Ultimate Guide to Restaurant Marketing Automation

February 4, 2024
Read Time: Example Minutes

Constantly refining, testing new approaches, and fine-tuning your marketing can help boost your guest engagement metrics; increase customer satisfaction; generate customer loyalty; and provide valuable data and insights to supercharge your ROI. However, without the right tools, implementing the most advanced strategies and techniques can take away valuable time, energy, and headspace from the important business of running your restaurant. That’s why more than ever, restaurants are turning to marketing automation.

What is Marketing Automation, and What Are its Benefits for Restaurants?

Imagine if welcoming a new customer to your mailing list, letting a regular who hasn’t visited in a while know that her favorite dish is back on the menu, or offering a VIP a coveted reservation time that’s just opened up for the date of his anniversary, all requiring you to do nothing but push a button. That’s just an inkling of what marketing automation can do for your restaurant business.

Put simply, a great restaurant marketing automation platform (MAP) lets you schedule, trigger and send the right message to the right customer at the right time. Once you set it up, a MAP can make even the most sophisticated personalization and segmentation strategies run practically on autopilot.

Taking a highly-targeted and personalized approach can boost recency, frequency and spend, which is why 80% of brands who use personalization have experienced a measurable lift in results.

While you can personalize and segment without automation, it’s more time-consuming and error-prone. Technically it can be done, but you’ll spend more energy and resources than with a platform designed to help you configure, segment, and automate your marketing tasks.

Lenten Specials Email, Lettuce Entertain You, 23 February 2024, Direct email from Lettuce Entertain You.

Restaurant Marketing Automation Software Can Improve Every Aspect of your Business

  • Personalize your guest messaging and campaigns to increase satisfaction, loyalty and spend
  • Segment your audience to send the right message to the right customer and reduce guests opting out because of lack of relevance
  • Employ sophisticated analytical tools that provide greater business insights to help you continually improve your marketing
  • Build a more rewarding loyalty program that includes personalized, triggered messaging and offers, and appropriately rewards your best customers
  • Make your marketing dollars and your time go further and more effectively increase your revenue
  • Fine-tune your multi-channel marketing programs and make adjustments to ensure maximum impact
  • Improve your targeting by understanding the complete picture of how your guests interact with your brand so that you can identify segments, lookalikes, and additional cohorts to target
  • Avoid having to jump around from one software platform to another – manage all your multi-channel marketing and analytics through a single login
  • Save your team valuable time by giving them the tools to easily automate repetitive tasks
Birthday Special, Chili's, 23 February 2024

Automation makes every restaurant marketing channel work harder

A Smarter Way to Handle Marketing Emails

  • Eliminate repetitive tasks: From a triggered ‘Welcome’ email to sending your VIPs updates on their rewards, every automation you create will help save time and effort. Most tasks and actions that you find yourself doing in the same way more than once can be easily set up as scheduled or triggered automations.
  • Be right on time, all the time: With marketing automation, your restaurant’s marketing team can create an entire series of multi-channel campaigns and messaging based on a guest's behavior or qualifying action. You can create journeys that map out each email or text message, and specify what content to send based on their previous engagement actions.
  • Consistency, again and again and again: Email and SMS templates make it easy to maintain brand consistency in your design, copy, and content. Create a template library that you can use for every type of email you regularly send. This will ensure every one of your emails will have a consistent look, feel and tone. With the simplest emails, such as offers, welcome emails, or reservation reminders, once you’ve created the template, your automation tool can handle the rest.
  • Get creative for better results: The benefits of segmenting your customers are endless, but most restaurants either ignore this step or only scratch the surface. A simple example of segmentation is sending a monthly discount offer to customers who haven’t visited within the last month. This offer is intended for past guests, so you don’t cannibalize the margins you’ll get from your regular visitors. A more advanced example is sending a VIP dinner invite to only your highest lifetime value (LTV) customers, or creating a monthly secret menu item that only your most loyal customers from the previous month can access.

A Smarter Way to Handle SMS/Text Messages

It’s a busy world, and few of us have time to talk on the phone. In a recent study, 90% of customers said they preferred text messages from businesses to direct phone calls. SMS/Text message automation allows you to automatically send:

  • Reservation confirmations
  • Reservation reminders
  • Loyalty program alerts and rewards updates
  • Post-visit review requests
  • Offers and promotions

However, much like with email marketing automation, it pays to get creative. If you’re promoting a quiz night, for instance, you might send out a question that, if answered correctly, rewards your regulars with a free appetizer.

Text Messaging Specials, Papa John's, 23 February 2024

A Smarter Way to Handle Restaurant Social Media Marketing

Treating every social media channel the same way can cost you in impact and reach. Tailoring your content and posting time to each channel and ensuring a regular posting schedule can significantly boost your audience engagement.

As audience engagement is key for getting your posts seen by both your followers and others, getting this right is key to a restaurant’s success.

How do you do that and still have time to run a restaurant? It’s easier than you think with Social Media Marketing Automation.

