Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing for Restaurants

February 6, 2024
Read Time: Example Minutes

Why develop an email marketing program?

Our email inbox is our digital living room. It’s the place we reserve for one-to-one conversations, which makes email marketing personal in a way even social media marketing can’t match. And that’s why restaurants who want to build better relationships with their customers can’t do better than developing an effective email marketing program. In this guide, we’ll teach you everything you need to know to create restaurant emails that will outperform the industry average and drive repeat visits and customer loyalty.

How effective is email as a marketing channel?

Developing a carefully considered email marketing strategy is still one of the best ways to ensure the success of your restaurant. That’s because email marketing offers better ROI (return on investment) than almost any other marketing channel, netting an average of $36 for every $1 spent. It’s also one of the most affordable digital marketing channels. You can begin developing your program with as little as a few hundred dollars. Best of all, you own the data and the insights, turning your efforts into a valuable resource that can fuel your restaurant’s revenue growth for years to come.

Restaurant email marketing tips: Crafting restaurant marketing emails that resonate.

When a customer gives you their email address, they are inviting you to create a stronger relationship with them. Do this effectively, and you can turn a prospect into an occasional visitor and an occasional visitor into a committed regular.

They are joining your family, so treat them that way

As we noted above, email is altogether personal. The more personalized your message and approach, the more successful you will be. In fact, studies have shown that messages that are specifically-tailored to the recipient can increase open rates by as much as 29%. This goes beyond just calling your customers by name. After all, when your favorite regular walks in, you know just what to recommend. A properly maintained email database allows you to have that relationship with every guest on your list.

The more you know them, the more they’ll know you

Email list segmentation, the process of dividing up your email list by interest group, drives up to 36% of email marketing ROI. This could be as simple as offering new and returning customers different incentives, or as tailored as targeting your emails to interest-based or demographic groups. Keeping your message relevant ensures that your customers won't just open your restaurant emails, they’ll look forward to them.

Think beyond the coupon

While offering incentives such as discounts for sign up or reservations can be effective restaurant email marketing tools, they aren’t the only way to drive loyalty, and aren’t right for every restaurant, target or email. Why not help them feel like insiders with special access to events, secret menu items and seasonal promotions? Or give them a behind the scenes look into the kitchen or the creation of a new menu item? You could even introduce them to your chef or key suppliers to create a stronger emotional connection and highlight the quality of your menu. There are countless ways to encourage repeat visits and significantly increase revenue without sacrificing margins; all it takes is a little imagination.

Think beyond the coupon, Arby's, 29 February 2024

Image is everything

As the saying goes, we eat with our eyes. That’s particularly true for restaurant emails. (After all, what other choice do we have?) Even the most delectable copy can’t take the place of appetizing imagery, so make sure that you always include at least a feature photo that does your subject justice. There are a host of AI tools that can help you create professional-quality imagery for minimal investment, so it’s easier than ever to create crave-worthy pix.

Keep your content as fresh as your ingredients

Most large brands create a content calendar with different themes to ensure that even their most devoted customers are served email that always surprises and delights. And it’s an approach even the smallest restaurant can emulate. Starting at least a couple of months in advance, create a calendar with all the events and themes you want to highlight and which audiences you will target. This will let you see at a glance what every audience segment will receive, and ensure that the proposed content is varied and relevant. Once you’re happy with a calendar, get crafting. Be sure to save any content that isn’t time-dependent into an email and newsletter content library you can draw on when new customers sign up. Before you know it, you’ll have an evergreen content library that will be the envy of your competition.

Turn words into actions

While the average open rate for restaurant emails is a respectable 38.5%, the average click-through rates (CTR) are a dismal .68% (compared to an all-industries CTR average of 1.33%). This means most restaurants are struggling to connect words to actions. This doesn’t just add up to lost revenue. It also makes it difficult to understand what content is resonating and what isn’t, and hard to update your email marketing strategy accordingly. Always have an idea in mind of what action you want your guests to take after they read your email. However, just like with your types of content, it’s important to take a broader view here. This could mean making a reservation or ordering takeout, but it could also mean clicking to learn more about a particular supplier or menu item on your site, or downloading a recipe for a treasured salad dressing that keeps your menu top of mind.

