It’s an unpredictable time right now and finding ways to open more monetization channels as a restaurant owner not only benefits profits in the short-term gains but supports long-term financial security.  So how can restaurant make more money? This post reviews 7 unique ways that are working right now for entrepreneurs online.

Coming from a restaurant background myself, I decided to write this article to share with you some unique ways that can help you earn extra money – especially during this uncertain time.

And these methods can absolutely apply to other small businesses.

Despite the overwhelming anxiety of what’s next for millions of businesses, there’s one silver lining.

The fact that we can easily and freely leverage the power of the internet provides unique opportunities for businesses to offset the current lack of revenue.

We have an opportunity to pivot in ways that will not only sustain income in the short-term, but also build long-term skills and assets that will be around for years to come.

So let’s explore these 7 unique ways that your restaurant (or business) can earn extra money in the short-term during the coronavirus outbreak.

Outline

*This post contains affiliate links, which I may receive compensation from. This is at no cost to you and lets me keep the lights on. Read more here…

Introduction: Promotion Strategies

Each of the ideas below can use one of the following two promotional strategies: free and/or paid strategies. 

Regardless of the method you choose, it’s important that you remain aware of what people are experiencing and how they’re feeling: concerned, worried, probably uneasy. 

So any blatant marketing that undermines these emotions could come off in a negative way.

You want to frame your messaging in a way that says “Hey, We [Your Restaurant] Want To Let You Know That We’re Here For You & We’re Not Letting This Situation Get The Best Of Us…

And everyone has empathy for one another right now, so just be sure to remember this with your marketing and choose your offers and messaging responsibly.

You can also look at how other businesses are handling their marketing and offers for inspiration.

So before we jump into new product and service ideas for your restaurant, let’s explore the two main ways you can promote them.

Free Methods

First, you can promote for free to your email list and existing customers. 

You could then expand to people within your local area (and beyond, depending on the strategy you implement).

Here are some free methods to reach your audience:

  • Email Marketing
    • Of course, this would require that you have an existing email list of customers and patrons
  • Pinterest SEO (search engine optimization)
    • Pinterest behaves more like a search engine than a social media platform and ranking on it can be a quicker and easier process compared to Google
    • You can speed up this process by using group board, Tailwind Tribes (by signing up for Tailwind, a useful post scheduler and social media management tool) or a social share platform like Viral Content Bee 
    • Learn How To Get Free Traffic Using Viral Content Bee Here! (content starts at about 0:40)
    • Learn More About Pinterest SEO Basics Here!
  • Direct Outreach
    • This can be especially helpful if you’re in a smaller town where word-of-mouth still carries weight
  • Word-of-Mouth & Social Media
    • Taking advantage of social media sharing can be highly beneficial, especially at a time when people are willing and excited to support local businesses by passing your message and campaigns along

Paid Methods

Since most people are staying indoors and spending more time than ever on their computers and mobile devices, you can take advantage of this by focusing on a digital marketing and social media strategy.

And if you’re new to these marketing channels, there are numerous free resources available, including throughout this site.

But just know that the process of creating a simple interest-based targeting ad (or a retargeting ad for your email subscribers) isn’t too complicated actually.

Check out my post on 6 Steps to Successful Facebook Ads!

Here’s a short list of my top recommended channels to use for paid marketing:

  • Facebook & Instagram Ads
    • Setting up Facebook (or Instagram) ads can be a highly effective way to reach new and existing audiences
    • I recommend starting out with a local ad, targeting people in your area who (for example) enjoy the type of food you specialize in, cooking at home, restaurants and going out to eat
  • Pinterest Ads
    • These can be especially great for print-on-demand products
    • Both fashion and food/recipes perform very well on the platform
    • Pinterest users tend to shop more and buy more products while visiting the platform
    • Users are also more open to new brands, promoted pins and tend to be higher income earners
    • Learn more about creating Pinterest ads in this video!
  • Retargeting Ads
    • Running retargeting campaigns is a very effective marketing strategy and it’s highly recommended if you decide to use digital marketing tactics
    • You can retarget people who’ve engaged with a previous advertisement or post of yours, your website visitors and also your email list subscribers
    • Video view retargeting is a type of retargeting campaigns that is especially effective
    • If you want to retarget website visitors, you would need to have had the Facebook pixel installed onto your website – this is how you gather data and track website visitors
  • Influencer Marketing
    • Influencer marketing will require that you reach out and direct message influencers (on Instagram or YouTube for example)
    • You can then negotiate a price and content strategy – although it’s best to give them creative control and freedom in how they promote your offer
    • Finding someone with an engaged following is more important than a big following – therefore, look for influencers that have many comments and there’s two-way interaction (that is, they also respond to the comments)
    • Finally, be sure to find influencers who are most relevant to your niche or product offer you’re trying to promote

OK, now we’ve covered the basics for promotion strategies, let’s check out some unique ways your restaurant can earn extra money during the coronavirus.

