Halloween Restaurant Promotions: The QSR Guide
Do you feel that in the air? The evenings feel a bit crisper. The foliage fades into a warmer palette and you swear you can hear the wind howling through the trees most nights…or are those the screams of the missing trick-or-treaters? It’s Halloween! For children and adults, the season provides opportunities for fun, mischief, and food, and we see businesses vying for this spirit through creative promotions. Though October 31st might not be a day we traditionally associate with restaurant traffic, the festive month lends plenty that restaurant operators can use. Looking to bring in some holiday business this year? Our guide to Halloween restaurant promotions should get you started!
Halloween and COVID-19 (A 2020 Update)
With 2020 being our first Halloween “post-COVID outbreak,” we don’t know exactly what to expect. We do know that it will be unlike the Halloween celebrations to which we may be accustomed. Please keep in mind that rules and ordinances around social distancing and capacity limits always come first. Check your local laws and ordinances before proceeding with any promotion which may create high risk for spreading the virus.
A Halloween Restaurant Menu
A great way to steer some Halloween traffic your way is with a seasonal menu. Don’t worry! You don’t need to overhaul everything if it doesn’t fit your brand. To avoid overwhelming the selection with limited-time offerings, you might try introducing a single ghoulish dessert or drink. The seasonality here also appeals to the principle of scarcity marketing, which makes a trip to your restaurant all the more exclusive.
If you don’t want to create a burden in the back-of-house workflow, you can achieve the same effect with some simple wordsmithing. Try recasting your menu with spooky new names or connotations. Consider a Frankenstein’s Monster approach, so the Hors d’oeuvres
become different body parts, or a cocktail to be a witch’s brew. Maybe you can play up orange and black food. How this works in your particular restaurant will vary, but a little bit of menu engineering will help you determine opportunities to put some Halloween sheen on your cuisine!
Pumpkin Spice and other Flavoring
The subject of far too many think pieces, this seasonal squash has developed quite a divided reputation among consumers. Detractors bemoan pumpkin spice’s commercial ubiquity, showing up in everything from Coffee to cookies to beer to body washes. Others might call the flavor “basic,” a flavor fad that’s outstayed its welcome. However, the fact remains that the flavor is a hit this time of year because people like pumpkin spice and the seasonality keeps it special!
You don’t have to outfit your whole menu with ghoulish confections. You might try adding some pumpkin-flavored desserts or (if applicable) main dishes. This won’t work for all restaurants, but those who do might find a runaway hit with some limited seasonal appeal. Halloween treats and main dish food needn’t be mortal enemies – just don’t take it too far as some have with this candy corn pizza.
Halloween Restaurant Promotions and Sales
If you’re not too keen on altering your food choices, that’s OK. You can still take part in the Halloween festivities with some seasonal promotions. Perhaps you can put an item on sale and advertise it as a Halloween exclusive. Maybe you can run a promotion for a “buy one get one free” during certain (nighttime?) hours. These promotions provide an effective workaround wherein you can still utilize Halloween imagery and aesthetics, without altering your brand.
Halloween Restaurant Decor and Dress
One of the most visceral aspects of any Halloween celebration is the neighborhood decorations! You can replicate that in your restaurant too! Customers dig the eerie ambiance, as well as the exclusivity of eating in an environment that won’t last forever. It’s up to you how far you go. If it fits your brand to roll out some animatronic ghouls and skeletons, go all out! You can try more subtle methods too. Some tasteful window clings or table cloths might do the trick.
If you’d rather not dig into the spooky/monstrous side of Halloween, you can opt for something a little more general, like fall or autumn coloring. Finally, if it’s appropriate to your dress code, you might encourage employees to outfit themselves with a bit of Halloween flair as well! You don’t have to overwhelm with masks or fake blood, but perhaps a tasteful bit of face paint or a fun pin they can attach to their shirt. It’s up to you!
Halloween Restaurant Prizes and Contests
One way that businesses can get in on the Halloween action is by hosting costume contests and offering prizes (like discounts or free meals!) to the winners. It’s important to advertise these kinds of things well in advance, but with enough hype, you can stage something fun and fright-filled without too much financial investment. You can also try offering discounts to those in costume, as a way to encourage some traffic.
With the proper setup and preparation, Halloween can be an opportune season to host live music in your restaurant! In some locales, you might see parody or cover acts doing “Halloween sets” wherein they pantomime as a more famous band. Do your ASCAP research here as there might be some legal or copyright issues. Maybe you can find a local artist who’ll do spooky songs, monster ballads or maybe even some musical ghost stories.
Offer Tickets to Local Events
The nature of Halloween festivities, with fall festivals, corn mazes, pumpkin patches, and haunted houses, gives the holiday a community appeal. As such, you can use your restaurant to show some solidarity with the local fare. By coordinating with some of these event organizers, you can put up flyers or sell tickets. These partnerships can be mutually beneficial too. Your restaurant helps spread the word about their event, and they market your restaurant when they advertise. Win/win!
Trick or Treat Stop
Of course, you’ve got to consider Halloween’s undisputed main event: Trick-or-treating! Suburban areas usually adhere to the tradition of kids knocking through residential neighborhoods to procure their treats. Some bigger cities, the type with fewer traditional “neighborhoods” present a different spin where local businesses act as the treat stops. If you’re in one of the latter, ensure you’re prepared to host trick-or-treaters! Some simple signage or door decorations go a long way in letting everyone know to stop by for sugary snacks!
Halloween Restaurant Promotions – Fun and Frightful!
However you celebrate the season, you can drum up Halloween business for your restaurant with a creative eye and by appealing to an autumnal aesthetic. See any Halloween restaurant promotion ideas we missed? Sound off in the comments.
Note: We originally published this article on October 4, 2019. We updated it slightly on October 15, 2020, to keep it as relevant to contemporary events as possible.
Want to read something scary? Read our article on Restaurant nightmares (preferably with the light on!)
About the Author
Dylan Chadwick was the Content Marketing Manager at QSR Automations. He graduated from Brigham Young University with an English degree and journalism focus and loves to write, draw and paint. When left to his own devices, he enjoys loud music, adorable dogs and documentaries about the aforementioned.