5 Ways to Creatively Market Your College Town Restaurant


Back to school season is right around the corner and has even already begun in some states. College kids typically head back to campus in early to mid-August for yet another semester. In a recent blog we discussed 5 Back to School Restaurant Promotions to use in the spirit of school being back in session. Today, we’re focusing in on college town restaurants and how those businesses can creatively market to new and returning students.

Offer Free Samples

Take a cue from the big-box chain stores like BJ’s and Costco who make bulk shopping a can’t-miss event by offering customers free samples.

Let’s face it, college kids love free stuff. They’re tight on cash, but still hungry for great food. Use this to your advantage by offering up some free samples, either at your location or on campus. This is a great way to market your college town restaurant, give students a taste of what you offer, and do some essential face-to-face interaction. If students like what they taste, they’ll be more inspired to visit your restaurant and order it again.

Free samples can even have an effect on reciprocity. According to Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University: “If somebody does something for you”—such as giving you a quarter of a ravioli on a piece of wax paper—“you really feel a rather surprisingly strong obligation to do something back for them.”

While promoting the free samples, you can throw in a coupon for 10% off the next meal or a free appetizer. Again, any kind of discount or free item goes a long way for a busy college kid. Plus, you’re giving them a reason to come into your restaurant at a later date.

Hand Out Swag

What better way for you to market your college town restaurant than to have walking billboards all over campus? Get some fun t-shirts printed up with your company logo and give them away at your location, on campus, or at other community events.

You can even see if the campus administrative buildings will place your branded pens in common areas for students to use and take home. Other swag ideas include umbrellas (for those rainy day walks to class), hats, mugs, and tote bags.

Although purchasing giveaways items is an investment, it’s great for getting the word out there about your business. And it’s effective! It’s said that 85% of people have done business with a company after receiving a promotional product. That same research shows that logoed mugs are more effective advertising than radio and television spots! Now, that’s good marketing.

People find it important for promotional products to be something useful, so keep that in mind. Plus, like we mentioned above, college students love free stuff. They’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Sponsor an Event

Activity doesn’t just stop when the last class is over. There are tons of clubs, groups, and teams that participate in events all over campus. Find out if you can be a sponsor an event or offer a prize for an auction, charity event, or raffle. This is a prime opportunity for your restaurant’s name to be mentioned on a microphone in front of a large crowd, in promotional flyers, or any other marketing collateral there may be for the event.

The Event Marketing Institute found that 74% of consumers are more likely to buy products after exposure to a branded event marketing experience.

Be sure to do some social posting, like an Instagram story or Snapchat filter, around your participation in the activity.

Being active in the college community can help you become a household (and “dormhold”) name.

Get Creative on Social Media

College-aged individuals are more in tune with social media than anyone else. This means you have to go the extra mile to make your social presence more interactive, fun, and effective.

Posting an update about happy hours or daily specials is useful, but it’s not enough. 5 out of 6 millennials connect with companies on social media networks. They’re not just looking for updates, they’re looking for interaction and acknowledgement from brands.

Consider their Opinions

How do you achieve this next level of social engagement? Make use of the tools available on the platforms. Instagram just released new updates that offer new stickers for Instagram stories. You can take polls, answer questions, and mention other social media users.

Testing out ideas for a new special? Ask your audience if they’d prefer a buffalo chicken wrap or a BBQ chicken panini. You can then make a decision based on your poll results and let your followers know that the decision was made because of them. This makes people feel like you listened and that you care about what they want.

Answer their Questions

Consider hosting a weekly or bi-weekly Q&A session using Instagram questions. Let your followers ask your restaurant things they want to know and address each question in your story. This gives followers a deeper insight into what your business is all about. Plus, you might just answer some burning questions people have been wondering about for quite some time.


If someone comments on your restaurant’s post, update, or photo, respond! 62% of millennials say that if a brand engages with them on social networks, they are more likely to become a loyal customer.

Make it Fun

Consider creating a Snapchat geofilter that customers can use when they’re in your restaurant. This is great for brand exposure and visibility to additional Snapchat users who may not be following you (yet).

Host a contest on social media. Tell followers that if they geotag your location and tag your Instagram handle in their post, they’ll enjoy 20% off their next order. This gets you in front of those individuals’ followers for even more exposure.

When it comes to social media, the possibilities are endless. Get creative when targeting this young audience of people who are checking their smartphones 45 times per day.

Host Your Own Events

You’ve gotten out in the community and on campus, participated in local charities, and handed out promo items. Next, consider bringing the party to your place. College nights can be a huge success if you have enough event space to host a crowd.

Designate one day of the week to a college-geared event. Are you a Mexican restaurant? Offer Taco Tuesdays with a discount on margaritas and beer. Italian cuisine? Buy-one-get-one pasta Mondays can entice people to eat with you and bring their friends. Have a martini bar? Half off Thursdays from 5-8pm can be your thing. College students are always looking for deals on meals and a place to have a good time. Be that place! Let your followers know about these events ahead of time by scheduling your social posts.

If you want festivities to continue late into the night, hire a live band or a DJ. You can even scout the campus to see if there are some bands that are looking for gigs.

Market this event by handing out flyers on campus and posting to social media. You can even ask the University if they’ll mention the event on their social accounts. It’s likely that most students are following their college’s social channels, so take advantage whenever you can.

If you market the event effectively and execute it even better, you’ll become to next hot spot to be each week.

In Conclusion

Having a restaurant located in a college town poses unique opportunities for your business. Your target audience is between the ages of 18-24, is active on social media, and is always looking for a great deal or a place to hang out. If you’re creative with how you market your college town restaurant to students, you can inspire them to dine with you for the duration of their campus life (and possibly beyond!)

Subscribe to Our Newsletter