Once upon a time in America, getting free publicity for your pizzeria was relatively easy. Local newspapers were still thriving and happy to cover the hometown food scene. The rise of Facebook was initially a godsend—the social media giant gave restaurateurs plenty of leeway in promoting their food and events at no cost. But times have changed. Newspapers are struggling to survive, and Facebook throttles organic reach, requiring you to shell out money on nearly every post if you want it to reach a large chunk of your followers.
But there are still opportunities out there for enterprising restaurateurs looking to build up their reputation in the COVID-19 era without throwing around a lot of hard-to-come-by cash. Here are five ways to get started:
1. Partner with a local animal shelter. Today’s customers, especially millennials, put great stock in restaurants that give back and do good works in their community. And who doesn’t love animals? Pizzerias around the country have enjoyed great success by collaborating with local animal shelters and animal rescue organizations. Develop a box topper that features photos of animals up for adoption and point customers to the animal shelter to find their new best furry friend. Consider offering a gift card to anyone who adopts a pet featured on your pizza box. During warm-weather months, try hosting a “pups on the patio” event to encourage pet adoption. (First, check to make sure such events are permitted by law in your town.)
2. Help feed the hungry or the homeless. Dedicate a new LTO specialty pizza to helping a local homeless shelter or food pantry. For every pizza sold for a designated day, week or a month, donate one to your nonprofit partner. Deliver the pizzas personally and make sure to get photos for social media. Reach out to your local newspaper or TV station and ask them to tag along. And remember to keep count of how many pizzas you gave away and tout the final number on social media so customers will feel good about supporting your pizzeria. And don’t forget your community’s frontline workers as the pandemic worsens over the winter. Pizzerias around the country have earned invaluable publicity by sending free pizzas to hospital and clinic employees working hard to save lives in the COVID-19 era.
3. Support your local public schools. Set aside one night a month for a fundraiser for a local school. Promote the monthly events on social media and invite the news media to attend as well. Another option is to give away coupons for free cheese pizzas to every student with straight As on their report cards. Take a photo of every child who comes in with a perfect report card and post it on social media.
4. Create a pizza with crazy toppings. Everyone loves novelty, and a weird pizza will get their attention every time. The UK pizza chain Crazy Pedro’s has dished up oddball menu items like the Hot Dog Pizza (topped with beer-soaked franks), while Woodpecker by David Burke, located in New York City, made headlines a few years back for the Roasted Cricket pizza, featuring … well, the name says it all, right? Chirp-chirp. A mainstay on the menu at Slice Pizza and Brew in Birmingham, Alabama, is the Soul Pie, topped with turnip greens and black-eyed peas, plus sausage, red onions, bacon, and pepper Jack and cheddar cheeses. Trust us—we’ve had it, and it’s delicious!
5. Work with social media influencers. These influencers often have huge followings, and many of them focus on food or even specific dishes, such as pizza or tacos. Do some research and identify foodie influencers in your area, then reach out to them and extend an invitation for some free pizza at your shop. Even lesser-known influencers can still give your pizza shop a big PR boost. Note: Foodie influencers are often looking for unique or novelty food items, such as huge slices or pizzas topped with unusual ingredients (see No. 4).