I'm starting a business with a partner, creating an online dating site/community that allows people who have a love of food to meet. We are bootstrapping everything and need to spread the word. We are just trying to find out what is going to put us over the line where we go from being noticed by a small pocket of some to region-wide or national. How can we spread the word?
That's a very interesting idea!
I've always felt that taking an existing idea that's liked and used by a ton of people (e.g. online dating) and micro-focusing it to appeal to a smaller group -- but a group who will LOVE it -- is important. In other words, it's better to have a product or service that a smaller group of people love than one a whole lot of people like. Because if people love it, they will talk about it and you will scale to others who love it. And suddenly you are more than just a tool; you are a necessity.
So the site is launched, correct? My first piece of advice is based on what I said above about getting people to love it; perfect the product as best you can. Go to users and incorporate their feedback into the product decision. Find out what features they like, love, and what they'll pay for. And the reason I feel getting the product really right before trying to launch nationally is you are in a space with so many established entrants. Having a service a few people rave about will help distinguish you. So when you are fairly certain you have some rabid fans, then you try to scale and find new fans.
As to that point, there are so many things you can do. If you graduated from a college or graduate program with entrepreneurial ties, go back and meet with them and ask for them to put you in front of angel investors. With even a small amount of seed money, you can start to buy Google ads and other useful media.
And let's just stay on the raising money tip for a bit before I try to help you create awareness by spending little or no money.
Before you raise seed money you will need a pitch deck and business plan (loads of resources online to help you create those). I suggest you try to create a killer deck not only because it will be necessary to raise money but it will also help clarify your mission and give you focus. Plus, you never know who you might run into who asks you if you have a deck because they love the idea. It only needs to be 10 pages, so invest a little time in it.
Now, the best case scenario is to bootstrap until you either have enough awareness that you raise money on your terms, or until you are making enough money to grow without a raise.
Now here's a "cheap marketing" thought: Go to a place like PSPrint.com and order a few hundred club cards (small postcards, generally 2.5" x 4"). You'll have to create the artwork or find someone you know with a little graphic design experience. Then visit places in the non-virtual world where foodies gather and ask to leave the cards on the counter. It could be restaurants, cooking classes, cooking stores, a food or wine conference. A guerilla tactic I used to use at my marketing company was to go to book stores, find appropriate books (in your case food/cooking) and sneak cards into all the copies on the shelves (some towns still actually have bookstores).
You can also approach food and wine bloggers and let them know about the site. It's interesting enough that they may write about it -- and also good to send them a deck. Maybe you can create an affiliate program where you give a blogger a code (example: FOODGIRL) and if someone signs up using that code, FoodGirl gets a commission. There are literally thousands of food, wine, spirits and beer bloggers. Press is a numbers game. And if you build enough awareness for a story, eventually you can hire a PR company. But don't waste your money until you have some momentum.