6 Restaurant Promotions that drive traffic now

August 23, 2021 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

After a long and tedious few years, kids are finally heading back to school in person, albeit, with a long list of restrictions and precautions. While we had hoped to be on the tail end of COVID-19 by now, the Delta variant and its widespread effects have recently caused the country to take a bit of a step backward as we totter on the balance between normalcy and shutdown. In states like Texas where the Governor seems determined to ban mask mandates, large school districts are openly defying the ban requiring all students and faculty to wear masks on campus. Will that hold? Let’s see if in-person classes continue should an outbreak occur, or whether football games and other Fall activities will go on as planned. Right now, there are a lot of unanswered questions, and yet one constant remains – life goes on. People have to eat and restaurants want to stay in business. To bring those truths together and make life easier for both groups, here are 6 restaurant promotions that drive traffic now that kids are back in school:

1–Lean in to To-Go ordering with special offers

When COVID-19 first emerged in 2019, restaurants had to find ways to disrupt the national shutdown and entice people to venture out to eat. Most restaurants did a hard turn to delivery and To-Go orders. In many cases, that transition saved them. Having patrons enjoy their food off-premise has become a new normal for restaurants, with healthy sales to match. If you’re not one of them, it’s time to catch up and quick.

As concern over the super-contagious Delta variant grows, many people will once again revert to picking up their favorite foods or having them delivered. The fact that school has started and parents are busy juggling work and back-to-school activities only adds to the likelihood of ordering out. That presents a great opportunity for restaurants to drive traffic and it doesn’t have to be anything complicated or difficult.

Throughout COVID, Chili’s has done an outstanding job offering simple, but effective promotions that drive traffic. For instance, not a week has gone by when I didn’t get an email with an offer for a FREE appetizer, a FREE dessert, or a specially priced family meal. And while I didn’t eat at Chili’s every week, the emails certainly kept it top of mind. More importantly, the sustained promotions have worked Chili’s into my default consideration set.

To drive traffic, utilize your customer emails, social media, and in-bag flyers to give your patrons a special offer or reward for coming in, or picking up their meals. Offer your fans something special and they will reward you with their patronage.

2—Include the whole family.

The second set of Back-to-School restaurant promotions that drive traffic and sales include promotions that focus on the whole family. As kids get older, their voices and votes for where to eat often gain influence. They become either kingmaker or the ultimate Veto vote. When you’re crafting your back-to-school promotions, think about what will make everyone in the family happy, not just the parents. Here are a few thoughts:


Offer take-away family-style meal specials the month school starts and promote the time-saving convenience.


Offer parents and kids cool reasons to come in during Back-to-School time. For parents, offer discounted or FREE kid’s meals with the purchase of every adult meal. Offer kids something cool for school with their meal – a flash drive, a blank notebook, a backpack tag, a code to redeem FREE music or anything else that’s relevant and branded.

3—Spotlight on the kids.

While it’s important to keep whole families in mind, there’s no question kids are the heroes during Back-to-School time. Whether it’s a sweet treat after school, or a celebration for making the team, acing the test, or performing a concert, taking kids to their favorite restaurant is a fantastic reward any time of the year. In thinking about your back-to-school promotions, make it clear to parents you’re all in on making their kids feel special!


When we think of back-to-school, grade-schoolers with backpacks, gangly arms and legs, and unruly hair is an image that often comes to mind. For these kids, the start of every school year is a milestone, as it should be for every student, every year. One positive restaurant marketing promotion is to invite your customers to “start the year off right” with a celebratory dinner at your restaurant. Consider setting up an area for student “super star” photos (parents can snap shots with their phones or wait staff can help to take group shots).

All too often, Back-to-School promos focus only on the cute, younger kids who steal the show. Don’t forget about kids with the freedom of a driver’s license. Now able to make their own decisions, these kids eat where they want to. This is especially true for QSR where kids 12-19 get a staggering 18% of their daily calories. As you plan your back-to-school promotions, consider some that focus on the high school crowd. Tie the promotions to your loyalty program. And if you still don’t have a loyalty program, it’s time to change that immediately.

4—Don’t overlook college students.

There are two key things about college students that will never change: they are always hungry and they are always looking for ways to save money. That presents a number of outstanding opportunities when it comes to restaurant promotions that drive traffic.


Team up with area universities and technical colleges to either set up a booth during orientation or ask to include a flyer, coupon, or menu in the school’s new student packet. Consider buying an ad in the school’s paper or on its website. Back-to-school restaurant marketing promotions often ignore college students, but this market segment is most likely to take advantage of coupons and discounts.


Another way to attract the collegiate crowd is to create a student lunch special, something that’s especially effective if your restaurant is near a college campus. Try to put together a few lunch combos at a special price and market the specials to students on your website, via flyers, or on Facebook.


At a number of colleges and universities, students can now use their “dining dollars” at various QSR and Casual Dining options close to campus. Make students feel special by giving them valuable reasons to patronize your restaurant and they will.


Use signage to promote your restaurant at nearby colleges and universities. Invite students to apply for jobs. You’ll attract new customers and may even gain new employees.

5—Show the teachers some love.

Every spring, schools around the country designate special weeks for parents and students to honor their teachers. Don’t wait.

Create special back-to-school incentives for teachers and look for ways to make them feel special throughout the year.


To show your community’s teachers how much you appreciate them, start with a special Teacher’s event for the entire month of September. Create a special promotion or coupon that can be redeemed by teachers only (ask to see their school ID badge).


Instead of bringing an apple to the teacher, encourage students to bring their favorite teachers a FREE appetizer. When families dine in the restaurant (or in their takeout bags), give them a card for a FREE appetizer to give to any of their favorite teachers. Any teacher could redeem the coupon with their teacher’s ID.


One of my favorite commercials of all time is a 1996 Back-to-School spot for Staples with a father happily riding a shopping cart through the store with “It’s the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” playing in the background while his glum kids walk behind him. For many reasons, August is a great time for parents and some of our favorite back-to-school restaurant promotions that drive traffic are ones that focus on them. So much of back-to-school is all about the kids and rightfully so. But acknowledging parents in a fun “yay, the kids are back in school, time to celebrate” kind of way is a great way to connect.


Create a lunch special for parents to enjoy a little quiet time once the kids are back in school.


Offer buy-one-get-one (BOGO) lunch specials for parents to enjoy a lunch or dinner out together without the kids. You could even team up with local businesses like spas to offer BOGO coupons for services like massages, facials, or manicures. Remember to use social media for all your restaurant marketing promotions and take advantage of any local school advertising (yearbooks, school papers, websites, etc.).

Even once you get past the Back-to-School period, keep thinking about new and different ways to engage your customers. If you want to dive in a little deeper, here are seven things restaurants are doing with marketing and advertising to be successful and seven additional ways restaurants are improving operations.

Here’s to a great school year and lots of great restaurant promotions that drive traffic!

MIKE SULLIVAN is president and CEO at  LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising and marketing, leadership, culture and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

For more about LOOMIS, or to discuss how we can help your company succeed, CLICK HERE

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Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


We challenge underdog brands to think differently. We help them find their voice, and urge them to blaze new trails to make sure they stand out from the pack. Whether you need an agency of record or support on a project, we are here to help you win.