1. Online Merchandising With Print-On-Demand

Print-on-demand is an exciting new(ish) business model that allows anyone to upload designs onto products such as t-shirts, mugs, towels, bags and more. 

And the best part is you can sell those designs with zero inventory, zero upfront costs and zero shipping, order fulfillment or customer service requirements.

It’s truly an amazing opportunity to add a passive income stream into your business that’s managed entirely online and fully automated – with or without the current coronavirus impact.

So let’s briefly review this method in more detail to reveal how you can use it to your advantage while the restaurant and service industry sits in limbo.

The Print-On-Demand Strategy

Restaurants offering t-shirts is not a new concept. But moving this income stream online in a non-inventory, passive way is new. 

In fact, there are online entrepreneurs that have built whole businesses around just selling print-on-demand products online.

Essentially, your job is the creator. You need to create designs that are trending and/or target a specific niche or group of people relevant to your brand.

There are numerous designs to take inspiration from online and you can find them by simply perusing Amazon or doing a quick Google search for “trendy t-shirt designs”.

There are paid tools that show you trending designs, but researching on your own is also effective – especially for our purposes here.

What you’ll want to aim for (as a restaurant owner) is to create in-demand designs that are also specific to your main clientele. They may be funny, inspiring or even serious. And they don’t need to be complicated either.

Think of that simple t-shirt design you’ve likely seen that just reads “Yoga, Coffee & Wine”.

This is extremely simple to make and design but targets a very specific niche of people that like and are passionate about those 3 things.

So for example, if you run a pizza shop, you could target customers of yours that also like yoga and coffee (you can isolate these interests quite easily with Facebook ads) by creating a t-shirt that reads “Yoga, Coffee & Pizza”.

Or, if you own a popular BBQ restaurant in your town, you could target everyone on your list or within a 25-mile radius that have small children with a kids t-shirt campaign reading something like “Doesn’t This Shirt Look BBQ-ute On Me?” (feel free to steal that idea by the way).

So these designs don’t need to be difficult, complex creations. They just need to be true to your brand and more importantly, true to your customer.

People love a brand with a good story that they can emotionally connect to. So let’s look at how to start making print-on-demand products to sell.

Now let’s talk about how to make and design a print-on-demand product!

How To Make Print-On-Demand Products

You’ll basically need two things: A print-on-demand platform to host and sell your products and place to create your designs.

First, one of the best (and easiest) places to create simple designs is using a free platform called Canva. It’s a design tool that let’s you make everything from social media posts and banners to invitations and logos.

And using it to make simple designs with their built-in fonts and customization features is easy as pie (sorry for the bad restaurant pun).

If you’d like more information, here is a full YouTube tutorial on how to use Canva for making print-on-demand products!

So now to the other piece of the puzzle – finding a print-on-demand site to use.

There are many print-on-demand sites available, but for this post, I’m recommending a company called Teespring.

Its a fantastic choice due to its simplicity and user-friendly interface. Also, users can easily create branded storefronts for hosting all of your designs.

You can then link to this storefront from your main website (by adding a shop now page and new menu tab for example) as well as within any marketing campaigns or email outreach efforts.

To get started, simply visit Teespring and create a new account. From here, you can select the option Start Designing from the main menu at the top and choose which product you’d like to create.

From there, Teespring will walk you through the steps of uploading your design and building your product listing. You can also find the option to Create a new storefront after clicking on the Storefronts option within your main account drop-down menu.

Here, you can upload a brand logo, choose a color theme and manage your listings.

For more on setting up a Teespring account and selling on the platform successfully, I recommend checking out this in-depth video tutorial by Greg Gottfried. He’s super knowledgeable on the topic (and all things related to print-on-demand).

$$ Tip Jar 

Using mockup photos is a simple way to add professionalism and brand onto print-on-demand products.

Placeit.net is one mockup software that’s great for its huge library of professional stock mockups, design tools and other features. 

Placeit does cost $14.95/month however. 

So if you’re looking for a free option, then head over to Smartmockups and check them out! They’re another great mockup software I’ve personally used.

