my blog at you can read about the Top 10 Bar Promotions Ever and on that page if sign up for my awesome tribe of bar/restaurant owners and managers I will send you my ebook, The BIG Black Book of Bar Promotions, for free. It has 51 of the best bar promotions I have found to be the most effective.

Big I digress…

Your #1 marketing plan should be your staff. They are your marketers. They have direct contact with the people spending money at your place. This is why training and having enthusiasm built into your culture is so critical.

Nothing is more powerful than word-of-mouth marketing, and the only way to have people speak good about your business to other people is to deliver a great experience, and the only way to deliver a great experience is to have your staff make them feel like the most special people on the planet while they are there.

This is time-tested method of “word-of-mouth” has been around since Sir Lancelot spoke well of Sir Gallahad’s slaying of the green dragon, and it is NEVER going away.  

The main problem with this plan is that you have to actually manage your employees. If they are not trained well, and you do not constantly inspire them to provide an exceptional experience to the guests, they will soon slip and word will get around that your place is mediocre and the results will begin to show up on the P & L’s.

So if you’re not up to managing them on a daily basis, you should probably look into a gas attendant job or perhaps retail clerk at Target.

In other words, don’t take this lightly.

For the first part of this series, I’m going to share with you a powerful method that is a hybrid of Marketing and Customer Service that produces some awe-inspiring results. However, I cannot take credit for it. I learned about this process from Jon Taffer, the famous bar consultant.

Yes, he’s loud and over-dramatic and sometimes looks like a sculpin when he’s really heated, but whether you love him or think he’s a douche, there is no denying that he knows what he’s talking about.

I like him quite a bit because I have put into practice many of his suggestions and theories and they actually produce good results which shows me that he’s not just full of antics and hot air. He’s an expert and he’s a professional and he gets it.

So what is this magical 3-step marketing strategy?

  • Step 1: Give away a free meal
  • Step 2: Give a discount on their 2nd meal
  • Step 3: Give a free dessert

Now go do it and good luck.

Ok, just kidding. I will elaborate because I know that seems simplistic and appears to be a bit asinine and I can hear you through the screen of your computer or device right now: “Give away free shit? That’s your solution? My bartenders already do that.”

Calm down. I’m getting to it.

Something you already know, but maybe forget to think about often enough, is that repeat business is SOOOOOOO much cheaper than acquiring new customers.

According to Taffer (who always has some awesome-cool stats to back up his theories): It costs $40 – $70 per person to acquire a new guest in this industry. In addition, even if the guest has a great experience:

  • Less than 50% of them will return after their first visit
  • 50% will return after they visit a second time
  • 70% will return after their third visit

Translation: we want to get them back a THIRD TIME and then we have a good chance at locking them in as a repeat customer/regular.

So here’s his plan, condensed a bit. And remember, the free stuff isn’t the only thing that gets them to return. It’s the whole process and experience that impresses them the most, so pay attention here.


It doesn’t have to be your most expensive meal, but don’t make it your cheapest either. In other words, don’t give away chips and salsa as your grabber. The best thing to do is find one of your signature home run dishes or appetizers that you’re famously known for.

Once you choose that, make up cards that you can hand out that advertise the free dish. No strings attached. Just show up and get a free meal. In the process, they will usually bring along a few friends who will spend money.

Now it’s contest time with your employees. Give each of your employees a set amount of cards so they can put their initials on them. Whoever gets the most number of guests to come in wins $100 or a bottle of wine or a trip to Costa Rica whatever you deem an appropriate award.

For those of you lacking the logic gene, make sure they aren’t handing the cards out to guests in your place or to people who have been there before or to their friends just so they can win a prize. The purpose is to acquire new guests. You can also mail the cards out to residents within 10 miles of your establishment with a code on the card so you can track them.

Now when they come in and present the card to the server/bartender, it is brought immediately to the manager who approaches the table and introduces him/herself and welcomes the new guest. Once the free meal has been delivered and devoured, the manager returns and asks how the guest liked the dish. Assuming they liked it, the manager replies, “Fantastic. If you think that was great, you should try our (another amazing dish).”


The manager now reaches into his/her pocket and pulls out a personal business card and writes on the back of the card, giving them a discount on the meal he/she just described: $5 or 50% off or whatever you feel like, but make it worthwhile. Free is even better.

Now when the guest returns with the discount/free card, everybody knows this is visit #2. The server/bartender again alerts the manager who goes through the same process, but this time welcomes the guest back, and then at the end asks how they liked the 2nd dish. Once they say how much they like it, it’s time for step 3.


“Glad to hear you enjoyed it. I know you’re probably too full, but the next time you come in, you’ll have to save room for dessert because our double-dutch chocolate éclair is out of this world. In fact, here….”

The manager pulls out another business card again and writes, “One free éclair” on the back and hands it to the guest with his/her signature on it. The apparent spontaneity will blow the guests away and make it seem like this manager is the coolest guy/girl ever, while making them feel like the bell of the ball, but in fact, this is all pre-planned.

And what do we call the planned out process? That’s right, smarty-pants: that’s called a System, which is something that has been thought out, written down and then executed, and if you know me, you know that I LOVE systems.

This process of giving products away for free might seem contradictory to my preaching on inventory and cost control, but if you think about it, it will cost you about $1 to create, print and distribute the card, and then wholesale-wise your first meal should be around $6 – $7, your 2nd meal $3 – 5 because it’s discounted and then your dessert will vary, but maybe another $2 – $3.

If you add all that up, the most it could be is $16, and even if you went to $20 to acquire a new customer, it’s much cheaper than the $40 – $70 Taffer projected.

The difference is, you are using the free meals as a part of a well-planned marketing tactic as opposed to a bartender hooking up his buddy or the hot chick in the mini-skirt so he can possibly get laid.

Even though this process is extremely powerful in acquiring new clientele, the thing I like most about this system is the customer service factor. Talk about going out of your way to make someone happy. This guest will tell everyone he knows how great your place is because of the personal touch you provided. You can take great pride in knowing that there is a system in place that you don’t even have to think about too much.

Simply pass out cards as they come and follow-up.

Ok, so that’s the Taffer tactic, and it’s something you can continue to do on an ongoing basis. If it’s working, why stop?

In the the next marketing article, we will talk about one of my favorite and shockingly powerful tactics, email marketing, which is good news for you because even though I’m more sarcastic and snarky than Taffer, I yell less.

Cheers, until then,


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