Restaurant Contests and Giveaways


Putting on a contest or a giveaway for your customers will do more than add a little fun to your concept. Giving your customers the opportunity to participate in a contest or giveaway can help your business in all of the following ways:

  • Build a database of customer information for marketing.
  • Reward patrons for repeat business and encourage customers to return.
  • Provide customers with entertainment and diversion while they wait.
  • Attract attention from the community and the press.

Types of Contests

You could try putting on some of the following kinds of contests in your restaurant:

Giveaways. You can give away a free trip, gift certificates, a plasma screen, a free stay at a fancy resort, a free menu item or anything else you can think of. This is a great way to reward your customers for their patronage. For example, Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee has put on a number of giveaways, with the prizes including cash, a cruise and a big-screen television.

Raffles. The difference between a raffle and a giveaway is that customers can enter multiple raffle tickets and increase their chances of winning. Usually, customers pay or purchase something to be enrolled in the raffle. The more a customer purchases, the more times they will be entered in the raffle. Try giving customers a raffle “ticket” for every ten dollars they spend at your restaurant. This is a great way to give your best customers an advantage and encourage repeat patronage. Or, you could offer only your most loyal customers a chance at the prize by requiring customers to accrue a certain number of points in your restaurant loyalty program before they are entered into the drawing.

Competitions. Getting customers to compete with each other for prizes will provide them with entertainment and encourage them to bring their friends to your restaurant. Consider hosting recipe contests, bake-offs, karaoke contests, eating contests, “name our new menu item” contests, slam poetry contests, jingle contests or any other customer competitions you can think of.

Games. Contests and giveaways that involve games are especially fun for customers. The classic example of a “game” contest would be the McDonald’s Monopoly game giveaway, where the grand prize is a million dollars. While you probably cannot afford to give away a million dollars, you can still get customers through your door by creating your own “game” giveaway like McDonald’s did, or by hosting a trivia or bingo night and offering prizes to the winners. Currently, bar trivia is a very popular pastime, with customers showing up regularly on trivia night just to show off their knowledge, have fun and maybe win a few free drinks.

Guidelines for Customer Contests

Gather customer information. When customers enter your giveaway, you should collect their information for your marketing database. You will need their information, anyway, in order to notify them of winners. You can collect contest entries and customer information through the following channels:

  • Business card drop-box
  • Internet entry form
  • Entry cards to leave at tables
  • Palm-sized survey terminals

For example, The Lion and the Rose, a British pub in San Antonio, Texas, gives all of its patrons a handheld machine along with their bill. This machine offers a contest entry form, email sign-up, and satisfaction survey all rolled into one. Customers can use these palm-sized terminals to sign up to win a free trip to London, but only after they complete a short satisfaction survey and enter their email addresses. The pub adds the email addresses to its database to inform customers about future promotions through its restaurant email marketing campaign. » Learn More about Direct Marketing Campaigns for Restaurants

Consider your prize offerings. While many prizes can serve as enticing rewards, you might want to choose a prize that goes well with your concept. For example, the aforementioned British pub was smart to offer a free trip to London, a prize that clearly matched its concept. Also, always make sure you can actually afford to provide customers with the prize without hurting your profits. In fact, you may want to consider giving away a prize that is cheaper for you than for the customer, like one of the following:

  • Gift certificate to your restaurant
  • Free party room reservation
  • Free drinks
  • Free menu items
  • Free dinner party for six
  • Eat free once a month for six months

With prizes like these, the customers perceive a higher prize value than you actually pay for. These prizes will encourage them to bring new guests to your business, or they may encourage customers to purchase additional food or drinks from you to go along with the free items.

Make the prizes accessible. People like contests more when they think they have a chance. For example, fewer people would play the McDonald’s Monopoly game if the million dollar grand prize were the only reward. Since the game includes more accessible prizes, like free sides and gifts, more people find it worthwhile to collect the Monopoly “properties.” You probably need to offer a big grand prize to get people’s interest, but consider awarding smaller, more accessible prizes along the way.

Give repeat customers the advantage. If at all possible, repeat customers should be entered anew in the contest each time they patronize your establishment. This will reward your most loyal customers by giving them an advantage toward winning the prize(s).

Comply with local laws. Check your local contest laws, which generally require that the contest be fair and follow the given regulations. You may need to write up your contest rules and regulations and display them in the restaurant and on your restaurant website. Contest laws usually require that the winner of a giveaway be picked at random. If you have any questions about contest laws in your area, you should speak with a lawyer.

Remember, giving away freebies is not the point of a customer contest. A contest is not a profitable marketing tactic unless it helps you by building a marketing database, getting press for your restaurant or encouraging more sales. However, by following some basic guidelines, you can turn your restaurant contest into a profitable marketing strategy.


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