Learning the fundamentals – restaurant email marketing tips, strategies and tactics that make all the difference

The right subject line is worth the effort

When it comes to email marketing subject lines, shorter is better. The ideal length is 17-30 characters, which ensures your subject line will be viewable on both mobile and desktop without getting cut off. That means that every word counts, so make sure you are using every word effectively and that your word and punctuation choice reflects your restaurant’s brand perfectly. The best approach is to distill your restaurant email or newsletter down to its most compelling point and write a subject that highlights that. If you have a limited-time offer, put the offer in the subject or highlight the deadline to create a sense of urgency. If you’re introducing a new menu item, showcase a behind-the-scenes peek to learn about a new technique or unexpected ingredient that went into its creation.

Stand out in the crowd

Just like you want your restaurant to be instantly recognizable from the street, you want your emails to reinforce the brand you’ve so carefully cultivated and stand out at a glance, even in a crowded inbox. The way to do this is to have your design team create a set of branded templates for every type of email or newsletter you plan to send. This will also allow you to create new content much more quickly, with less oversight time and design cost. A typical basic email template package for restaurants would include:

  • Welcome email: Just like you always greet guests who walk in the door, you’ll want to send a greeting email when someone signs up for your list. This could include a thank you for signing up, an offer like a free appetizer or discount as a reward or a preview of the types of content that they might expect.
  • Newsletter email: This is the format you would use to cover multiple different types of content at once. It’s important to set some guardrails in the beginning, so that they feel more curated and less like a random catch-all for things you don’t want to send out individually. An example of this is, if you’re introducing a new menu for the season, you could preview some of the star ingredients, announce a new signature dish, a note from the chef on the stories behind its creation and an invite for a special celebratory event. Ideally, you should restrict yourself to 3-5 pieces of content. As with all email content, being concise is key, so establish character limits for headlines and sections up front and include generous amounts of whitespace to make your newsletters easy to read.
  • Offer email: This template is used for a single offer with a redemption device, such as a coupon code.
  • Special event email: This template is particularly useful for events that occur outside of normal seasonal events, big announcements or that you want to reserve for specific segments of your email list, such as a VIP dinner or meet the chef event. Make sure you include a reservation link or code, so you can track results.
  • Announcement email: To let your guests know about changes in hours, holiday closings or other alterations in operations, a non-promotional announcement email is an excellent thing to have in your toolkit.
  • Holiday emails: Planning ahead by having designs ready for your busiest holiday seasons will save you a lot of headaches and time-spent when you want to be focusing on other things. This could be any holiday where you have busier than usual traffic, so don’t be afraid to think beyond the usual here.

Those are just the basics. The more you can automate your email marketing approach, the more time you’ll save, so if you find yourself creating the same type of email more than once, don’t be afraid to create a standard template for it. Your customers will get a more consistent and polished experience, and you’ll save on design and oversight costs.

Show Dad You Care, Perkin's, 29 February 2024

Get time on your side

No one likes to get bombarded with too many emails. Industry best practices state that you should send out restaurant marketing emails or newsletters no more than once a week. Of course, ideal frequency will depend on both the type of restaurant you are, and the person you’re targeting. If you’re a high-end restaurant, and you’re sending an email to a guest who only comes once a year for their anniversary, once a month might be plenty. OK, so now we know how often, but what about when? Generally, restaurant emails sent Tuesday through Thursday from 1-3 pm are more likely to be read. And, while 23% of emails are read 60 minutes after they are sent, some recipients might wait as long as two or three days, so make sure your event marketing emails and time-gated offers or restaurant email promotions are sent at least three days in advance for the greatest possible response rate.

