Smart tools and creative promotions How to attract tourists to your restaurant

Nadia Galin from Ippopotamo, shares her experience of successfully putting your restaurant on the (tourist) map: “Our restaurant is located on the Piazza Bra in Verona, a square lined with theatres, restaurants and bars. This square sees millions of tourists every year and 80% of our customers are visitors to our city. It will come as no surprise that we put a lot of effort in attracting tourists and I’ll share with you how we do that. So, keep reading to get inspired and start attracting your customers like bees to honey!”

Get in their heads with food for thought

Tourists are busy and plan to do more during their day than the clock allows. Sitting down for a meal has to be fast and has to fit that experience. This means that an order should be served within 5 to 10 minutes. If it takes longer than that, you have to have your appetisers ready to offer them! It’s all about efficiency and fast service. In one of my previous blogs I explained how important your menu is in realising that. You use it in signage and promotions to manage expectations and drive decision-making. Be smart about this, by promoting away from your restaurant, putting up signs down the street. That way, tourists see you multiple times, increasing the chances of them sitting down at your tables. For that to work, you have to be visible and recognisable from a mile away. We use red on the outside of our restaurant, for the tablecloths and staff uniforms, which is vivid and attractive. All of these small details matter!

A carrot-and-stick approach

Everything we do to attract the customer is focused on meeting their expectations. From our outdoor presentation to our smart menu, everything serves as carrot-and-stick to get tourists and locals to our tables. For example, when you walk towards the square, you’ll see signage with traditional dishes, as recommended in the tourist guides. But when you walk away, towards the fast-food chains, we advertise our burgers and fries. Wouldn’t you prefer a local experience? So figure out what your tourist favourites are, but also who else is trying to lure them in!

Serving the best and always with a smile

You can check if you’re doing things right by checking in with your customers. If you serve the best quality food with a smile, they will be happy and spread the word about your restaurant like an olive oil stain. But if it’s all sizzle and no steak, one bad experience can lead to a negative review online and really hurt business. Online reviews and tourist guides are vital, so here are some we keep an eye on:

  • TripAdvisor – for tourists, TripAdvisor is a serious platform they look at before making their decisions. Monitoring reviews and updating your restaurant info is therefore vital.
  • Google Reviews – when it comes to visibility, Google reviews are the first thing to pop up online. In these days, with smartphones in every tourist’s hand, you can’t ignore those.
  • Lonely Planet – though I don’t recommend paying to be mentioned, tourist guides do provide vital information about the expectations tourists have, including regarding what they should definitely eat.
  • Local maps and promotions – decisions are often made on the spur of the moment and your name on a local map or brochure gives customers a feeling of trust. Use what is available!

Butter them up with super promotions

Apart from those basics, you want to really stand out and give your customers something to talk about. Sure, it would be fantastic if you were to invent the best thing since sliced bread, but for the most part, opportunities are hidden in the smaller things, so get creative! As a source of inspiration, here are some of our initiatives:

  • Ippopotamo tourist map: we hand tourists little maps of the city centre with a tiny menu on them. These maps offer them a small discount, and will enable them to easily find their way back to our tables!
  • Adapt to the tourist journey: know how tourists move around and match your signage and promotions to that. For example, the tourist tour bus stops in front of our door!
  • Make ordering easy for groups: some tourists travel in big groups. For these, we offer an easy group menu with high value for an attractive price. This makes serving easy and allows groups to quickly move on, but also make reservations ahead of their arrival!
  • Our cocópizza: the omelette pizza we serve is a standout dish. It consists of a pizza crust with an omelette on top. Tourists call it an omelette pizza, while the locals refer to it as a pizza omelette. Due to this unusual combination of ingredients, people talk about it and love it, so it drives customers to our restaurant. If you have a dish like this, make the most of it!
  • Birthday parties: customers, whether they are tourists or locals, love having nothing to worry about. A complete package, like our birthday menu, satisfies that need of theirs. 

Saving the best for last: discover ‘The Totem’, our walking food cup

In addition to all of the amazing promotions listed above, I want to tell you all about our most effective and popular invention so far: the Freebox, a.k.a. ‘The Totem’. As many visitors to the square come to see a concert, they have to line up. Our walking food cup provides tourists and concertgoers with a whole meal in one hand, so they can eat on the go. It definitely catches everyone’s eye! Curious about the whole story behind ‘The Totem’? Watch the video in which I explain all the ins and outs here: 

The Totem


Our secret ingredient for success

To boost your customer numbers, you can do tons of things, but the recipe for success has one secret ingredient: love all of your customers, from all nations and traditions, regardless of their educational background or origin. If you love and genuinely want to know and understand your customers and give them a great experience, you’ll definitely conquer their hearts (and stomachs)! This means that if you take time to discover different cultural preferences, it can really benefit your business. Take the Russians for example: they kept ordering doubles when it came to alcoholic drinks. We now offer them a double shot right away and they love it! Chinese tourists on the other hand, are very into local specialties. That’s why we immediately explain the signature dishes to them when handing out our menus. This makes them smile and feel at ease. Examples like these show how loving your customers can really make the difference. Simple but effective.
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