Attracting new customers to your café or coffee shop can be a tricky business.

You need to get people in the door, but don’t have a lot of time to spend on marketing campaigns.

To help out, here is a collection of cafe marketing ideas & tactics that can help get your creative juices flowing:

1. Business of the Day

For many cafes, your #1 target market could be right next door.

Other businesses in your immediate area are packed with caffeine-deprived employees who are prime candidates to become your regular customers.

Here’s how a ‘business of the day’ promotion can help your neighbours to become regulars:

  1. Pick a nearby business with up to 20 or so employees on site (for larger businesses, you can pick a department or some other smaller segment).
  2. In the afternoon, walk over, introduce yourself and explain that they’ve been chosen as business of the day. That means, all of their staff can come in for unlimited free coffee – for one day only.
  3. Present them with a business of the day card, which shows your location, trading hours & (ideally) your menu – so they can explain the offer to their colleagues.
  4. The next day you blow them away with amazing coffee and super-efficient service (and grab a few pics for the socials #supportlocal).
  5. Repeat daily for another local business.
business of the day certificate

Extravagant? Absolutely. That’s why it works.

Generosity makes an impact, and in reality, the one-off cost of a program like this is low compared with the thousands a dollars per year in sales that a new regular customer is worth to your business.

2. Make something newsworthy

People don’t generally go out of their way to tell their friends about the ‘above average service’ or ‘decent food’.

But they might start talking if you do something they’ve never seen before.

Here’s an example: In a café business I started a few years back, we decided to go ‘all in’ for our hot chocolates & mochas.

Rather than using a typical chocolate powder, we bought a small soup urn, and melted down couverture Lindt chocolate as the base ingredient.

For advertising, we simply wrote “melted hot chocolate” in chalk on an A-frame sign and let word of mouth do the rest.

cafe menu chalkboard sign

By the time winter came, the product had been featured in several local publications, was all over social media and we were selling thousands of dollars every week of a product that most cafes take for granted…

Of course, to be newsworthy you can’t just copy a product everyone else is selling.

My tip: choose a product you already sell and think of a way to make it over-the-top-awesome. If it’s truly exceptional…people will talk.

3. Improve your google rank

When people are new to an area, how do they find where to go for coffee?

They go to Google.

Google is overwhelmingly the most popular way people find local businesses.

The problem is, if these potential customers type in “coffee near me” and your business doesn’t appear in the top 3 listings, they’re probably not coming your way.

google maps cafe search

Searching 'Café' + 'Broken Hill' shows these 3 businesses, which would you click?

If you’re not ranking in the top 3, take a look at our guide to improving google rank for all the juicy details on how to claim your listing and optimise it to get your business in front of a bigger audience.

In many cases, a few minutes spent improving your google listing can pay off for years to come.

4. Charity Event Day

Local events sound like a lot of work, but that’s not always the case.

If you partner up with a charity, they will often provide a lot of the resources you need to help promote the cause while keeping your focus on running your business.

What’s more, event days are a great way to get people sharing & talking on social networks.

For best results, add the date as an ‘event’ on your Facebook & Google My Business (GMB) pages a couple of weeks early, and then share the event as a post (don’t forget to tag the charity).

Leading up to the event, and on the day itself, make sure you post pics of the action encouraging people to pop in and show their support.

5. Spotify Ads

Sure, everyone else is running ads on Instagram & Facebook.

While social ads can be effective - the downside is these channels are also super crowded with other businesses doing exactly the same thing…

If you want to stand out, I think Spotify Ads are a real opportunity for cafes.

Unlike traditional radio, you can target ads directly to your potential customers based on their specific location, time of day, their interests and a whole lot more.

Spotify Ads start from $250, which includes a voiceover (you just need to provide a script).

6. Directional Signage

I’m talking about old-school outdoor signage, like bus shelters and billboards.

It may not be the coolest medium out there, but outdoor can be a really effective & practical way to get your brand in front of a large, 100% local audience in a way that digital marketing can’t do as effectively on its own.

It’s a trick fast food chains have been using for decades: You keep it really simple, include your name, logo & one line to describe your business (like “specialty coffee” or “all day breakfast”) along with an arrow to show where to turn.

It's not going to win you any advertising awards, but it is an effective way to keep your brand top of mind in the local area.

bus shelter cafe sign

7. Sponsor your local school

A school community can be a great way to build your profile with a loyal, local audience.

If you’re located near a school, find out what options they have for sponsorships & donations (usually through the P&C association here in Australia).

Sometimes it can be as simple as donating a hamper or gift vouchers for a fundraising event.

Aside from the obvious benefit of supporting your local community, it also puts your brand in front of a large group of parents, teachers & students who live right near you.

Not only that, but they usually make multiple trips a week to and from school – a perfect opportunity for a coffee break.

