Grass Roots Growth: Quickly Reach 1,000 Raving Fans For Your Restaurant

December 22, 2019
Chris Hunter

This is one of the most effective and creative ways I’ve seen to grow a business. It’s very “grass-roots” and involves some grinding, but if you’re consistent with it you will quickly have 1,000 Raving Fans.

I went to a local high school to talk to a group of students about business and the journey I was on – starting my own hospitality consulting business. At the end, we opened up the discussion for questions. One student said he was starting a car detailing business, and he asked if I had any ideas on how he could get the word out about his new endeavor, so I taught him this tactic. Some people might call it a trick or a hack, but those words seem to either sound negative or are so overused they’ve begun to mean little or nothing. I showed him how to access other people’s networks by giving.

Quick side note: my philosophy of networking is not “let me meet people to see what I can get from them” (like a sale), but rather I’ve flipped that on its head and decided that I am going to find as many people as possible and help them. This has really helped me grow a strong network quickly. At some point in the near future I hope to give some more specifics on how you can make this your networking strategy, but for now, let’s look at this one example, then we’ll see how to apply it to your restaurant.

Back to the student… I told him he needs to think about those he knows or has some connection to, that have significant networks.

So, I asked him, “What about the Superintendent? What do you think would happen if you approached Dr. Wilson and told him that you want to detail his car for free? Do you think he’d let you? What do you think would happen when you were done?”

We decided that Dr. Wilson would probably take a picture of him and the great job that he did, post on social media, and tag his business page. Then he’d probably even post it on the school district’s social media pages too. I told him to quickly set up social media pages so that his business can be tagged by name. A young man is taking initiative, putting the things in to practice what he’s being taught, and showing kindness and generosity to others. That story will go! What did it cost him? A few squirts of product and a couple of hours of time.

Now, think of people in your community that have significant networks or reach. Make a bulleted list, and get creative. Here, I’ll give you a head start: hairdressers/barbers, the mayor, school teachers and administrators, pastors, business owners, lawyers, hospital administrators, first responders, heads of non-profits.

This networking-accessing strategy works for nearly every industry, but what might it look like for your restaurant? First, think of your demographic. If getting in front of teachers helps you reach your demographic, then offering them a half-priced lunch on Mondays might not work. They probably don’t have enough time to get to your place, eat, then get back to school on a short lunch break. Still, let’s focus on teachers for this example. Everyone loves teachers, and many feel they are underappreciated and underpaid. You now have the opportunity to show kindness to this group, and all it will cost you is two meals. With a food cost of 25%, two $9.99 meals will cost you a whopping $5 (plus time and possibly mileage).

Call the principal of the local high school. Take note of his assistant’s name. Schedule a day to bring both him and his assistant a free lunch. Make sure to ask for any dietary restrictions like food allergies or vegan dishes. Tell them about your signature dish and ask them if that’s okay with them. Maybe have a couple of choices ready. Also, have your social media pages set up ahead of time. When the day comes to drop off the meal in person. Take this opportunity to tell the principal that with his blessing you’d like to show kindness to his teachers by bringing lunch to one teacher and a friend each month. He can choose whatever teacher he wants for whatever reason. He can even use this as an opportunity to set up a Teacher of the Month program if he likes. You can deliver this meal to school or offer a gift certificate. I expect both will get a social media shoutout from those you’re blessing.

Now, that’s one school. Reach out to the junior high, elementary schools, etc.

I do want to offer a word of caution here, though. I challenge you to have pure motives in this. What do I mean? Although our strategy here is to grow your network and spread the word about your restaurant, it’s possible, and even likely, that there will be times when there is no social media tagging, liking, or sharing, and all you did was give away free food. You need to be okay with that. Why? Because unmet expectations are the expressway to bitterness. Just give, and enjoy the process. It feels good to give, right?! You’ve seen Ellen give elaborate gifts to deserving people, haven’t you? Now you get to do that. You get to be Ellen, just on a smaller scale. If all you end up doing is showing kindness and generosity to one person at a time, then that’s not such a bad deal, is it? And it will actually still get the word out about your restaurant, just one person at a time.

Who will want to frequent the restaurant that nice lady owns who gave their neighbor a free meal? Lots of people! Who will want to frequent the restaurant owned by that nice guy who dropped off a free lunch to her hard-working husband? Lots of wives! I’m a dreamer, but it’s in the realm of possibility that this could be your entire marketing plan. Wouldn’t that be cool? What a story that would make!

Here are a couple of other examples if you’re trying to reach different demographics or audiences.

Professional Audience

If I had a restaurant at the bottom of a skyscraper in downtown Chicago I would choose a different business near me every week. I would either call the office building and offer a free lunch to the person I’m speaking with and their boss on a day that week or ask them if there is someone in their office that deserves a free meal for whatever reason: they’re a great worker or life is hard right now and a free meal would be nice. I would drop it off in person, shake hands, kiss babies, take pics if they ask.

College-aged Demographic

If I had a restaurant in a college town and wanted to reach a younger demographic, I would start by looking for influencers on Instagram. Instagram is great for food pics and restaurant marketing. Same idea: offer them a free meal to them and a person of their choosing who deserves it. Maybe it would be a student who just paid tuition and is tapped out, or maybe a favorite professor (for extra points). Not everyone goes to college. Find a business that 20-somethings frequent: record store, head shop, tattoo shop, clothing store. Walk-in, introduce yourself to the first worker you see, tell them you’d like to bring them and the boss or another employee a meal the next time they work.

  • Who are your customers?
  • Where are your customers?
  • Who has a significant network?
  • How can you get your product or service in front of them?

If you try this out would you be kind enough to post about it in the Restaurant Owners startup & Growth Facebook Group? I’d love to hear your stories.

If you want some more creative ideas like this for your restaurant or business, just reach out to me and we’ll brainstorm. Now, go grow your business with kindness. Good luck!

Chris Hunter


Chris Hunter is a contributor and owns He consults with hospitality brands around the world, helping them fine-tune their revenue management strategies.