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The Importance of Scarcity for Restaurant Marketing

In his landmark marketing book Contagious, researcher Jonah Berger highlights the importance of scarcity to successfully encouraging word of mouth. He uses the McRib at McDonald’s as an example.

Several decades ago, McDonald’s introduced the McRib. Due to a series of supply-chain issues, they couldn’t keep the item in stock, which led to the item being only intermittently available. Each time they brought the McRib back, they saw a spike in sales. With further research, they realized that the dilemma of the item’s scarcity, the uncertainty of if it would be around very long, increased demand for it as folk were scared of missing out.

What started as a supply-chain issue is now a full-fledged marketing strategy based on the principle of scarcity.

“Specials” Create Instant Scarcity for Marketing

One strategy employed by many fine restaurants is the idea of the “special”: an item that is only available in limited quantities for a limited time. These two limitations are vital to creating a successful scarcity campaign. Imagine an Instagram post that describes a special dessert whipped up by the staff that night only—and is limited to just five available. Suppose the item is unique and impressive enough and the principles of scarcity are applied. In that case, it can drive orders from your restaurant that night—bringing in orders from folks who might otherwise not plan on ordering from you.

When my wife and I were running our late-night cookie delivery business, we employed this tactic every weekend. We were open by purposely creating a two-tiered menu: 7 permanent items and 5 weekly rotating items. Eventually, as we continued developing recipes, we had a selection of more than 50 items to cycle through—meaning that our menu changed and morphed every weekend.

We always had something to promote and talk about through our social media marketing channels and our email marketing. Based on the principle of scarcity, our weekly specials encouraged folks to order when their favorite specials came along. It could be weeks until they could order it again.

It led to a very high reorder rate for our cookies. This meant we didn’t need to acquire as many new customers because our existing customers kept coming back.

Key Takeaways

Do you offer daily or weekly specials? If not, could you start?

What are some ways that you could employ scarcity in your restaurant in other ways?