8. Cappy Hour

Got an hour in the day where the place turns into a ghost town…?

For many cafes, it’s just after lunch - around 2 or 3pm.

If so, pick a day of the week and offer a ‘bring a friend’ incentive (like buy one, get one free) only available during that hour.

Get the word out by promoting (‘boosting’) an Instagram or Facebook post a couple of hours before to people in your immediate area.

It might be slow at first, but if you make it a regular offer, people will start to plan their coffee break to take advantage of the discount. This helps you even out the ‘gaps’ in sales and encourages customers to add a second visit to their day.

9. Waze Maps Ads

In case you’re not familiar with Waze, it’s a driving directions app (owned by Google) that has become hugely popular with commuters for its ability to ‘outsmart traffic’.

Why should you care?

Their Waze Local program allows small businesses to place ads on their maps for as little as $2 per day. And right now, there’s virtually no competition from independent cafes.

So, if you’re targeting commuters then this is a unique way to keep your business top of mind while they’re on the way to work.

waze cafe ad

10. Go above & beyond for a specific niche

Sometimes, it’s the details that really get people talking.

Let’s say you’ve got a whole lot of dog walkers in the area. Rather than just adding a bowl of water out the front, you could offer dog treats – or add a puppy playground.

Perhaps you’re targeting parents with toddlers. Free Babycinos cost very little but can literally make a tired parent’s day.

In truth, I’ve seen little touches like these inspire loyalty more than any ‘buy 6, get one free’ program.

Of course, as always, the trick is to find something that will delight & surprise a specific group of your customers in a unique way.

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A post shared by Friendly Neighbourhood Eatery (@treeo_sawtell) on

11. Local Partnerships

In your area, there are a whole range of other local businesses who are looking for creative ways to impress their customers.

Think of businesses like real estate agents, motor mechanics, hairdressers or any service business that wants to add a little extra value to keep their customers coming back.

One simple way they can do that is through a coffee card.

Depending on the partner, you either can offer them ‘free coffee’ cards to refer their customers to you or sell them the cards at a discounted rate.

In my case, we had several local real estate agents who were happy to spend hundreds of dollars a month to shout their clients a free coffee.

12. Social Competition

We all love a competition.

It’s also a great way to get people sharing your business on social. Here’s one example of how you can run a social media competition for your café or coffee shop:

  • Find a prize – like a Mother’s Day lunch, or a gift hamper.
  • To enter, customers need to tag someone else they want to win the prize (in our example, their mum) and include 3 words that describe why she’s the best.
  • Include a closing date and explain how the winner will be announced.
  • Share the post on social, and add a sign in store to promote the competition.
  • Here’s an example of a competition we ran earlier this year
    View this post on Instagram

    WIN a Mother's Day coffee hamper for mum 🎁 This Mother's Day, many of us can't share a coffee with mum in person. That’s why we’re giving away this beautiful bespoke hamper (valued at $250). It’s packed with these amazing treats: - @treadsoftlyaus Australian Prosecco - Cheeseboard and pottery knife by Davis and Waddell - @cicada_chocolate Berry Crunch - @scentedpurpose Bloom Soy Candle - Hygge cotton snuggle socks - @raineandhumble Cotton Tea Towels - Seven Miles travel mug by @sttokeofficial - Seven Miles Coffee Beans - Seven Miles Coffee Pods How to enter: 👉 Follow @sevenmilescoffeeroasters 👇 Tag your mum & share 3 words that describe why she’s the best. Maybe she’s “kind, thoughtful & determined” or more of a “strong, smart & cheeky” mum. Either way, let her know how you feel & we’ll pick the best answer to win! Competition closes 11:59pm 10th May 2020. This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed, administered by or associated with Instagram. #sevenmiles #coffee #coffeemachines #coffeelovers #coffeebeans #lovecoffee #ethical #aussiecoffee #barista #coffeeroasters #caffeine #caffeinelover #coffeeshop #coffeetime #sustainable #organiccoffee #fairtrade #fairtradecoffee #barista #competition #giveaway #mothersday

    A post shared by Seven Miles Coffee Roasters (@sevenmilescoffeeroasters) on

    Just be aware that Facebook & Instagram have different rules on what you can & can’t do with competitions like this – so be sure to check the details before posting.

    What about café marketing strategy?

    Hopefully, some of the ideas on this list have given you some inspiration for your business.

    However, it’s worth pointing out that none of these tactics are a substitute for putting together a proper marketing strategy for your business.

    An effective strategy starts by first understanding the specific customers you’re targeting, and then aligning what you offer & what you say (your message) with their needs.

    My advice: whether you're opening a cafe or building an existing business, take the time to put together a café business plan – this will help identify who your customers are, and how you can build a business that is the perfect fit for them.

    In my experience, getting that right is the real secret to long-term growth.