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Attracting Tourists to a Restaurant

Attracting Tourists to a Restaurant

Culinary tourism is gaining popularity. When people take vacations and travel, they usually want more beyond simple relaxation or a business trip. They are seeking cultural education, in part by experiencing the local cuisine.

Essentials for Attracting Out-of-Town Customers

Any restaurant could profit from out-of-town customers. If you hope to attract tourists and out-of-towners, you need to use the right marketing techniques to catch their interest. There are two ways to attract tourists to a restaurant: be near a tourist attraction, or become the tourist attraction. Either way, make sure you do the following:

Maintain a website.

Almost 50% of consumers have visited a restaurant website.1 Since they do not have firsthand knowledge of the region, tourists and out-of-towners are even more likely than the average customer to surf the Internet for a good place to eat. If you already have a website, send a link request to the local chamber of commerce or tourism bureau.

Get listed in the phonebook.

There is a phonebook in almost every hotel room. If you are not listed in the phonebook, it might be difficult for out-of-towners to find your address and phone number. In a crunch, travelers will often turn to the phonebook to find a place to eat. In addition to getting listed, you might consider placing an ad in the yellow pages with some details about your restaurant and your takeout and delivery services.

Distribute paper menus.

If you hope to sell to travelers, you need a paper menu, whether or not you offer takeout and delivery. Place the menu in strategic locations, like hotel lobbies, visitor centers, car rental agencies, airports and local bulletin boards. Your paper menu will serve as a mini-advertisement for your restaurant.

Get listed in restaurant guides.

If you are located in a tourism hub or a popular travel destination, it is essential that you get listed in restaurant guides and directories. This includes online restaurant guides like RestaurantRow.com and Dine.com, as well as any print restaurant directories that will list you, such as hotel restaurant guides, the AAA Travel Destination Guide, the Michelin Guide, etc.

Offer good parking.

Travelers who are new to the area do not want to search for a parking space. If your parking situation is lacking, you might have difficulty convincing tourists that your restaurant is worth the hassle of parking far away. If you do not have a parking lot, partner with a local garage or lot and implement a free valet parking service.

By making use of the above tactics, you will make your restaurant available to both tourists and business travelers who are looking for a place to eat out.

Capitalizing on a Nearby Tourist Attraction

If you operate a restaurant near a tourist attraction like a museum, beach, theme park or event center, make sure you capitalize on your good location. In addition to the essential marketing techniques mentioned above, use some of these tactics to catch the interest of tourists:

Use outdoor signs.

A large sign and a sidewalk menu will help you attract passersby. Prominent outdoor signage is especially important if you operate within walking distance of a major tourist attraction, like a beach, museum or downtown.

Buy billboard space.

To attract tourists traveling by road, consider purchasing billboard space on a major interstate, especially if your restaurant is near an exit. It is also a good idea to advertise on the major highways near the airport, since you might catch the eye of a traveler in a cab or rental car.

Advertise in newspapers.

Many travelers will buy a local newspaper or pick up a free one at their hotel. If you hope to attract their business, consider advertising in the papers, especially during tourist season.

Form partnerships

Partner with charter bus companies, travel agencies, local hotels and event centers. For example, you could agree to give discounts to mutual customers, and ask them to distribute coupons or menus for your restaurant. Some hotels and convention centers will even give visitors a coupon book for local businesses. You should also consider forming a friendship with and giving a permanent discount to the employees at hotels and visitor centers. Many travelers will ask these locals for restaurant recommendations.

Become a rewards provider.

As a rewards provider, joining a rewards network – like ThankYou, SkyMiles Dining or Rewards Network Restaurant Cashback – can help you to attract business from people who eat out frequently when traveling.

Becoming a Tourist Attraction

Whether or not you are near a tourism hub, you may be able to attract travelers to your restaurant. By establishing yourself as unique, you can turn yourself into a destination for culinary tourists. Try the following:

Offer regional cuisine.

Many travelers are looking for cultural education, and offering unique, regional cuisine will pique their interest. For example, if you are in San Antonio, consider serving chile con carne. If you are in Chicago, serve gourmet hot dogs. If you are on the beach, serve fresh seafood. You could also serve local wines and beers, or feature local produce in your menu.

Develop your unique selling point (USP).

The more unique your restaurant, the more likely you will become a destination for tourism. Theme restaurants, exhibition cooking, and unique dining experience can attract tourists. For example, Casa Bonita in Denver attracts tourists by offering cliff divers, costumes and other forms of entertainment. You could renovate your restaurant to include a unique interior design or even offer cooking classes to teach tourists how to make local dishes.

Get press.

The best way to become a tourist destination is to get regional and/or national press. If you get enough press and good reviews, travelers might visit your area just to eat at your restaurant, or they may remember your restaurant when the inevitable question is posed: “Where should we eat out tonight?” 

Organize a local culinary event.

Get together with other local businesses, restaurants and farmers’ markets to organize a regional or city-wide culinary festival or dining event. For example, restaurants in the City of Boulder host an annual weeklong event called “First Bite,” where top local restaurants offer a unique three course $26 fixed-price dinner menu. Such an event may require you to work with the competition, but it can increase culinary tourism in your area, especially if the event highlights regional cuisine. If your region already puts on an arts or culinary festival, like “Taste of Georgetown,” make sure to participate or vend at the location.


1 National Restaurant Association, “Restaurant Industry at a Glance,” http://www.restaurant.org/research/ind_glance.cfm (accessed November 5, 2008).