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Make the Grade: How to Drive Traffic To Your Restaurant During Back-to-School Season

The sounds of school buses and the scent of freshly sharpened pencils—September is about more than just tailgate parties and cooling temps. Now that Labor Day has come and gone, most school-aged kids are heading back to the classroom, many for the first time in over two years.

The back-to-school season poses challenges for restaurants. As the lazy days of summer wind down, so does the time families spend dining out. With kids heading back to class, schedules changing, and after-school activities increasing, parents have little time for anything else.

But this season can be a golden opportunity for restaurants too. By offering back-to-school specials geared toward making these hectic days a little less stressful, restaurants can seize the moment and capture the attention–and the business–of the back-to-school crowd.

With most schools across the nation back to full capacity, many parents are left feeling familiar pressures they haven’t felt in some time, if ever. Take advantage of backpack season by creating a marketing strategy that drives traffic from parents, teachers, and students.

To start getting you into the school spirit, we’ve put together these helpful tips!

Create Before and After-School Specials

To attract high school kids who walk to school or parents with small children in carpools, create specials that are only available before school hours, from opening until 8 a.m., and after school, from 3 pm to 6 pm. This can be anything from a specialty coffee or flavored hot chocolate to breakfast specials or snacks packaged and ready to go.

After school, many middle and high school kids walk home with their friends, so create fun beverage and appetizer specials at affordable prices to drive traffic during this lull in the time of day.

Offer Lunch Box Specials

Back-to-school deals during lunch are one of the best ways to attract both teachers and older high school students who go off campus for lunch.

Create midday meal specials that attract the lunch box crowd featuring easy-to-grab and go menu items. Because teacher prep times and student lunch breaks are short, quick-meal lunches are a natural for fast food style restaurants. For full-service restaurants, promote lunches that can be ordered through your website or a delivery platform.

Even better, set up a delivery program with the local schools that let teachers order ahead and have their meals delivered just in time for their off period. Promote deals exclusive to students and teachers on social media where most kids spend their free time. Use platforms like Sauce that let customers order directly through your restaurant’s social pages.

School Night Dinner Deals

Appeal to parents getting adjusted to back-to-school routines by creating meal delivery package deals that do the meal prep or all the cooking for them. Nothing’s worse than thinking about dinner after a busy school and work day, so give them the night off. If you price it right and package it perfectly, you could just nail their regular business.

To draw attention, name your dinner packages with catchy names that speak directly to your target market. Use the school mascot or nickname in the title.

Here are a few ideas:

  • “[Mascot Name} Meal Deals”

  • “Welcome Back [Team or school name} Specials.”

  • “Take the Night Off {school name} parents!”

  • “Meal Deals, Exclusive for {school name} families}.

If you jumped on the meal kit bandwagon during the pandemic, why not reimagine that idea and create a few just for the back-to-school season? Make life even easier for your customers by creating kits that include enough for dinner and lunch the next day.

Name the meal kit something that identifies the pain point and solution in the title.

Here are a few ideas:

“Too tired to cook for your team? Leave the cooking to us!”

“No time to meal prep? Complete meal kits delivered to your door!”

“Minus the Madness, Add Meal Kits!”

Extend the special promotion to run every night throughout the first weeks of school so parents know they can turn to your restaurant whenever they’re exhausted and need some help with dinner.

Or make a meal kit calendar that features a different kit for every night of the week. This helps prepare your inventory and staff so you aren’t scrambling around looking for ingredients for a bunch of different dishes. In other words, don’t make back-to-school madness a crazy time for your staff either. Create timelines and parameters that work best for your business.

Get Involved in School Events

Instead of enticing back-to-school customers to come to your restaurant, go to them. Get involved with a school food supply drive; let the drama club or band use your parking lot for a fundraising car wash, or cater an on-campus function.

As schools return to the classrooms, administrations will look to supply food for meetings, PTA meetings, theater productions, dances, or fundraisers.

Social Media Giveaways

Social media giveaways are the perfect way to drive engagement. They excite customers and spark a chain of sharing. With giveaways geared to the back-to-school crowd, be sure to not only give your customers something they want but use this as an opportunity to boost your brand for the rest of the year as well.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Gift cards to your restaurant

  • Branded clothing (hats, t-shirts, coffee mugs, etc.)

  • A backpack full of snacks

  • A free item for a whole year

  • Free family dinner

  • Free desserts or beverages every time guests visit or order from your restaurant

Entice your guests to follow you on social media by offering a simple something (a free large drink for the price of a small one) if they share their photos, invite 3 friends, or share your menu on their page.

Outstanding Grades Program

Back to school means homework and tests are right around the corner. Recognize their hard work by starting a “Good Grades” program that rewards students for straight As, 100% quiz grades, or other accomplishments. Promote the program on social media and ask the school administration if you can hang posters on a community bulletin board.

Incorporate this tactic into your social media strategy by creating a fun hashtag that parents and students can show off their great work.


# (Your name) great grade program

# (Your name) outstanding students program

# I scored at (Your name)

# You are Number 1 at (Your name)

This type of promotion can not only help increase community support but can also create lifelong customers. If you’re consistent with your program, you can become the neighborhood go-to restaurant for students and parents.

Kid-Friendly Happy Hour

Create a kid-friendly “Happy Hour” during after-school hours. By offering a half-priced kid menu or fun menu items that appeal to your littlest guests, you can boost foot traffic during that time period after lunch and before dinner (usually the least busy time of day).

Take it up a notch by offering adults equally tempting specials they can enjoy with their kids and you’ve created a whole new day part for your business!

Exclusive Teacher Discounts

Teachers deserve extra appreciation all the time, but especially at this time of year when they too are adjusting to a new schedule. Remember they have families too so send a little love their way by offering special discounts or creating special menu items just for educators.

Create family-focused meal kits or delivery specials that they can order while they’re on their prep periods. Go the extra mile by giving them their own landing page with an easy-to-order list of meal deals to recognize them even more.

Knowing that they have a restaurant that appreciates their hard work and provides a place to make their lives easier is a sure way to ace your business’s reputation among the most valued (but sometimes east recognized) professionals in our lives – the ones who shape the minds of your smallest (and future) customers.

Take away

Back-to-school is an exciting time of year, but it can also be a little stressful. By taking advantage of this unique opportunity, recognizing the pain points of parents, teachers, and students, and creating promotions that make their lives a little bit easier, you’ll drive traffic, gain loyal customers, increase profits, and make the grade with this special crowd.

By Eileen Strauss


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