2. Create A Digital Product

Creating a digital product is a staple for many online businesses and website owners. Essentially, it’s something you can create once and sell over and over without little to no maintenance.

It’s essentially a passive income stream for many businesses and entrepreneurs.

But how can we use this income generating strategy as a restaurant (or small business) owner?

It’s definitely borderline uncharted territory here, as most restaurants (in my experience) don’t typically consider these types of monetization channels. 

However, considering the gravity of the current situation, exploring non-traditional channels may be just what we need.

Furthermore, since people are spending more time than ever at home, and potentially getting bored with movies and shows on Netflix or playing video games, learning a new skill is an opportunity you can sell.

Digital products can be anything that’s value-adding and solves a real problem for people. 

For restaurants, this could (most obviously) be something related to cooking.

For example, offering a secret recipes mini course that teaches popular recipes and techniques that your restaurant is known for could be an enticing product, as people find themselves stuck at home, cooking now more than ever before.

Or you could target topics such as: 

  • “Secrets To Make At-Home Cooking Taste Like A 5-Star Restaurant”
  • “How to Meal Prep and Cook For 1”
  • “How To Cook A Restaurant Quality Date-Night Meal When You’re Stuck At Home”

Again, the options are many and varied, but if you can package an enticing, value-adding offer for people, creating a digital product may be a fantastic opportunity – one that could continue to pay dividends, well after this situation gets resolved.

Also, you can boost the profitability of a digital product by adding affiliate links within the course. 

For example, if you’ve created a course on how to cook a meal that requires some specialty ingredient, you could simply provide a link to that special ingredient for people to purchase online. 

That link would be an affiliate link that you’d earn a commission on (by using Amazon’s affiliate program for example).

I’ll talk more about this concept in the Affiliate Marketing section below! In the meantime, let’s look at another idea – eBooks.

3. Make A Recipe eBook

This next idea branches off the digital product concept, but is (in my opinion) a little easier.

As a restaurant owner, you have in-depth knowledge and expertise with a collection of recipes, cooking techniques and signature dishes. 

So why not put those into a book and sell it?

Creating an eBook nowadays is actually quite simple. There are numerous templates, platforms and free tools that can help you to create a professional looking, well-designed book quickly and efficiently.

But since getting into the specifics for this topic is outside of the scope of this article, here is a free guide by HubSpot that will take you through the whole process from start to finish!

4. Strategy For More Takeout Orders & Private Deliveries

There’s a good chance that you’ve already promoting takeout orders. But a reviewing how to increase these orders is worth discussing. 

The primary tactic here is to promote your business and its story using social media and targeting your local area. 

You want to get in front of people and share your story, whether through video, written content or daily social media posts. 

You want to consistently remind people you’re still here and tell them exactly who you are and what your restaurant brand represents.

Maybe you’re a family run business with an interesting background – tell that story. Brand recognition can lead to an increase in takeout orders if done correctly.

Actually, entrepreneur and social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk recently discussed this exact method for restaurants in one of his videos.

Click here and skip to about minute 46:45 to listen to Gary V discuss this strategy with a restaurant owner in full!

You could take this strategy one step further by trying out private (or personalized) orders – especially if you combine this method with the power of customized digital marketing.

In fact, segmenting your customers and advertising specific offers that are personalized and empathetic for how the current situation is specifically impacting them can yield a much higher return than just a generalized order some takeout campaign.

Also, while many of your regular (or potential) customers may be more than willing to order takeout regardless of any clever marketing tactics, it may not have even crossed their mind, considering everything else that’s going on.

So by simply reminding people to not worry about cooking dinner tonight with a simple Facebook ad (along with a sympathetic message and an enticing coupon offer), it may be just the reminder they needed.

But the key here is to customize an ad campaign to match the different subsets of your target audience.

For example, you’d send a completely different message and offer to single people in their 20s living in the city than to parents who have full schedules and young children at home due to no school. 

And you’d promote a different takeout offer to a vegetarian compared to someone who loves BBQ.

This customization aspect is one of the core benefits of digital marketing. 

Being able to create highly relevant, personalized ads that appeal to different subsets of your target market on an emotional level is a winning strategy.

So start by finding and isolating a potential problem that your customers are currently facing and provide a simple solution by using your food delivery/takeout offer.

And just remember to stay sensitive to people’s emotions with everything that’s going on. Blatant marketing is not a good method considering the present environment. 

Be value-adding, empathetic and human.

