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Channeling Customers: How Radio Advertising Delivers Restaurant Sales

In today’s market, there is an overwhelming number of media options to choose for your advertising strategy. While social media may be your first thought when brainstorming an advertising plan for your restaurant, it’s important not to underestimate the effectiveness of traditional methods.

Radio advertising provides unique opportunities and advantages for local restaurants, unlike any other medium. This broadcast medium can help you reach an audience that you may be otherwise missing online or in print. Because many consumers listen to certain stations on a daily basis, and these stations can be simple to identify, radio advertising is a great tool for local advertising.

Compared to other traditional media like local tv, print, and direct mail, creating a radio ad is inexpensive. So, radio advertising can help your business reach a precisely targeted audience and boost sales even with a tight advertising budget.

Pros of Local Radio Advertising

1) Targets Local Customers

When you purchase time on the radio you’re not buying an ad—you’re buying an audience. For small businesses like restaurants, your target audience is primarily people who live and/or work nearby. With so many messages coming at your customer on a daily basis through social media, television, and the internet, radio reaches local customers in a way no other medium can.

In large cities like New York, Miami, or Los Angeles, where thousands of commuters are trapped in their cars for at least 2 hours a day during the busy rush hour, advertising on radio brings your message to a captive audience. This presents an opportunity to promote your menu and delivery offerings while your customer is stuck in traffic on the way home from work.

Advertising on radio is the perfect way to say, “let us make your busy life a little easier.” Radio also provides a way to promote timely events at your establishment like grand opening celebrations, holiday specials, and special events.

2) Cost-effective

Despite all the changes in the last decade in how Americans access music and get their news, AM/FM radio is still the most cost-effective advertising medium today. It's an inexpensive way to reach existing and potential customers.

There are two main variables when scheduling radio ads: frequency and reach.


Frequency is the number of times your ad is heard by the average person over the course of a week. In other words, how often you are sharing your message with your target audience. Be selective in targeting. You don’t have to reach everyone in town because everyone isn’t your potential customer. Once you’ve identified your target audience, it’s time to build frequency. Think of frequency as talking to the right people as frequently as possible.

Based on the way consumers use radio, there are three key strategies that can be optimized for building frequency:

  1. Advertise in short, but powerful bursts.

  2. Concentrate advertising during narrow day parts, such as the morning or evening drive.

  3. Dominate a day and saturate a number of radio stations for an entire day.


Reach is the sum total of the listenership on each station.

If frequency is talking to the right people a lot, reach is talking to a lot of the right people.

There are a few different ways to talk to maximize reach:

  • Advertise over a longer period of time

  • Advertise during multiple times of day

  • Use a few different stations

  • Run shorter 15 second spots

There will be some variances in reach based on day-parts. For example, the morning show will have a larger listening audience than overnight programming; however, the cost to advertise during overnight is less. Maybe your audience is younger people who listen to the radio late at night. Use that information to spend your money wisest.

Every radio station has a coverage map, which is the reach of that station from a geographic standpoint. Generally speaking, a larger geographic reach means a larger listener reach.

To build reach with a radio campaign, advertise consistently over a long period of time. Then do so several times per day at peak listening hours, like the morning drive or during popular programs. If your target audience is older folks in the business world, for example, run spots during the evening news or on NPR. If your target is Gen Z, choose stations that play the newest, most popular music.

Don’t throw away your ad budget by just attempting to reach more people. Focus, instead, on reaching the right people the most often.

All of this may sound a little overwhelming, but radio sales reps can help immensely here. Optimizing reach and frequency based on your specific goals and budget requirements is their specialty.

There will inevitably be certain sales people that will try to tempt you by throwing out their large audience numbers. Be a savvy media buyer by asking the right questions: who are these people? How old are they? Where do they live/work? When do they listen to the station? They have that information on hand. You just need to ask for it.

Three Frequency

Psychologically speaking, the average person needs to hear an advertising message three times per week for it to be memorable. This is known as “Three Frequency.” So, the best way to get your message out and make it memorable is to run your ad about 21 times per week. Spreading your budget thin across multiple radio stations may maximize your reach, but dilute frequency.

Tip: If you were forced to choose between reach, and frequency, always choose frequency.

3) Great Return on Investment

More than 90 percent of consumers listen to the radio at least once per week. This adds up to a huge audience. For example, in a city like Philadelphia, with a population of 1.5 million people, that’s roughly 1.3 million people per week! This level of exposure can provide a noticeable boost to sales if you have a smaller advertising budget.

One Clear Channel study showed an average of a $6 increase in profit for every $1 spent on radio advertising. That suggests that for every $1000 spent, a company may see up to $6000 in profits. That’s a pretty good return on investment (ROI) and can be competitive with the cost of running ads on Google Adwords or other social media channels. The cost of a radio advertisement can start as low as $10 per spot, but the cost is driven by length, frequency, station’s ratings, and daypart (what time it airs). Your goal is to pay the rate that best ensures that your ad serves the correct audience.

