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Restaurant Email Marketing 101: What You Need to Know

By Caroline Cox | 7 min read

If you send an email and no one opens it, does it make a sound?

When it comes to restaurant email marketing, most companies tend to play by the same rules: a monthly email with some news and updates, and maybe a few extra emails around major holidays. Then there are those who send none at all. To all of those people, we say: keep reading.

Restaurant Email Marketing 101: What You Need to Know - cindy's rooftop
Cindy’s Rooftop

The average person receives more than 100 emails a day. Because of this, companies can no longer get by with following the basic newsletter-style formulas as their marketing efforts. These days, communications need to be simple, fun, and most of all, make a personal connection with customers.

The aim is simple: to increase brand awareness, keep customers informed, and get new clients through your doors. And while there’s no magic formula (though we wish there was!), there are plenty of ways to set up your restaurant email marketing for success. Below, we cover everything from why you should send marketing emails in the first place, to the importance of a call to action — and everything in between.

Why restaurants should send emails in the first place

It’s normal to be intimidated by the prospect of creating a restaurant email marketing plan. For those with more experience on the dining room floor running the restaurant than behind a desk, it may seem overwhelming or just plain unnecessary. But email can help you reach customers in a way that no other platform can.

And studies show that it works:

  • For every $1 spent on email marketing, approximately $32 to $44 is made in return.
  • It’s less invasive than other marketing tactics, like text alerts.
  • It’s more direct than traditional ads.
  • Email meets people where they are, through a format that most of us are already checking multiple times a day.

It’s also been reported that more than half of all restaurant email lists have more than 10,000 subscribers, with an average open rate of around 20% — that’s 2,000 active readers reached. It even outpaces social media in its effectiveness, while giving you more control when it comes to your target audience.

The numbers don’t lie: for most restaurants, it’s clear that email marketing works.

Restaurant Email Marketing 101: What You Need to Know - bentobox

Choose an email marketing platform

When it comes to choosing which email service provider to use, there are plenty of options at your fingertips. Popular platforms include MailChimp, Constant Contact, and Drip. There are even service providers aimed specifically at the restaurant industry, like BentoBox and Fishbowl.

The service provider you end up going with should ideally have a solid number of available templates you can pick from. Moreover, it’s important to have the ability to customize them as well, so you can change them depending on seasonality and content, without feeling limited by a pre-existing design.

You’ll also want a platform that includes a decent level of analytics. This makes it easier to measure the effectiveness of your emails, from the open-rate percentage and clicks to unsubscribes and more.

Build an audience

The phrase “if you build it, they will come” doesn’t only apply to playing baseball in a cornfield. The same goes for your restaurant emails! But once you’ve built an email newsletter template you feel good about, it’s time to get it in front of the right people.

You want regular patrons and newcomers alike to subscribe to your email list. Luckily, there are a handful of ways to drum up interest in this new initiative:

  • Include signup information in your check presenters to pique the interest of existing customers
  • Add a pop-up or signup box to your restaurant’s website
  • Having newsletter signup as an opt-in option during the reservation-making or online ordering process
  • Spread the word across all of your social channels, with clear instructions for how to subscribe and what readers can expect

If you’re having trouble attracting people to sign up, you can consider offering an incentive to boost your numbers. This can be anything from a complimentary dessert if they sign up by a certain date, to a discount if they refer someone who also subscribes. Does your restaurant already collect business cards for raffles? You can start including auto-subscription signup as part of the contest entry rules.

Restaurant Email Marketing 101: What You Need to Know - jaleo by jose

Be mindful about the content

Feeling stuck on what to include in your emails? That’s totally normal. To overcome your writer’s block, think about what you’d want to know about from a restaurant you enjoy:

  • Maybe you’re introducing a newly revamped menu for the season? Show off the highlights.
  • Got a new mixologist behind the bar? Run an employee spotlight. (Side note: Gather’s blog posts featuring employees consistently perform well on our site.)
  • Have you recently revamped your banquet room? Promote it with some high-quality photos.
  • Launching a new signature burger special on Mondays? Spread the word!
  • Are you starting an offsite catering program? Give your audience the 411.

Now, we know what you might be thinking: what if there’s just not much news to share, or you’re in the midst of your eatery’s slow season? In that case, it may be the perfect time to run a promotion to drum up more business.

For more inspiration, subscribe to the newsletters of local restaurants or other businesses you enjoy. See what they include in their newsletters and how often they send them out. Make a note of what sticks out to you, whether it’s the fact that they call you by your name, the eye-catching photos or colors they include, or the way they format their messages. These can all serve as helpful ideas for your own email marketing — as long as you don’t simply create a copy of another brand’s work.

Restaurant Email Marketing 101: What You Need to Know - ester's
Esters Wine Shop & Bar

Keep it simple

Now comes the fun part: the email design. Text boxes! GIFs! Tables! All of the fonts! With so much room for creativity, the design process can get out of control quickly. But if you want to keep people from hitting the dreaded “unsubscribe” button, try to keep in mind that less is more, no matter your restaurant type.