*Check with your local government to stay updated with any regulations and guidelines for takeout orders as well as any additional steps that need to be taken for preventing the spread of the virus during delivery. Please read this post from the FDA on food safety during the coronavirus for more information.

5. Blogging, SEO & Pinterest

Building a blog is a fantastic opportunity to expand your restaurant business online. It’s a passive channel that will provide value for people while allowing you to engage with a more expansive audience.

Consider food blogs, YouTube channels and social media profiles. These type of content are extremely popular and perform very well – especially on places like Pinterest or Instagram, which are visual platforms.

In fact, combining a food inspired content strategy (via blogging) with Google SEO best practices and a Pinterest traffic strategy can yield impressive results and earn your restaurant a substantial passive income source each month.

Here’s a simple step-by-step process for getting a blog set up for a restaurant:

  1. Of course, this all starts by adding a blog section to your website.
  2. From here, you want to consider your audience, your food niche and your content strategy
    1. Ethnic food? 
    2. Wedding cakes? 
    3. Burgers? 
    4. Maybe you specialize in upscale bar food?
    5. You can write for many angles, including recipes, tutorials, food history topics, lists, ingredient explanations, unique cooking methods, etc.
  3. You then want to perform keyword research and a competitive analysis
    1. The goal is to find low competition keywords with a high search volume
    2. Start by typing in some target keyword ideas you’d like to cover (such as “best healthy food in ____”) and then use Google’s autosuggest feature to start brainstorming potential longtail keyword opportunities
    3. Enter those keywords and explore the first page results
    4. Analyze the wwebsites that are ranking on page 1 of Google
    5. Are they short articles (less than 1,000 words) and/or from websites that are small and of little authority?
    6. If so, then there is opportunity for that keyword 
    7. The idea is not compete against huge, well-established websites
    8. This is why it’s helpful to niche down and write on smaller topics
    9. You can use a free keyword research tool like Ubersuggest to help you analyze the competition and keyword opportunities
  4. Start creating long-form (1,500+ words) that’s helpful and/or interesting for people 
  5. Add monetization channels
    1. Keep reading below for more on this!

There are numerous ways for monetizing a blog. For example, using ad placements, affiliate marketing and selling your own digital products or services are all common and profitable methods.

In fact, many of the strategies covered in this post (such as creating a eBook, consulting, merchandising) can be easily integrated into your blog.

The two extra monetization channels you should absolutely implement are ad placements (by using an ad network such as Google Adsense) and affiliate marketing.

Affiliate marketing is a popular business model that websites and online companies have been taking advantage of for years.

Affiliate marketing is the promoting and selling of products on behalf of a company, of which you receive commissions for any sales or leads that you generate.

Most companies have an affiliate or partnership program that you can join.

As a restaurant owner, you can use your unique insights and expertise for food, service quality and beverage to add value to your customers in a way that’s suitable during this social distancing era.

I explore affiliate marketing opportunities for a restaurant more below, but allow me to first recommend using a Pinterest promotion strategy for any blog content you create.

Recommended Read: Step-By-Step Guide For How To Start A Successful Blog (+ Free Templates!)

Ranking on Google can take up 35 weeks or more (depending on factors such as keyword difficultry, industry/niche and website domain authority).

So is there a way to speed up the process of generating traffic to your website? Short answer: Yes. It’s called Pinterest.

Pinterest is more of a (visual) search engine than a social media platform and most “pins” are nothing more than links to personal blogs. 

And the food niche is extremely popular on this platform.

Taking advantage of a proper Pinterest marketing strategy can potentially get your thousands of visitors each month – fast. 

Even as a new website, ranking on Pinterest is much easier and quicker compared to Google. Here are some key tips to keep in mind for using Pinterest to generate traffic to a restaurant/food blog:

  • Use A Pinterest Business Account (it’s free)
  • Create High Quality, Visual Pins (You can use a free design tool like Canva)
  • Use Easy-To-Read Text Overlay On Your Images That Are Or Relate to The Title
  • Make Click-Worthy Titles 
  • Perform Keyword Research (similar to the Google method)
  • Optimize For Those Keywords By Adding Them To Your Pins Images, Titles, Descriptions, Boards & Profile Info 

Recommended Watch: Pinterest Marketing For Beginners

Affiliate Marketing Ideas For Restaurants & Service Industry Businesses

For starters, I can think of two ways to use affiliate marketing as a restaurant owner.

First, you can create a post or video teaching people how to make some unique, original or signature dish.

