20 Creative Restaurant Contest Ideas

Do you own a restaurant, or do marketing for one?

One of the best ways to drive interested, local business for your restaurant is to run a social media contest. It’s exciting and engaging, and awesome for getting more people in the door.

I’ve put together 20 awesome restaurant contest ideas for your next social media promotion, featuring prize ideas, contest themes, promotion methods and more.

Let’s dig in...

Restaurant Prize Ideas

Restaurant Contest Idea #1: Gift card

One of our favorite prize ideas here at Wishpond is a gift card. They’re great in particular because they ensure that everyone entering your contest is already interested in your restaurant, so you can market to them effectively through email after the contest is over. Giving away a gift card also means the winner is going to be business for your business - and that means potential return customers.

restaurant contest ideas

Restaurant Contest Idea #2: Night out

One of the best ideas for your contest is to partner with another local company to put together an awesome prize bundle. Though anything goes, really, I’d recommend you partner with another local experience - something that pairs well with a nice lunch or meal, like a theatre production or something a little more thrilling. Pair up to offer a “night out” prize bundle.

Restaurant Contest Idea #3: Free dinner for a year

One of the most popular prize ideas for a contest is the “free [product] for a year”, and you can use this idea for your restaurant’s next contest as well. Giving away free dinner for a year, or something similar, is an enticing prize idea that will help you maximize the number of conversions you get on your restaurant contest page.

Restaurant Contest Idea #4: Restaurant recipe book

Here’s an idea that’s a little out of the box. Though your end goal should be to get people into the door of your restaurant, a prize idea that could be exciting is a book of recipes from your restaurant. I’m not saying you should give away all of your trade secrets, but giving away a tailor-made book of some of your favorite restaurant (or even restaurant-inspired) dishes is an enticing and interesting prize idea.

restaurant contest ideas

Restaurant Contest Idea #5: Cooking class

This is another fun one. Creating an exclusive experience like hosting a special cooking class creates an attractive offer that people can’t get anywhere else. People who are interested in your restaurant and the food you serve (or just local eats in general!) are likely to enter because it’s something that’s incredibly unique. If you’re not up to a cooking class, try some other experience - food photography, for example!

restaurant contest ideas

Restaurant Contest Idea #6: Merchandise

If you’re the trendy type of restaurant that has its own merchandise (whether that’s clothing or fancy beer mugs), you can give it away as part of your prize giveaway. There’s a definite possibility that people like entering contests because they get something tangible. Pairing restaurant merchandise with a free dinner can make for the perfect prize package.

restaurant contest ideas

Restaurant Contest Idea #7: Behind-the-scenes restaurant tour

Another experience-based prize idea you can use is to give contest winners a behind-the-scenes look into your restaurant and how it works. If you’ve got a particularly interesting restaurant, you can take people behind the scenes into your kitchen (and beyond) to show them how your company operates and how you do what you do best. And, of course, offer them tastings and a meal on the house.

Restaurant Contest Idea #12: Cocktail party

A final restaurant contest prize idea you can use is to host a cocktail party (or some type of evening event) for the winner and their friends. It’s a little more extravagant, but that’s what makes it so exciting - the winner will have your restaurant all to themselves (and their friends of choice). They’ll get food and drinks for the evening - a great time for all!

Restaurant Contest Ideas

Restaurant Contest Idea #9: Tag a friend

Instagram is the perfect platform for food, which tends to be a visual spectacle. As Instagram continues to grow, Instagram contests continue to rise rapidly in popularity. A popular type of Instagram contest is the simple “comment-to-enter” contest. You can run this type of contest for your restaurant by posting a photo of one of your dishes on Instagram with the caption “tag two friends you’d like to have dinner with for the chance to win a free meal on us!”

restaurant contest ideas

Restaurant Contest Idea #10: Your favorite dish

Another type of contest you can run is a photo contest. Photo contests are exciting because they add another dimension to your contest - people are naturally more engaged when they need to submit their own content to enter a contest. Get them to take a photo with their favorite dish from your restaurant - this gets more people in the door and makes for some great user-generated content.