We get it: it can be tempting to want to grab the attention of your recipients. But complicated email designs will only distract from your core message, making it harder for the reader to understand what you’re trying to convey.

Instead, find a template that speaks to you and that makes sense for your brand. If you want to invest a little more of your time or budget, you can even spring for a customized template expertly designed just for your business.

You don’t have to forgo fun altogether, though. A high-quality photo of a new dish or a revamped event space can be a great way to get people to keep reading. At the end of the day, your readers will appreciate keeping things on the simpler side when it comes to design.

Welcome readers — and make it personal

Sure, email is technical, but that doesn’t mean you have to sound like a robot. Readers are so much more likely to read and respond to emails that are personalized — it helps form a connection with each prospect. (Call us narcissistic, but emails with our names in them just seem harder to delete!)

Speaking of forming a connection with your reader, one of the best ways to do this is through an automatic welcome email. Welcome emails reportedly have 320% more revenue per email than other promotional emails. This email should automatically go out to each new subscriber, giving them an idea of what to expect from future emails.

Most email template platforms make it easy to set up this type of email. As far as its content goes: If you offered an incentive for signups, now’s the time to deliver on that. If not, then a brief message thanking them for subscribing and drumming up excitement about future email content will do. Beyond that, even a light touch of customization (like greeting them by their first name in your salutation) can make a huge difference.

Restaurant Email Marketing 101: What You Need to Know - kellogg's nyc
Kellogg’s NYC

Keep it short

You know those families that send the multi-page “holiday cards” (complete with Comic Sans chapter headings) that read more like novellas than a simple season’s greetings? When you overload your marketing emails with content, it’s kind of the same thing. Stuffing one email with all the news you can possibly manage will only overwhelm consumers and inspire them to hit that little trash-can icon.

Try this instead: At the risk of sounding like your 9th grade English teacher: brevity. Keep things concise, and we can pretty much guarantee you’ll see an uptick in subscriber rate.

Get creative with the subject line

Think back on the cold emails you’ve opened — what’s drawn you to click? Likely, a big factor was the compelling subject line that somehow drew you in or piqued your curiosity. This is another area where it pays to dial up the creativity.

Consider these effective restaurant email marketing subject line examples from the pros at Yelp:

  • “Do you have plans for dinner? Would you like some?”
  • “It’s Your 3rd Visit This Month, Impressive!”
  • “We Spent 87,600 hrs Perfecting THIS Dish…”
  • “Extended Happy Hour Starts Friday, ‘tis the Season!”

Your subject line can make or break the success of your newsletter. It’s a place where you shouldn’t be afraid to be cheeky, fun, and attention-grabbing. But a word of caution: try to avoid veering into the territory of cheap gags (Open this email for free money!) or clickbait promises on which the body of the email doesn’t deliver. This will cause your audience to lose trust in you, and you may even lose their business.

Restaurant Email Marketing 101: What You Need to Know - etch restaurant
Etch Restaurant

Don’t forget a call to action

So your customer made it all the way through your email — that’s great! But… now what? Without a clear and concise call to action, you aren’t giving your reader any reason to respond or continue to engage with your offerings. And a response is how you build a relationship with prospects. Don’t leave them hanging!

Instead, give your readers a clear next step. Instead of just dumping information on them, ask prospects how you can help move the relationship forward: “Is there an event you’re planning in the next 3 months that I can help with?” Even opening the door for general feedback they may have about your restaurant can be the start of a valuable dialog. This won’t just help you learn more about your prospect; it’ll almost certainly result in a higher response rate.

Repeat what’s working — and get rid of what’s not

Remember what we said above about how it’s important to use an email platform with robust analytics? Here’s where they come into play. Once you’ve sent a handful of marketing emails out into the digital universe, it’s crucial to take time to analyze their performance.

To gauge which emails were more successful than others, look into metrics such as:

  • Open rates
  • Click-through rates
  • Unsubscribe rates
  • Call-to-action performance
Restaurant Email Marketing 101: What You Need to Know - rhinegeist
Rhinegeist Brewery

Other metrics worth looking into include the content of the newsletter (like how an email about a new menu measures against one featuring a limited-time offer) and the time and date each email was sent. Do you see a higher open or click-thru rate on the weekends? Maybe start sending emails on Saturday mornings.

You know better than most just how competitive the restaurant industry can be. And with buzzy new outposts cropping up all the time, it’s vital to use as many tactics as possible to keep people informed and engaged with your business. Luckily, restaurant email marketing is one of the most effective ways to do just that.

Now that you’ve got the tools you need for a great restaurant email marketing strategy, request a live tour of Gather to see how we can take your events to the next level!

Interested in generating more leads for your restaurant? Learn more about the Gather Booking Network.

Caroline Cox
Content Marketing Manager

Caroline Cox is Gather's Content Marketing Manager. She spends her time crafting blogs, thought leadership pieces, case studies, social media content and more, helping empower restaurants and other event venues to streamline their planning process and grow their events programs with success.

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