Restaurant Marketing: How to Leverage a Chamber Membership

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25 Restaurant Marketing Opportunities Through Your _____ Chamber Membership

Restaurant marketing was hard enough even before COVID! Serving good food is often not enough to be successful in the restaurant industry. Restauranteurs struggle with everything from staffing to marketing, staying top of mind to staying on top of orders.

The demands are endless but the chamber of commerce can help. Here’s how to leverage a chamber membership to grow your restaurant’s visibility and profitability.

Half of all adults in the US have worked in a restaurant in some capacity during their working lives and 46% of restaurant employees want to open their own restaurant some day. Whether you’ve already made that dream happen or are working on it, a chamber membership can be a valuable investment in your success.

Here’s what your chamber can do for your restaurant marketing:

  1. Location. Chamber staff members often know about available space before the for sale or lease signs go up. They are plugged into the business community and have economic development connections. Some are even the head of economic development in their area. Chamber staff also have the low-down on businesses scouting the area that could be valuable neighbors.
  2. Employees. Chambers are also in the know when it comes to people looking for jobs in the community. Some chambers offer job boards to help you get your hiring message out. Many chambers are doing creative things these days to assist employers in overcoming the server/staff shortage.
  3. Advocacy. Restaurant owners came to understand the importance of their voice being heard during the COVID outbreak. Many chambers advocated for their community’s restaurants to ensure they were able to operate as openly as possible. Some chambers worked with their local city to allow additional access to parking lots and streets for more outdoor dining. It’s hard for a single restaurant’s voice to be heard on the municipal level but the chamber represents many in the restaurant industry, amplifying their message to help them be heard by decision makers.
  4. Funding. While there are many small business avenues for funding, the application process can be daunting. The chamber is well-versed in the options available and may be able to direct you to some you hadn’t even thought of. This was especially true with the funds and grants available due to COVID.
  5. Permitting connections. Cities require permitting for restaurant operations. Sometimes the permitting process can be slower than the restauranteur would prefer. The chamber can help make the necessary introductions and call on behalf of the business to help facilitate the process.
  6. Social media teasers. Even if your restaurant isn’t open yet, the chamber can “tease” it’s audience about the delicious new dining that’s coming. You can get a sizable amount of interaction and shares on social media. It will not only bring attention to your restaurant but may also help build your follower count. If you’re already open, the chamber can share your specials on social media. Ask your chamber what kinds of social media they do for members.
  7. Shop local programs. Many chambers have shop local programs that extend to restaurants as well. You can get additional free restaurant marketing by participating in these programs.
  8. Referrals. Many chambers work closely with (or serve as) the local visitors bureau. When visitors come into town, they stop by the chamber for referrals of where to eat and what to do. If the chamber is familiar with your restaurant, they may recommend you to visitors.
  9. Brochures and coupons. Chamber offices often have a kiosk or brochure shelf for visitors to peruse. Being a member may mean you can display marketing collaterals in the chamber lobby.
  10. Ribbon cuttings. If you’re opening a restaurant, hosting a re-opening, or marking an anniversary or large launch (like being under new management), you can ask the chamber about hosting a ribbon cutting to mark the occasion. They will work with you to invite the community. You can provide dining specials or other offers to bring people in on that special day.
  11. Member to member discounts. Some chambers offer member to member discount programs to entice and/or reward chamber members for supporting one another. This is yet another way to get more people in the community to try your restaurant.
  12. Run an event. Chambers often allow members to host events at their place of business. You can bring in a crowd by doing this. Talk to your chamber about other community events that may fit your restaurant such as a taste or your town event, a farm to table event, or a restaurant week.
  13. Cater an event. Some chambers encourage local restaurants to cater the chamber events. They often give the restaurants billing and advertising. If you have a catering arm, you could land a few catering gigs by feeding this business-minded group.
  14. Host a cooking (or tasting) class. Another way to showcase your food and staff skills is by hosting a cooking class with the chamber. Most chambers have an educational component to their work and they allow members to host. Members will generally get a few minutes to talk about their offerings.
  15. Research. Every chamber member eats. True fact. As a member, you can poll people you meet to figure out their interest in new offerings, locations, and more.
  16. Business know-how. If you are a restauranteur whose skills lie in areas outside of business (like making amazing food), you may be able to learn about business concepts for free with the chamber. Often chambers host sessions on things like social media, marketing, and branding. Ask about their educational offerings. If you don’t have time to attend, know that as a chamber member, all of your employees are also members. Encourage your staff to attend instead.
  17. Access to newsletter space. If your chamber sends out a newsletter, they may do an article highlighting new businesses or you may be able to advertise in the newsletter. Find out what the circulation is and how you might get in front of that audience. They may also have advertising and sponsorship opportunities that can further your reach in the community.
  18. Spotlights. Some chambers offer spotlights for new members. This may be in video format, a spot on their website, or a special email. Whatever the opportunity, use it to showcase your food and tell your story. Include more than just your operating hours and the kind of food you sell. You want to entice people to dine with you so make it memorable.
  19. Community membership. Many people view chamber members as being upstanding members of the community. They feel more at ease knowing a business is a chamber member. Displaying your chamber member logo in your window can invite people to dine with you.
  20. Email blasts. Chambers sometimes send out periodic email blasts from members. This can help you reach a new audience. Consider a very targeted message like asking the chamber to send it right before lunch with an “Are you hungry for…?” message with a mouth-watering image of your food.
  21. Elevator pitches. The chamber can help you perfect your elevator pitch. While you may think that because everyone eats, the entire town is a candidate to dine with you, that is probably not true. There is a select clientele that you serve best. Figure out exactly who that is and what you do incredibly well and then use that to communicate every time you meet someone new at the chamber. Telling people you own the new restaurant on Main Street won’t bring in customers. Telling them you own the “new Thai-Mex place with a hot sauce you can’t forget” will entice the right kind of people (those who love a culinary adventure and hot sauce) to see if your claims are true.
  22. Branding and content. Branding is important to a restaurant. It’s how people remember you. The chamber can help you find an affordable designer or put you in contact with someone who can help you design your menu for amazing results.
  23. Access to the Chamber Guide. Most chambers offer a member directory but some also have a city guide that is used by locals and visitors alike. Check to see what opportunities are available for members. There may be a “Best of” list you can apply for or win a spot on.
  24. Mentors. Yes, the restaurant industry is competitive but sometimes you just need the insights of someone who has been there before and gone through the challenges you’re going through. You want to know what they did or what they wish they hadn’t. The chamber may have a formal mentor program or may be able to introduce you to someone willing to help you informally.
  25. Communicating the importance of reviews. Chambers understand the importance of reviews and are often reminding the community how small businesses need them. You will likely see social media posts on the subject and you can easily share those to your audience as well. Or you can create your own and tag the chamber. They may share your content for even greater reach.

Running and marketing a restaurant is challenging but with the right connections through the chamber you can reach a larger part of the community. Chamber membership can be a wonderful investment in your business with a great return.

By: Christina Metcalf