Restaurant Contest Idea #11: Restaurant memories

Here’s another great idea for a photo contest. Instead of highlighting the food, get participants to submit their photos of their favorite memories from your restaurant. Again, it’s a great source of user-generated content and can be used in future marketing campaigns to show how much people love your restaurant. If you want to increase the effectiveness of this content, get entrants to talk about the memories they’ve had there as part of their contest entry.

restaurant contest ideas

Restaurant Contest Idea #12: Seasonal themes

Contest best practices dictate that running certain that are directly related to a certain event or season generally get more entrants because they’re connected to something that’s top-of-mind. For a restaurant, Thanksgiving and Christmas are two seasons that are perfect for restaurant contests and giveaways. There’s not much you need to do differently here - just “theme” your contest image, page and copy to be seasonally relevant. For example, your headline might be “‘Tis the Season: Celebrate with a Free Christmas Dinner!”

Restaurant Contest Idea #13: Event themes

In the vein of the previous contest idea, the Superbowl is another huge time of year for some businesses. Capitalize on this by hosting a Superbowl (or Olympics, or Stanley Cup, or March Madness) contest, if it fits your restaurant’s atmosphere. You can do a simple themed sweepstakes, and make the prize relevant by marketing it as a “Superbowl Dinner” that you host for the winner and their friends.

restaurant contest ideas

Restaurant Contest Idea #14: Celebrate a loved one

Here’s one last themed contest idea! These holidays naturally lend themselves to contests - you can host one under the pretense that they’ll win a “Free Dinner for Your (Mom/Dad/Significant Other)”. People are often itching to get good gift ideas around this time of year - and a free meal isn’t so shabby. Photo or essay contests are great for this, as people can talk about why they want to win a prize for their loved one.

Restaurant Contest Idea #15: Design a menu item

And another creative contest idea - get people to think up a cool menu item for your restaurant. I’d keep it at least somewhat themed; for example, make every entrant think up a new set of toppings for a burger or a new type of nacho dish. This works great as a vote contest so your fans can weigh in on their favorite creations. As part of your prize, feature the winning dish as a menu item in restaurant for a limited time (or even permanently, if it’s good!).

Restaurant Contest Promotion

Restaurant Contest Idea #16: Run ads

If you’re running a contest, one of the best ways you can promote your contest is through social media advertising. Facebook and Instagram share an incredibly powerful ad platform that’s sure to help you target local, interested social media traffic and direct it towards your contest. Though you shouldn’t spend too much (more than the expected return on your contest), put some serious thought into crafting an engaging and effective ad campaign.

Restaurant Contest Idea #17: Partner with a local influencer

Influencer marketing can be huge for local businesses. Whether it’s a community account or a single influencer, partnering with a social media profile that has a significant local presence can massively boost the reach of your contest. Get them to be the “face” of your contest, promoting it on all of their social platforms and putting your contest link in their bio. This helps take advantage of interested local traffic, who are most likely to convert on your promotion.

restaurant contest ideas

Restaurant Contest Idea #18: Advertise on in-store materials

As a restaurant, you have a ton of opportunities to market to your existing clientele. Though your ultimate goal is to get new customers, getting existing ones to share your contest with their friends and family is a good place to start in terms of campaign promotion. Advertise your contest on things you have in-store - add it to receipts, post signage, and get your employees to tell customers to enter the contest and share it on their social platforms.

Restaurant Contest Idea #19: Community events

As a local business, one of the best things you can do to drive success and create connections is attend events that put you directly in touch with the people who have an impact on your business: your community. Attend big community events and set up a booth to spread the word about your business and promote your contest. Set up tablets or laptops at your booth so people can enter right away, and of course, have engaging signage that pulls people towards your stand. Who said grassroots marketing was dead?

Restaurant Contest Idea #20: Update online assets

Finally, it’s kind of a no brainer, but something you should do anyways: update your online assets to promote your contest. At the simplest level, this means updating your Instagram bio and Facebook and Twitter cover photos to point profile viewers towards your contest. On top of this, you can update your website, post a new update, or even add a website popup to get people to view your contest page and convert.

The Last Bite

That’s a lot to digest! Hopefully, these ideas have cooked up some new inspiration for your next restaurant contest. Anything I missed here? Maybe there’s something you’ve tried in the past that’s done awesome for your restaurant. Let me know in the comments below!

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Written by Carlo Pacis

Carlo is a Content Marketer at Wishpond who lives and breathes all things social media. He also has an obsession with music, sneakers, and coffee. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram @carlonathan.