Restaurant Gimmicks: Boosting Businesses

Marketing 18 minute read 8th September 2023

Restaurant gimmicks are the secret weapon to success you might not already harness. It is hugely important to bring a unique ‘selling point’ to your business, and that goes for all types of restaurants. In the restaurant industry, it really pays literally to stand out. If you want to attract a huge customer base, you need to appeal to the masses, or at the very least, a substantial niche crowd. The most common way is gimmicks, anything from special menu items to general restaurant promotions.

Gimmicks are such an essential part of opening a restaurant. Your unique selling point is what will bring in food bloggers and food influencers and generally attract a customer base. It can be hard to come up with such an important thing. There’s also a common association of gimmicks with tackiness, which, while sometimes true, often couldn’t be further from the truth. Get super clear on your restaurant values. Ensure that your gimmick is something you’ll care about for a decent time. It could be anything from food waste solutions to the color pink.

Are you ready to learn everything you need to know before you embark on your gimmick journey? This guide will prepare you to launch your new, successful restaurant gimmick.

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What Are Restaurant Gimmicks?

Restaurant gimmicks are unique ideas and quirky characteristics that make a restaurant popular. An excellent example is Karen’s Diner. This restaurant hit record levels of popularity after its niche ‘Karen’ staff attitudes when TikTok went viral. The staff are purposefully as rude as possible to customers, imitating the ‘Karen’ character that is popular on social media. The gimmick soared the US restaurant to colossal fame, and it is even opening branches in the UK.

A restaurant gimmick is such an umbrella term. It really can be anything. You can use drinks set on fire, color themes, or take advantage of social media trends like ‘Karen’ imitation. If you need help brainstorming, you can look at past trends and predictions. Coming up with gimmicks is incredibly fun once you get into the swing of things. Often, the weirdest ideas gain traction, so don’t feel self-conscious about putting ‘out there’ ideas. Test the waters and get creative. You can always soft launch gimmicks first to gauge whether reactions are optimistic and you get an initial uptake.

Let’s run over some examples of existing gimmicks to clarify what gimmicks are. Should you copy these identically? Probably not. However, these should give you an idea of how flexible the term ‘gimmick’ is. And you can use these ideas as inspiration to create your own. Examples of popular gimmicks include:

  • Blind dining: Where guests dine in the dark and blind or visually impaired waiters and waitresses serve customers.
  • Robot restaurants: This one is easy to explain and involves robots serving guests rather than actual people.
  • Underwater restaurants: Underwater restaurants are pretty self-explanatory and involve glass walls and lots of marine life.

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Why Should You Use Restaurant Gimmicks?

So, why should you use restaurant gimmicks? What’s so alluring about this marketing technique in the restaurant industry? And why does it draw food bloggers and food influencers? Well, the immediate answer is simple: You provide a hook. Many restaurants have brilliant menu items and cover labor costs through great food and excellent service. However, reaching new heights is complicated as they need a selling point or hook for media coverage.

Whether you have blind dining or an underwater restaurant, gimmicks make it easier for your business to gain traction. That’s not all, though; these are the other main benefits of using gimmicks for restaurant businesses.

  • Gimmicks incentivize your team.

Incentivize your restaurant team’ might not be the first thing on your mind when creating gimmick ideas. However, the novelty of gimmicks is a considerable bonus and boost for staff productivity and fulfillment. A sense of direction and purpose is more than just helpful for influencer and media coverage. It helps your team to focus and get some fun out of their work day.

  • Gimmicks are marketing material.

Gimmicks are one of the best marketing ideas to promote your restaurant. You can use photos and videos of your gimmick mid-action to attract even more of a customer base. Social media loves gimmicks; you don’t have to wait for food influencers and media to advertise you. With gimmicks, you have the power in your hands. The viral potential is real.

  • Gimmicks increase your chance of business survival.

Nearly 60% of restaurants fail in the first year, and 80% fail in the first five years. Trust us when we say you need all the help you can get. Having a gimmick draws people in. And that’s what you need when running a successful restaurant.

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Inspiration is often crucial when it comes to creative processes. And restaurant gimmicks are no different. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how many ideas you have; you just need inspiration from ideas that already work—seeing what’s on the market and why that works for restaurant success. These are the popular gimmicks that you can use in the restaurant industry.

1. Incorporate the Future in Your Restaurant Gimmicks

Use AI - perhaps AI could take customers’ orders or advise them on different menu items - or actual robots. Incorporate future technology into your restaurant gimmick and watch food bloggers and food influencers go wild. Everyone loves (or hates) the fact that the world is developing technologically fast. So, make the most of this buzz theme.

2. Ethically Add Animal Experiences

The keyword here is ‘ethically’ as so many venues in the restaurant industry need to catch up over ethical issues. To build a successful business with animal experiences, you must make it squeaky clean ethically. If not, you’ll likely feel the wrath of cancel culture and - most of all - probably aren’t a very nice person. Figure out how animals can benefit from this experience as well. Are you investing in conservation efforts? Are you showcasing animals that are up for adoption? If you are already an animal lover, this is a brilliant way to ‘do your bit.’

