Case Study – Restaurant Grand Opening Marketing Online

In future blog posts I may add some case studies to determine what has or hasn’t worked when using online marketing to help generate new business.  A recent project is worth a short case study due to the fact that it simultaneously both worked and did not work as well as expected.


A fast-casual and drive-through restaurant chain, with the majority of its locations and headquarters, is based in Northern California.  The company desired to expand and chose the Dallas Fort Worth region as its main expansion focal point.  This is due to the influx of people and businesses moving into the DFW Metroplex area which meet their primary demographic audience.

There is significant competition for the type of food that they serve.  With that understood, one of their differentiators is to have a grand opening where they give away free food and offer some light entertainment (music, bounce house for kids, etc.).


Their belief is that free food, like it does for high school and college kids, is enough of an enticement to get people to show up.  From there they believe that the word-of-mouth should take over and help boost day-by-day traffic to the restaurant in conjunction with basic social media and real-world marketing:  coupons, flyers, direct mail, etc.

They asked me to help promote the grand opening event with various online marketing elements:  SEO, paid ads, free listings, etc.  The end result was their best turnout ever for a grand opening, despite the weather being less-than-ideal during a cold Saturday afternoon in February in North Texas.


In terms of what worked to promote this restaurant’s grand opening, from the online marketing perspective, it boiled down to three elements:

  • Targeted Facebook paid ads
  • Online event calendar listings via the classified ads
  • Dallas Fort Worth-specific “things to do” calendars

The clear winner, of the three, was the Facebook paid ad method.  Although people surveyed at the event mentioned the above 3 virtually to the exclusion of other methods, the Facebook paid advertising method was the best far and away.

Instead of paying to have people “like” the Facebook page, or paying to have them leave Facebook and be taken to another website, we crafted a basic post to go on the Facebook page.  It answered the “Who, What, When, Where, Why, How” questions; and it had a graphic of the free food which would be given away that day.

In order to overcome resistance, we emphasized that the person didn’t need to bring any coupon or have to show anything at the event.  All that was required was to show up and eat free food.


We split test different ads to determine which would have the best “metrics”.  Unlike regular online ad metrics, paid ads in social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) have additional measurements of success which include:

  • “likes” of the post
  • shares of the post (the biggest one as it reaches people via a “tacit” endorsement)
  • post comments
  • clicks through to the website to get more information

Remember that the restaurant business, especially in a high-competition environment like Dallas Fort Worth, likely will draw people from no more than 5 miles and, likely, more like 1-3 miles.  In order to address this, we targeted the paid advertising to JUST the zip code where the restaurant’s location is.  This can be altered in your case if your location is near the line of two zip codes; but the restaurant in this study was in the middle of its zip code.

We then targeted the Facebook paid ad (promoting the SPECIFIC post on the Facebook business page) by this method:

  • zip code(s)
  • genders (we targeted both men and women)
  • language spoken (in this case, just English)
  • age range (we chose ages 30-40)
  • interests:  we chose interests based on those which would be “liked” or groups liked by parents with kids in the 30-40 age range.  These include local youth soccer, PTA, kids TV shows, etc
  • marital status:  we chose all, but your specific post could targeted those who are only “married”, “divorced”, “separated”, “single”, etc.
  • workplaces:  we did not narrow the list to those only working for specific companies, although you have that flexibility if you are running a Facebook ad promotion for those working for major employers in your area


The Facebook paid (promoted) post got shared/commented/liked over 700 times according to the paid ad stats provided by Facebook.  Based on predetermining percentages of those who took action, with those who showed up, the client and I figured that the efforts produced somewhere in the neighborhood of at least 250 people showing up as a result of the Facebook paid advertising.

The cost to have one person actually show up, based on the total ad spend, was around $0.80 (eighty cents).  The acquisition cost-per-new-customer was more successful than they imagined it would be.  In conjunction with their real world efforts, such as promotions at local schools and churches, the efforts led to a combined turnout better than they ever had at any grand opening in company history.


