According to research by TripAdvisor, over half of UK restaurants spend less than 10% of their time on marketing, and just 12% have roles dedicated to it.

It also found that despite 94% of UK restaurants monitoring the reputation of their business, 80% said they should be doing more to promote it.

Of course, while budget and scale must be taken into consideration, it does appear as if marketing is low on the priority list for some.

So, with this in mind, let’s take a look at some restaurants (both large and small) with winning marketing strategies. Here are some of the best examples as well as what we can learn from them.


Despite stiff competition within the fast food market, Nando’s has become one of the most popular and well-known restaurants in the UK.

With 1.5m followers on Twitter and 4.2m fans on Facebook, its social media strategy has contributed to its success, with the brand running integrated social campaigns to help generate engagement and loyalty.

Its best examples have been those that encourage customers to share their Nando’s experience on social media, such as the ‘finger selfies’ campaign. This involved customers tweeting a picture of their best finger selfie made from a Nando’s napkin, using a £20 gift card as an incentive to get involved.

By creating campaigns that customers can easily engage with while dining, Nando’s enhances the fun and casual experience that it’s become known for. In turn, it also furthers engagement on social media, encouraging customers to spread the word.

Nando’s also recognises that it has become somewhat of a pop culture phenomenon, particularly amongst young people – perhaps cemented by the group Peri Boyz going viral with their parody song, ‘cheeky Nandos’. Using this and other related hashtags like #wingroulette, Nandos is able to connect with its ever-loyal target audience.

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Pizza Pilgrims

Pizza Pilgrims has gone from a single stall at a food market to becoming a fully-fledged chain, now with seven locations in London. As you might expect from a restaurant with such humble beginnings, its focus on authenticity has been at the heart of its marketing strategy, appealing to customers with its ‘have a go’ back-story and its no-frills product.

Set up by Thom and James Elliot, the name Pizza Pilgrims reflects the company’s beginnings, which saw the brothers head off on a journey across Italy in order to learn about pizza.

On their return, they set up a pizza van – instantly gaining a reputation for delicious dough and highly affordable prices. Alongside this, the brand was built on a hyper-local strategy, generating loyalty from people within the pizza van’s immediate radius. This led to the opening of the first brick-and-mortar location in Soho – which is coincidentally (though perhaps deliberately) directly opposite a Pizza Express.

Now with seven restaurant locations, Pizza Pilgrims still promises to ‘roll out with soul’ – positioning itself as an authentic and fashionable alternative to large-scale pizza chains.

Pan ‘n’ Ice

While it’s not technically a restaurant (currently operating from a van in London’s Westfield Stratford) I’m including new company Pan ‘n’ Ice for its very modern approach to marketing – one that’s rooted in the experience that surrounds its product.

Pan ‘n’ Ice sells Thai-style ice cream known as Koh Phi Phi, which is essentially ice cream rolls created by mashing, slicing, and freeze-drying ingredients on a metal plate. While the ice cream itself is bound to be enjoyable, the brand generates a lot of interest from how it is made, creating each serving in front of customers’ eyes.

Unsurprisingly, social media has been integral to the brand’s success so far, particularly on Instagram where it posts videos of its ice cream being created. Some videos have been viewed over 100,000 times, which is pretty impressive considering the company is still in its infancy.

Pan ‘n’ Ice also generates hype by being creative with flavours, using well-known food items to create frankly bonkers recipes, such as pizza Pringle rolls. Which, yes, is ice cream made out of pizza-flavoured Pringles.

As well as increasing awareness online, the spectacle that surrounds the product also helps to increase footfall – the company has suggested that whenever they’re being filmed, passers-by naturally stop to see why. As a result, it has seen further success with pop-ups in locations like Selfridges and Topshop, capitalising on the immersive nature of the retail environment to generate customer interest.


Leon is another casual fast food chain that has seen rapid growth over the past few years. One campaign that kicked off real success was ‘Lean and Clean’, where it partnered with social media influencer Joe Wicks – also known as the Body Coach.

Building on the trend for ‘clean eating’ and general wellness, Leon positioned itself as a healthy alternative to fast food restaurants. Taking advantage of Joe’s growing audience on social, the brand created two fitness videos to post on his own channels. Following on from this, Joe continued to post related content including new recipes and competitions, becoming a natural advocate for the brand based on his own dedication to healthy living.

With Joe Wicks going on to become much bigger on social, and since releasing his own line of best-selling books, it can perhaps in hindsight be seen as a great example of micro-influencer marketing. Due to a natural and authentic partnership, Leon’s Lean and Clean campaign truly resonated with Joe’s smaller but hyper-engaged following at the time.


According to a study by Zizzi, people aged 18-35 reportedly spend five days a year browsing food images on Instagram, and 30% would apparently avoid a restaurant if its Instagram presence was lacklustre.

So, while online reviews and ratings are still very much important, a new kind of visual validation appears to be taking over, with customers checking out social media to decide whether or not a restaurant is worth visiting.

US restaurant chain Applebees is one brand to recognise this, using it as the basis for its social media marketing strategy. Its Fantographer campaign encouraged diners to upload photos of their Applebees experience, with the promise of posting the best ones on its own Instagram channel.

The campaign cleverly tapped into the popularity of ‘food porn’ pics as well as the audience’s desire to get involved, with user-generated content also helping further brand advocacy.

On the back of the campaign, Applebees gained 4,500 new followers on Instagram, while levels of engagement rose 25%.

Key takeaways

So, what can we learn from these examples? Here are a few key points.

1. Encourage social media sharing. Asking customers to share their experience is one thing, but making it easy, fun, and a natural part of the restaurant experience is much more effective long-term. In the case of Nando’s, this means creating simple and fun competitions that encourage in-the-moment sharing on social.

2. Use storytelling to engage. With an authentic and interesting back-story, brands like Pizza Pilgrims naturally capture the attention of consumers – especially in the face of competition from big chains. Keeping this sense of authenticity, even in the midst of growth, is important for maintaining customer loyalty.

3. Create experiences. Much like the retail industry, customers are becoming used to more immersive-style marketing from restaurant and food brands – also thanks to the popularity of pop-ups and experiential campaigns. Pan ‘n’ Ice taps into this trend, using it to generate hype and excitement around the brand in retail environments.

4. Build authentic partnerships. We’re constantly talking about both the negatives and positives of influencer marketing, but Leon has demonstrated that there is a sweet spot – and it always boils down to authenticity. In other words, focusing on levels of engagement rather than the size of the audience.

5. Capitalise on visual content. Food and restaurant brands are increasingly relying on the customer’s appetite for visual content, using platforms like Instagram and YouTube to promote themselves. User-generated content is a great way to create this but also save on both resources and budget.

For more on this topic, check out Econsultancy’s range of content marketing training courses.

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