3. Make It a Secret

The one thing everyone loves but can’t keep is a secret. One of the top marketing tips when it comes to gimmicks for restaurants is to use secrets to your advantage. Immersive dining experiences are in, which means so are secret bars and restaurants. Figure out how to make something a secretive experience, and you’ll soon see the customer base flooding in.

4. Add Experiences

Similarly, experiences can make all the difference in success in the restaurant industry. Let us explain that restaurant gimmicks often provide extra insight into a product or process. Successful gimmicks help you grow your awareness and perspectives.

You could offer whiskey-tasting experiences and a mini distillery tour if you run a bar restaurant. Or you could offer private tasting experiences with an open kitchen chef day. You could even offer private cooking lessons with your head chef or guest chefs. Think about what you could offer your guests.

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How To Come Up With Restaurant Gimmicks

It’s all good for us sitting here and saying come up with restaurant gimmicks. How? Everyone has different talents, and it’s easy to write yourself as ‘not creative.’ Suppose you are already thinking that, scratch that thought with aggression. Everybody has a creative core and unique creative abilities. It’s just that some people let limiting beliefs and self-esteem issues prevent them from tapping into it.

Take the leap and give brainstorming gimmicks a go. You only need 5 minutes or so to practice this initially, and who knows? You might immediately hit the jackpot. Here are the simple steps when brainstorming gimmicks for the restaurant industry.

  • Get clear on your target customer base.

If you know your customer base, you should be able to reel up demographic details and customer profiles. What are their interests? Age range? Financial situations? Priorities? Successful restaurant promotions are ones you create with as much knowledge of your customer base as family members and friends.

  • Browse latest trends.

Check out social media trends and get yourself on trend-watching apps and software like TrendWatching. You should be able to reel off all the trends on social media and know which best appeals to your demographic.

  • Start brainstorming.

Now comes the best part. Combine these two gold mines of knowledge and get brainstorming gimmick ideas. There is just one rule - write down every idea. If it comes into your head, you write it down. This helps to limit self-judgment and censorship.

Repeat this as many times as needed until you really feel you’ve got a bite. The key to using trends as inspiration is checking for long-term relevance. For instance, Karens are around for the long haul, but certain TikTok dancers are less long-term. Don’t jump on a short-lived wave.

Budgeting for Restaurant Gimmicks

Budgeting for restaurant gimmicks is essential. Like always, budget should be a significant consideration in any project. And while you can always call on investors and partnerships to fund gimmicks, it pays to be mindful of costs. This is especially the case with costs vs. risks. Of course, some gimmicks are so cheap that you don’t need to invest in anything extra. Let’s look at some leading examples of budgeting frameworks for existing gimmicks:

  • Underwater restaurant

This one is initially expensive to set up and has serious maintenance costs. For instance, building underwater has different regulations and building costs. It also requires underwater window cleaning - nobody wants to be looking out a grubby underwater window.

  • Karen’s Diner

This concerns specific hiring and a marketing budget rather than any upfront investment. The main thing that makes Karen’s Diner a hit is its staff. The restaurant chain needs staff that are comfortable with acting, and they need marketing. With those things done, the gimmick cost is almost zero.

  • Blind Dining

Dining in the dark is another example of a specific hiring process and a moderate initial investment. You’ll need to be precise with your hiring process and invest in darkness - e.g., blacking out rooms. However, the cost is less expensive than an underwater restaurant.

As you can see, each budget varies depending on the idea and how complex its building process is. If you choose a more complex idea (like the underwater restaurant), know you’ll need more savings or investors.

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Final Thoughts: Are Restaurant Gimmicks Worth It?

So, are restaurant gimmicks worth it if you are still on the fence? Yes, absolutely. Having a gimmick for your restaurant boosts your potential for coverage from media and food influencers. It also gives you brilliant social media marketing content. Both of these factors mean that you are more likely to reach high levels of business success in the restaurant industry. Whether you target niche menu items or provide unique dining experiences, a restaurant gimmick is a weapon for success. Yes, you should absolutely invest in a restaurant gimmick if you can.

The brainstorming process can seem daunting, but if you follow our simple steps, you’ll excel in this task. Get clear on customer profiles and your target customer base, then study trends on special software or social media. Once you complete this, it’s a question of just writing down every idea that comes into your head.

Are you ready to master the world of restaurant gimmicks? One way to push out your gimmick while utilizing technology is with WiFi marketing. You can use WiFi marketing in many ways, including pushing social media engagement through captive portal sign-in pages. At Beambox, we are experts in WiFi marketing and would love to help you in this exciting business stage.

Beambox has the best WiFi marketing platform, thanks to our all-in-one approach. We can help you to keep happy customers, ideas creative, and profits high. Start your Beambox free trial today, and we can make a start on your restaurant gimmicks together.

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