How to Target College Students Through Restaurant Marketing

Chicken and Waffles

A signature item can put your restaurant on the map.

The top 10 most recognized restaurants in college towns are not chains, shocker. In college towns all over America, students are flocking to mom and pop restaurants vs. going to a major chain. Why? Because they offer a more authentic and memorable experience.

If you are a chain restaurant it may be time to make a few tweaks to make your menu to help your brand stand out to the future of America.

Students want to go to a restaurant that they can identify with. You usually don’t see groups of college students walking into an upscale steakhouse on a Tuesday evening, and that is because the atmosphere is all wrong for them and not to mention their pockets probably aren’t very deep.

Aside from the “college student” atmosphere, that usually consists of foosball tables, dart boards, and pool tables these mom and pop restaurants offer something that sets them apart from all the others, a fair priced signature item.

A signature item could be an oversized burger, a specialty side, or a root beer that’s recipe can be traced back to 1895. These items help create a framework for the overall theme of the restaurant.

Having a signature item also gives a restaurant a talking point. It is a “call to action” in a way, because it drives people to a restaurant for a reason.

If you want to drive traffic to your restaurant, think of this first:

  1. Do you already have a popular item on your menu?
  2. Are you in a city where a signature item could set your menu apart from your competitors?
  3. Do you have the resources to create marketing materials or buzz around this item?

If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, you should begin discussing this option as a company and see if it aligns with your goals and values. If you answered “no” to all or any of these questions, do some experimenting. Bring in an expert chef to help provoke your chef’s thoughts on developing a signature item. Do some research in the area; what is driving people to your competitors?

College students won’t be the only customers you will tap into with this restaurant marketing method. You will see a variety of customers coming to your restaurant from singles, to families to see what all the “buzz” is about.

You never know where a signature item could take you. You could be lucky enough to end up on “Diners, Drive-In’s, and Dives”, or be featured on a restaurant blog!

About Gina Lee De Freitas

Gina Lee De Freitas has 15+ years marketing the restaurant industry. She is the Chief Operating Officer/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency.
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