Test and learn

A/B testing, the process of sending two different emails to a subset of your target before sending to the entire group, can be an invaluable tool for optimizing your restaurant email marketing results It’s important to note that small changes can make a big difference, so try not to test too many things in one A/B test. Some things you might consider are varying your subject line, testing different copy lengths or different subject matter to see which is the most relevant. The more you get to know what works best for each of your email or newsletter target groups, the more you can incorporate those learnings into future campaigns to supercharge your email marketing and newsletters.

Discover the power of now.

Seasonally themed emails and promotions, events and time-gated offers are a great way to entice action when you are looking to boost results. No one likes to think they might miss out on something special, so be sure to work in time-gated emails into your restaurant content calendar for best results. These could be as simple as a special limited-time seasonal dish or an exclusive event for a particular holiday. It could also be an offer that’s only available for a brief time. This reinforces the customer value of being on your email list and allows your guests to feel like they are the first to be in the know.

Summer or Fall Drinks, Starbucks, 29 February 2024

Choosing the right restaurant email marketing platform

There is a wealth of options to choose from when you’re trying to select an email marketing partner. From simple restaurant email marketing tools that can help with design and templates, to restaurant email marketing apps that can cover a variety of functions, the sheer volume of choices can be a bit overwhelming. However, a bit of time and care up-front can save you a lot of headaches later. Restaurants are businesses with very specific needs, so choosing a partner who specializes in restaurants might be a good place to start. Or perhaps you’re more concerned with integration with your existing restaurant software, or the flexibility to serve a wide variety of functions. For instance, a newsletter focused-app might not have the versatility you need to create a drip campaign – an email campaign that would automatically send in pre-scheduled intervals. Some features to consider:

  • A/B testing: Not every app offers this feature, so if you’re looking to optimize your results through testing, you’ll need to ensure it’s part of your chosen company’s feature list.
  • Automation: As noted above, this is essential for any drip campaign and will also allow you to access more sophisticated features like audience segmentation.
  • Restaurant expertise: An easy way to ensure that an app will integrate with your existing restaurant software and will be flexible enough to work for your specific needs is to choose a partner who specifically works with restaurants.
  • Customer database or CRM: If you’re hoping to segment, you’ll need to have a database solution that can integrate multiple streams of data from all your customer touchpoints and ideally incorporate customer data from beyond your own interactions. If you already have this solution or won’t be segmenting, you might only need a CRM partner.
  • Price by volume: Many apps scale their pricing by number of emails sent. If you’re planning to do a lot of audience segmentation or are a restaurant chain looking to send to a large email list, this could be an important factor to consider.
  • Email marketing templates and customization: Some restaurants prefer an all-in-one solution. When you want to use your email platform also as a design tool, you’ll need to ensure that it offers enough variety in its templates to suit your needs. If you’re using an online design tool such as Canva, you’ll need to ensure that the software will integrate with your chosen design platform.
  • Restaurant expertise: Secure data collection and storage is essential to maintaining customer trust, so make sure to choose a partner that can verify how they treat your guests’ personal information.
  • GPDR compliance: Ensuring you’re always on the right side of privacy laws is key, particularly for restaurants. The easiest way to do this is to choose a partner who has robust compliance options to ensure that you will have no issues with regulation.
  • Mobile optimization: Surprisingly, almost 20% of email campaigns aren’t optimized for mobile screens even though more than 60% emails are viewed on mobile. Choose a service that offers a preview of what your emails will look like on mobile as well as desktop so you can be sure that they will always look their best.
  • Customer service: If you run into issues, you’ll want to be sure that you can get help when you need it. Be sure to choose an email marketing partner that will be there when you need them.

It’s easier than you think to develop a winning email marketing strategy

If you don’t have a comprehensive email or newsletter marketing program, you’re losing out on potential revenue.

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Adam Ochstein
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