Are These the World’s Best Restaurant Marketing Stunts?

Customers have too much choice. Whether they want crispy fried chicken or exquisitely refined cocktails, it’s hard to make your business into people’s first choice. Fortunately, this isn’t a new problem and businesses worldwide have been innovatively grabbing customers’ attention for years. As such, whether you own a bustling boozer or a delicious diner, try our top ten stunts for some inspiration on how to persuade punters to give your business a go!

1. The Heart Attack Grill

There’s a lot to condemn about The Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas. This infamous burger joint and it’s owner ‘Doctor Jon’ were made infamous when they started advocating the ‘Heart Attack Grill Diet Programme’ in 2006. On top of advising customers to ‘gain all the weight you want’ this burger-lover’s heaven also offers free food to anyone weighing over 350lb!

Despite widespread criticism, however, the combination of Dr Jon’s persona, skimpily clad ‘nurses’ and gut-busting treats such as ‘the quadruple bypass burger’ have customers queuing around the block! Whilst this specific marketing won’t work for everyone, the Heart Attack Grill proves that certain customers still love the combination of gluttony and novelty.

2. Snap and Save Cocktails

The new battleground for mealtime marketing is definitely social media. Lots of The Heart Attack Grill’s success comes down to the viral nature of their over-the-top stunts, menu and costume. It’s unsurprising then, that cocktails are also commonly used as a social media tool.

A huge part of a successful cocktail is making it visually appealing, so why not maximise this? Many cocktail bars offer a ‘snap and save’ system, where drinkers post their beverage to social media and receive a discount in return. Whilst the financial hit is usually minimal, the additional exposure and word-of-mouth publicity it can generate for your business could be brilliant!

3. The Left-Handed Whopper

One of food marketing’s most famous stunts happened on April Fool’s day in 1998, when Burger King proudly advertised a ‘left handed Whopper’, which had been specifically designed for left-handed patrons. Bragging that the burger had been rotated 180 degrees for the ultimate left-handed experience, Burger King enjoyed massive media coverage.

Despite the thinly veiled lie, this stunt was a great success! Burger King gained international air time to promote their year-round slogan of ‘have it your way’ and reinforced their image as a fun-loving restaurant. Okay, most businesses don’t wield the same marketing budget, but next April 1st could be a great opportunity for your own left-handed Whopper style stunt.

4. Conflict Kitchen

Lots of business owners find it frustrating to try and compete with newer establishments which are opening around them. Customers understandably want to sample new and interesting food and drink, leaving longstanding eateries feeling like they have to reinvent the wheel. This determination to explore ‘new’ food has made pop-up restaurants increasingly popular.

The Conflict Cafe is an American institution which was celebrated as Time Out’s ‘most inspirational pop-up’. Conflict Cafe crops up at various international locations and showcases cuisines of countries in conflict with the USA. Recent showcases of Syrian, Columbian and Iraqi cuisine sold out rapidly, reinforcing the way new and novel menus can excite and attract new customers. Can you do more with your menu to attract new business?

5. Harry Reichenbach’s Invisible Fish

Time to go old school. The invisible fish is a 1920s marketing legend from PR guru Harry Reichenbach. According to his memoir ‘Phantom Fame’ Reichenbach placed an empty fish tank in a New York restaurant and invited diners to try and find the ‘rare Brazilian invisible fish’. The stunt captivated wealthy Manhattan customers and proved a boon for the then-bustling restaurant.
So, what can be learned from a 90 year old fish? First and foremost, people enjoy an additional reason to dine somewhere, whether it’s the moral justification of Conflict Kitchen or simply an empty fish bowl. Secondly, food marketing doesn’t need to be about food! Whether it’s inviting customers to risk haunting at the UK’s Bodmin Jail or enjoy the games at Coogee Pavilion in Sydney, give your business a Unique Selling Point that customers will remember.

6. Or alternatively...

Of course, there’s also the possibility of a food-based USP, which commonly means an eating challenge. Although these are traditionally dominated by American businesses, the UK’s Go Burrito has slapped them in the face with 3 ½ feet of Mexican chow-down challenge.

Their ‘sink the Titanic’ challenge is widely believed to be one of Britain’s largest and weighs in at 61lb! The business benefits are twofold. Not only do eating challenges bring additional customers to try their luck (who also bring friends!), but those who fail to finish foot the bill for an absolutely enormous meal, boosting any business’s coffers.

7. Nando’s Bruno Chicks

The Sydney premiere of Sacha Baron Cohen movie Bruno was upstaged by chicken restaurant Nando’s in 2009. Male and female models burst onto the red carpet before dousing themselves in Peri-Peri sauce and brandishing signs suggesting that “This year’s hottest chicks are covered in Peri-Peri”.

The publicity was massive, if not entirely positive. The use of models was compared to longstanding bar chain Hooters and reinforced that certain businesses are still happy to trade on their staff’s appearances. Equally, Nando’s stunt reinforced the importance of personal appearance in modern marketing... but it worked and generated massive media coverage!

8. Some Like It Hot

We’ve looked at food challenges and ways of creating innovative menus, but what if your method of cooking is a marketable feature of itself? This is something which BBQ restaurants have been trading on for years, with ‘low n’ slow’ connoisseurs driving massive distances to find authentic smoke pits and smokers. In 2013, however, Holt Hotel took it a stage further!

Two daring chefs from the Reykjavik hotel scaled a volcano named Fimmvorduhals and cooked a meal for intrepid diners over the 200°C lava! Whilst chef Sverrur Thor Hakonarson is adamant that the experiment won’t be repeated, Hollywood producers have been in touch. Meanwhile, other restaurants such as The Cauldron use open fires and Victorian ovens to recreate traditional flavours. Could your cooking be a key marketable feature?

9. The Art of Disloyalty

Does your business have to compete with the biggest chains? It’s something which clearly griped the owners of the Art of Tea in Manchester (UK), who hatched a widely replicated plan. Determined to combat the loyalty card mentality of competitors such as Starbucks, Costa and Caffe Nero, the Art of Tea went guerrilla!

In short, if you hand in a stamped loyalty card from any other coffee shop, you can have any hot drink for £1. The scheme has already spawned copycats across the world and generated lots of positive media coverage for the little guy, so can you take on your industry’s big boys with a similarly humorous takedown?

10. Freakshakes

Whilst they aren’t a uniquely Australian phenomenon, freakshakes are rapidly becoming an Aussie favourite. In short, sumptuous milkshakes are topped with all the calories they can carry. This could include everything from whipped cream, sweets, entire donuts, dipping sauces and chocolate bars!

Unfortunately, freakshakes are a competitive business and you need to go big or go home. Northbridge’s Babooshka certainly took this approach with their ‘triple doughnut choc bacon shake’ which piles everything from chocolate-dipped bacon to marshmallows and a social media sensation was born! Freakshakes are a relatively affordable way of adding something grandiose to your menu which customers will love to eat and love to share online.
However you choose to boost your business, there are plenty of proven methods to pursue. Experimenting with your food, drink, cooking and marketing can all provide a real financial boost without costing you a fortune. What’s more, Nisbets has thousands of products available for express delivery, meaning your marketing stunt can get underway almost straightaway.

By Oliver Bernard

My years of experience working in pubs and restaurants means I am always interested in the latest industry trends. If I’m not exploring interesting new eateries, I’m trying to mimic them at home!

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