4) Captive Audience

No other medium can reach such a broad cross-section of potential customers as radio. In addition to the audience, there's the attention factor. Being able to place your message in front of a consumer for 15 or 30 uninterrupted seconds is a gold mine. Compare this to the few seconds the average web surfer spends on a single page.

Repetition (frequency) helps your local radio ads be more effective. While that web surfer may never return to that page, he or she will likely hear your radio spot multiple times, and repetition enforces recognition.

5) Low production costs

Another advantage to local radio advertising is lower production costs. With a radio ad, you don't need a spokesperson or an elaborate set; you just need a good, well-written script.

While the popularity of satellite radio, podcasts, and streaming services may make it seem that this type of media is taking over the market, the truth is that local radio is still as relevant as ever and offers small business owners a way to reach a lot of people without a big marketing budget.

6) Plays to Consumers’ Daily Habits

Radio ad sponsorships played during the morning broadcast are a great way to make the most out of your radio advertising budget. While this is one of the most expensive times to run your ad, it’s also one of the most effective. People are often tuned in on their way to work, catching up on the latest news with their favorite host and music genre. Playing your spot during this day part provides both credibility and familiarity. When your commercial is served alongside daily local and national news, it may be greeted by more trustworthy ears. Strike when the oven is hot by running spots during evening drive when potential customers are thinking about dinner.

Radio Advertising Costs

Radio advertising is typically priced by the number of listeners multiplied by the cost per thousand (CPM). While station and market affect the cost, radio advertising often falls between $200 and $5,000 per week.

The cost will be affected by the length of advertisement, time, location, and station. For instance, a 60-second ad will cost more than a 30-second ad and an ad played late at night will cost less than an ad aired during rush hour. Additionally, an ad in a more populated market, like Chicago or New York, will cost more than an ad in rural Illinois or upstate Pennsylvania.

Depending on the local market, prices vary depending on population, exposure, and demand.

How to Buy Air Time on a Radio Station

Typically, radio stations offer 18 minutes of advertising time per hour, of which businesses can purchase ad air time for 15 seconds, 30 seconds or 60 seconds. Once your ad has been created and edited to the appropriate length, it’s time to choose a station. Buying air time on a radio station is a simple process. After choosing where your ad will air, determine what air time slots will benefit your brand most.

Best Times to Advertise on the Radio

As we already mentioned, the most popular (and most expensive) air times are the morning and evening rush hours. However, depending on your ad, this does not mean these are the best times for your business. Consider when your audience is listening, and go from there.

Air time slots are typically divided as follows:

  • Morning Rush Hour: 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.

  • Midday: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

  • Evening Rush Hour: 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

  • Evening: 7 p.m. to 12 a.m.

  • Late Night: 12 a.m. to 6 a.m.

How to Pick a Radio Station

If you’re running a business, it’s likely that you already have your target market identified. This target market is your main factor in picking a radio station.

Who is your customer? Where do they live? Where do they work? Do they commute to work by car or public transportation? How old are they? What is their race or ethnicity? What kind of music do they listen to?

Have a clear definition of who your consumer is and place your ad where your consumer will be listening.

Below is a simple outline of demographics and types of radio stations that are often paired together.

Determining ROI

After running an ad, it’s important to track its effectiveness. Determining the ROI of your radio ad can help you better plan future radio ad campaigns and budgets to boost sales and save money.

There are many ways to measure the ROI of your radio ad.

1. Use a Vanity URL

A vanity URL is when you send listeners to a specific landing page on your website. Be sure to use a URL that’s simple to remember as listeners won’t be able to go to the link or write it down when they’re driving. Examples:




You can track page traffic using analytics tools such as Google Analytics to monitor the page visits and most visited time slots.

2. Use a Tracking Phone Number

Provide listeners with a special phone number for them to call that is earmarked for the specific ad. This will differentiate those calling from hearing the radio ad from those calling from hearing about your campaign in another way. Just as with the vanity URL, make sure the number is very simple to remember. Use 7 letters that associate with the numbers.





3. Ask Customers How They Heard About You

If possible, have your server ask or offer 10% on their next visit if they fill out a short questionnaire at the bottom of the guest check.

4. Measure Before and After Sales

This one may seem obvious, but one of the easiest ways to track ROI is to just track your sales before and after your ad ran. While this will not differentiate where sales are coming from, it will give you the overall picture as to whether your current marketing plan is working.

Radio advertising can be a great tactic for attracting new customers, drawing attention to existing ones, and increasing sales for your business. Being a less expensive advertising method, it is worth testing because it just might be a way to increase revenue with a low investment cost.

By Eileen Strauss


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