Viral Restaurant Marketing


Viral marketing spreads on its own using existing social and professional networks. A viral marketing campaign has the potential for exponential growth as it “spreads” through the network, creating brand awareness and a buzz about your restaurant. A viral marketing campaign is usually inexpensive or free marketing, and it can be done on a small scale for a small, independent restaurant, or on a large scale for a chain.

Essential Components of Successful Viral Marketing

Incentive. The marketing materials should provide recipients with an enticing incentive – such as a free product, service or entertainment – to “pass it on.”

Effortless Distribution. A viral marketing message should be able to be distributed easily through pre-existing social networks.

Potential For Growth. The marketing campaign should have potential for rapid, exponential growth.

Initial resource. You need to have a group of people with good social networking potential to initiate the campaign. Your best resources for catalyzing a viral marketing campaign are the following:

  • Loyal customers
  • Friends and family
  • Employees

Mediums for Viral Marketing

There are two basic mediums for initiating and spreading a viral marketing message. You can use the internet, or you can use traditional word-of-mouth marketing. Either way, you will need to catalyze the marketing message and encourage its growth.

Word of Mouth

The key to developing positive word of mouth viral marketing is to focus on increasing customer satisfaction. If customers are exceedingly happy with your operations, they will tell their friends, family and coworkers about it without needing another incentive. However, there are also several special marketing techniques you can implement to catalyze a word-of-mouth viral marketing campaign:

“Refer a friend” promotions. You can encourage your existing customers to refer a friend to your restaurant by giving them an incentive to do so. For example, you could give them coupons or cards where they fill out their name, distribute the cards to their friends, and receive a free item if one of their referrals comes in with the card.

Events and contests. By hosting unique events or contests at your restaurant, you will create a buzz-worthy incentive for word-of-mouth marketing.

Publicity stunts. Word of mouth marketing is a form of publicity. Sometimes, the best way to create a buzz about your restaurant is to pull a stunt. For example, if you run a coffee shop, you could send an employee dressed as a rooster to the roof one morning to begin crowing. Within a few hours, people are bound to start talking about it. » Learn More about Restaurant Publicity Stunts

Unique or humorous ads. If you can create a newspaper, television, radio or flyer ad that is entertaining enough, people will tell their friends about it.

One-of-a-kind selling point. Sometimes, simply being unique is enough to get people to talk about you. If you can develop a one-of-a-kind atmosphere or menu, it is much easier to encourage word-of-mouth marketing.


The internet is the perfect breeding ground for a viral marketing campaign. You can spread the word about your restaurant through the following mediums:

Email. If you can create an irresistible incentive or entertaining marketing messages, videos or pictures for a direct email marketing campaign, you may be able to encourage customers to forward the emails to those in their social and professional networks.

Social networking and sharing sites. Facebook, MySpace and Evite are all great places to launch your viral marketing campaign. In social networking sites, everyone is connected to their friends. You can create a special event or application that people can share with their friends. Sharing sites such as You Tube are also great places to create an entertaining marketing message that people can forward to or share with their friends.

Blogs. Many sites, such as Blogspot, have become great hotbeds for viral marketing campaigns. Since blogs link off to each other, you can spread a marketing message if your blog becomes popular enough. Maintain a blog about your restaurant or something related to your community. If you make your blog specific to your community, your blog will be more likely to attract the local people that might actually eat at your restaurant.

Two Viral Marketing Ideas For Your Campaign

  • If you have a small database of customer emails, you can email customers a coupon with excellent value and ask them to forward it on. If the incentive is good enough, their friends might forward on the email, and so forth and so on. You can track the effectiveness of your viral marketing by collecting and filing the coupons that come in.
  • If your restaurant has a lot of employees, initiate an employee bonus program. Give your employees unique cards to distribute. As employees deliver the marketing materials to their network, they can ask their friends and family to turn in the cards with their bill the next time they visit your restaurant. Collect the cards as they come in, and give employees gifts or bonuses according to the amount of new customers they generate through their network.

Risks Involved With Viral Marketing

Although viral marketing can be a successful way to spread the word about your restaurant, there are some risks involved. Take measures to avoid these risks, which include the following:

  • Once it is launched, the campaign is out of your control. It could turn into a negative campaign.
  • Since it spreads on your own, it is more difficult to reach your qualified target market.
  • People may recognize it as a marketing tactic.

By carefully planning your initial launch and avoiding gimmicky campaigns that involve blatant sales pitches, you can reduce the amount of risk involved in a viral marketing campaign.

Examples Of Successful Viral Marketing Campaigns

Qdoba Mexican Grill’s “Who Do You Love?” Qdoba Mexican Grill launched an entirely viral online promotion called the “Who Do You Love?” party promotion. The campaign began by sending customers in Qdoba’s email database a link to a promotional website. At the website, visitors could nominate their friends or family members to win “the party of a lifetime.” Nominators could also send personalized emails and promotional materials to encourage people in their network to nominate someone. Within six hours of launching the campaign, Qdoba had added almost 10,000 email addresses to its database.1

Burger King’s “Whopper Sacrifice.” At the beginning of 2009, Burger King launched its “Whopper Sacrifice” viral marketing campaign. The fast food chain created a Facebook application that allowed users to receive a coupon for a free Whopper if they dropped ten friends from their Facebook social network. The campaign generated an incredible amount of free press, and furthermore, 233,906 friends were dropped in exchange for a free Whopper. Although the campaign was ultimately terminated due to complaints from Facebook, even this controversy earned Burger King some press.

1 “Experiential Inventions.” Morey Evans Advertising <> (accessed January 25, 2009).

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