Then, within the post or video description, you can conveniently have affiliate links to the ingredients and tools that you use and/or recommend for cooking. 

Joining the Amazon affiliates program would be a great choice here.

Currently, Amazon offers its affiliates a 5% commission on grocery items sold and 4.5% for kitchen items (Source: Amazon Associates, 2020).

Another idea is to recommend monthly food subscription services, such as Blue Apron (who do have a partner program). 

Many of these subscription-based companies offer affiliate programs that you can join and they will pay you commissions for each new customer you refer to them.

But whatever monetization channel you decide to use, just be sure that you’re adding value (and not trying to sell sell sell). 

As a general rule of thumb, find a problem your target audience is experiencing and then simply provide a unique solution!

How To Become An Affiliate

Becoming an affiliate is generally a pretty straightforward process. For most companies, you can simply Google the company name followed by “affiliate”. 

For example, when searching “Blue Apron affiliate”, you’ll find the very first option connects you to their application page.

You can also find links to join a company’s affiliate program on their homepage, often at the bottom of the page. 

On Amazon for example, if you scroll towards the bottom, you’ll find a “Become An Affiliate” link.

Finally, there are also numerous affiliate networks you can look into joining, such as ShareASale, that compile products from multiple businesses and suppliers all into one place.

But if you’re only starting out, I recommend focusing on just one or a few products (if they compliment each other well especially; for example, a Blue Apron subscription coupled with a high quality fry pan or cutlery). 

From there, you can start building a unique offer or content strategy around those products and then promote them with more authority.

6. Combine Delivery With A Monthly Subscription Model

This could be an interesting opportunity as this type of business model continues to grow in popularity. 

Essentially, the idea here is to create and sell your dishes as a DIY type of product.

For example, if you’re restaurant or chef that has a signature pizza with a homemade dough recipe, you could prepare all the necessary ingredients and a recipe printout, package it nicely and send it to customers as a product offer.

Of course, this concept would require more time and energy to work out the logistics, planning and any relevant regulations or laws for selling and packaging food. 

Logistical hurdles such as making sure you have a certified, commercial kitchen, the necessary food and business permits and other health and food handling requirements could be an obstacle.

However, the proof of concept is there. 

And the differentiating factor is you’re scaling this idea down to a micro level and honing in on your local market by providing your audience a way to support you and enjoy your food without having to leave the house.

Recommended Read: How To Start A Food Delivery Business

7. Online Consulting

Depending on your restaurant niche, this could be an interesting area to explore potential opportunities.

For example, many people lack basic kitchen skills (myself included) and could benefit from a seasoned chef or restaurant owner like yourself and your staff.

You could even promote something like an anniversary package service for men or women who want to cook a unique, delicious meal for their partner as a surprise.

Likewise, you could target moms or dads with young children on how to cook food with veggies that kids actually love.

And consulting services can be especially helpful if your restaurant specializes in some unique skill set, such as sushi rolling.

Although there are many YouTube video tutorials on cooking, your unique angle is personalized and specific since you’ll be right there showing people exactly how to do something. 

Then you can meet over Skype (or in person) and cook alongside them while showing your best techniques and some mistakes to avoid.

You could add an enticing element of exclusivity by saying something like “Master this 1 simple trick that will make people think you’re a professional chef“.

Still, another consulting option could even relate to dining etiquette and table setting (especially if you’re a fine-dining restaurant). 

Either way, you possess unique expertise. 

The key is finding something that it’s demand and could be value-adding for people.

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If you decide to implement a food box subscription business, you could combine this consulting service as an upsell during the customer’s checkout. 

This could boost your average cart value while also amplifying the uniqueness and quality of your offer.

Conclusion

Running a business is hard work. And I know firsthand how the restaurant industry has its ups and downs. 

In this unprecedented time of economic uncertainty, taking action and implementing unique, innovative strategies into your business can really boost your revenue in the short-term.

But taking advantage of these business models can also create long-term assets that generate continuous income streams well into the future.

We’re still not sure how the coronavirus will impact businesses and restaurants in the long-term, so right now is a great time to be exploring and investing in other, digital opportunities for your business

Embracing modern marketing, innovative monetization ideas and recognizing the growing trend of the knowledge economy (by creating a digital product for example) will help to position your business for a future that’s more heavily digitized and open to multiple streams of income and profit stability.

Let me know in the comments your thoughts on these ideas – or if you’ve tried any other unique ideas to combat the recent hardships!

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