  • Get time on your side: Every channel has its own type of content and its own optimal posting time and frequency. Add in that the most important social posting times for restaurants, such as holidays and the lead-up to high-profile events, also tend to be the busiest staff times, and it can be a lot to manage. Social media marketing automation allows your restaurant to create all your content at once, tailor a version of it to each platform you use for maximum engagement, then auto-post it at exactly the right time for each platform you’re on, all from one centralized platform.
  • Build reputation and reach, one interaction at a time: You wouldn’t respond to a guest complimenting your food by just staring at them. The same principle applies on social media. How and when a restaurant replies to comments says a lot about the restaurant before someone ever walks in your door. A recent study found that restaurants that respond to reviews on social media saw a 15% increase in customer satisfaction (Helpscout). Plus, the more you engage, the more they will, and that can make all the difference in who your posts reach and how much you spend to reach them. Social media marketing automation can ensure that you’re always part of the conversation. By creating multiple specialized messages for every type of potential comment and sequentially releasing them, you can make sure your customers know you’re listening without it feeling canned.
  • Test, learn, and test again: What works for one business or even another restaurant might not work for you. That’s why it’s important to test as much as you can on every platform you are on. A good social media automation platform will have tools that make it easy to A/B test on different platforms and see the results in one place.
  • Be part of a bigger conversation: Some events get everyone talking, and a smart post about something timely can get a lot of attention. Creating posts for every potential outcome of a key event like the Superbowl, then auto triggering the correct version as soon as a result is posted is a fun way to play off whatever is happening in the larger world.
Game Day Instagram Specials, Hooters, 23 February 2024

A Smarter Way to Handle Review Collection

Reviews are the lifeblood of any restaurant, but the process of requesting, collecting and promoting them is a task most restaurants dread. Restaurant review collection automation takes it off your hands.

  • Get along to go along: Good review collection software will integrate seamlessly with your CRM and POS systems, so when a customer visits or orders takeout, the software will already know who they are and will be able to send them a review request instantly via their preferred contact method.
  • Pick a platform, any platform: Automatically guide customers to the review site you want to focus on most. This can be particularly useful when you have a lot of reviews on one site but not much love on another, or when one site indexes higher for your clientele.
  • Address issues before they become issues: Whoever said, “There is no such thing as bad press” must never have owned or managed a restaurant. However, a timely response can turn a negative review into a positive: 45% of customers said they were more likely to visit when a business responds to bad reviews. (ReviewTrackers) Most customers expect businesses to respond within a week, and a portion within three days. How and when you respond to a bad review can have a big effect on your success. Setting up automation software to flag negative reviews immediately lets you stay on top of conversations with ease.
One-Star Review Reply, Etta Chicago, 23 February 2024

A Smarter Way to Handle Loyalty Programs

Loyal customers spend about 70% more on average than first-time customers. (Bloom Intelligence), and 16.1% of customers said they would be more willing to order from restaurants that offer a loyalty program (Restaurant Readiness Index). However, loyalty program automation options can significantly change depending on the software you choose, so it’s important to look carefully to find the features you want.

  • The more flexibility, the greater the rewards for both of you: While a discount might be the right way to entice customers who aren’t regular visitors, a free drink or appetizer might be a better choice for regulars you’re hoping to upsell by introducing new behaviors. The ability to tailor rewards levels to the lifetime value (LTV) of the customer can also help you create the most efficient program for every type of visitor, so consider that the simplest solution might not always be the best one for your bottom line.
  • Your insights are only as good as your analytics: The more detailed the data your system can access, the better you can measure what types of rewards are performing and what aren’t. Having a simple measurement gauge might be easier to handle, but it won’t help optimize your results as effectively.
  • The best way to reach them is their way, not your way: In the era of information overload, customers can be picky about their contact preferences. Ensure your loyalty rewards program automation software has omnichannel support, so you don’t get drop-off by contacting customers through a less-than-ideal channel.
Free Avocado Spread Email, Jimmy John's, 23 February 2024, Direct email from Jimmy John's.

Getting Started with Restaurant Marketing Automation Software

  • Ensure your existing software integrates seamlessly: One of the first things you’ll need to do is check that your automation software is working perfectly with your reservation system and POS. This integration will fuel everything you do, so it’s worth checking that it’s all running together perfectly before you start experimenting.
  • Remember even a small step is a step in the right direction: Trying to implement every tool at your disposal all at once can be overwhelming and can lead to costly errors. Choose software that will accommodate you as your skills grow. Begin with the simplest and easiest changes first, and then add on as you start seeing results. That will also make it easy to see the impact of each change you make so you know what is working well.
  • Learn to segment and personalize effectively: A great automation tool puts a lot of customer data and analytics at your disposal. Again, the best way to start with segmentation is to start simply and grow the sophistication of your efforts over time, once you have a better understanding of how to properly take advantage of all the potential at your fingertips.
  • Set up triggered campaigns based on customer actions: Processes that work automatically in the background offer a huge value in saved time and effort. Begin with the standard automations, such as creating a welcome campaign or lapsed diner series; then expand out from there. These triggers aren’t hard to set up, so a good rule is to automate anything you find yourself doing more than a few times.
  • Always make room for improvement: The fact that a campaign may have a positive effect doesn’t mean that it can’t do even better. Small changes have surprisingly large impacts on results, so don’t be afraid to test, analyze and keep testing to be sure that your automated processes are providing the absolute best results.
  • An unwatched pot tends to boil over: Once you’ve set up your automated processes, and they are running smoothly, it’s tempting to let your attention drift to other things. However, just because a solution is working well today doesn’t necessarily mean it will tomorrow. Make time to review your analytics and reports regularly, so you can catch potential drop-offs before they make too much of an impact on your results.

Ready to get started?

Fishbowl GRM is the ultimate Guest Relationship Management tool crafted specifically for restaurants, and nearly everything on this page can me implemented and managed with it.

Created by pioneering leaders in CRM, analytics and strategic restaurant marketing, Fishbowl GRM seamlessly integrates with the software restaurants use most.

Fishbowl GRM pairs unmatched ease of use with advanced tools and analytics, helping even the most advanced marketers grow their skills along with their restaurant business. Try it for yourself.

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Adam Ochstein
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