While the above is great, a case study wouldn’t be beneficial to you without understanding what didn’t work.  The following list doesn’t mean that these techniques are bad.  It just means that they didn’t work for this particular grand opening in February 2015 in the DFW market for the type of food being promoted.

  • Press release:  not enough distribution through social channels to reach the very-defined audience in one zip code.  The retail consumer’s ability to be accessed via basic online press releases (for just “free food”) is not newsworthy enough.
    • The press release DID WORK, however, in terms of ranking in the search engines for “XYZ food TOWN Texas” and “XYZ catering TOWN Texas”.  This gives merit to the press release strategy for getting new walk-in customers and catering orders months after the grand opening is completed
    • The press release has to be optimized for these phrases, however, so be sure that you know what you are doing
    • Link building to the press release helped the press release stay on top of the search engines.  Contact us if you need help with boosting your previous press releases for certain keywords in the search engines
  • Contacting the “things to do” people in Twitter for that town.  Even though this made good sense, it just didn’t work out as the people running those Twitter channels either didn’t care or weren’t given enough incentive to make repeat endorsements to their followers (which supposedly had hundreds from that town)
    • If your grand opening really has something newsworthy, like a famous band or pro athlete appearing, then these Twitter channel owners may help you; but otherwise their influence appears to be exaggerated
  • Using Twitter hashtags for the specific town
    • It just didn’t work for this case, despite 5 tweets all using the city’s most in-demand hashtag (supposedly)
  • YouTube videos from previous grand openings in nearby cities
    • Nobody seemed to care, as the view counts, despite being marketed to the new town just never increased markedly.  No comments/likes/etc. of the video from the previous city’s grand opening
    • This was weird as both the client and I thought that “social proof” (seeing other people having fun at a recent grand opening) would generate some anticipation of what was to take place at the upcoming grand opening.  It just didn’t work out that way
  • Relying on friends and employees to tweet, like, share the information.  Unless forced or paid to do so, the staff just “never got around” to promoting the grand opening’s “Who, What, When, Where, Why, How” information to THEIR OWN friends and family
    • This can be deemed “sad”, but it confirms the stereotype of the “employee mindset” when they have no vested interest in generating one new person to appear
    • Corporate office is rethinking the incentives on certain days (not just grand openings) to give employees a financial incentive to market to those they know; but that process is still in its infancy
  • QR Codes:  this didn’t work because the staff barely gave out the material with the QR code to those who attended early in the afternoon to “check in” or leave a review on Facebook which would entice friends to attend the event later in the afternoon.  The few who handed out the material couldn’t convey why someone should scan the QR code
    • This ties in with the employee mindset mentioned above
    • It also shows a lack of understanding by corporate office, as they realized later the power that QR codes can have on generating positive reviews on sites like, Yelp, and other review websites


Thank you for reading this far.  I want you to have an honest look at what did and did not work in this particular case study.  Some of the methods COULD have worked, but they needed more time or refinement; and, in some cases, they needed to give their own people more incentive to promote the event.

As for your upcoming grand opening or other event that needs online marketing to help increase attendance there are some takeaways:

  • Give staff some sort of incentive to promote the event
  • Free works, but not in all online media
  • Some methods, which you expect to work, will fizzle (i.e. the YouTube video of the previous grand opening for a city 20 miles away)
  • Hyper-targeted paid ads, even though they are paid posts, likely will generate a very low cost to acquire a new customer (client).  This has to have lots of planning beforehand, however, in order to maximize your ad spend
  • Sometimes an effort can generate business in the long term, even though it lost out in the short term
    • The press release is the example in this case

I hope that all of this helps you better understand the role of online marketing when having a live grand opening for a local business.  If you need help with any aspect, especially the paid ads, then you are welcome to contact us for strategy and/or implementation assistance.