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The Complete Guide To Email Marketing For Restaurants

Intro

Retention is what makes or breaks a restaurant.

A customer showing up once is only worth around $20 to your business, but a regular who keeps coming back can be worth $2,000 per year. 

This is why email marketing is THE most effective tool in the restaurant marketing tool box. 

If you want to:

  • Turn more new customer into regulars,
  • Increase the frequency of returning visits,
  • And increase the average amount they spend each visit,

Then you’re in the right place.

I’m about to break down the complete email marketing strategy we’ve used to help our restaurant partners increase their online sales by an average of 270% over just 90 days.

1. Build A Customer Email List

The first step of email marketing is to collect emails from your customers and build a customer email list.

Email lists give you a direct link to each and every one of your customers who already have an interest in your brand. 

They’ve had your food, they like it, and they want to experience it more. Let’s make it super easy for them to think of your restaurant when it’s time to eat, so they quickly become repeat customers.

The best part about an email list is that it’s 100% yours. It’s not like social media where a tech company can hold your audience hostage.

You own that connection and can reach out to your customers any time on your own terms.

The moment you begin collecting emails, this list becomes an asset that grows in value to you over time. It won’t be immediate, but restaurant emails have a high open rate, with a whopping return on investment of $40 for every $1 spent on restaurant email marketing.  

Here are the simplest ways to start and grow your list.

Access your existing customer database.

You might not have thought of it, but your POS system is the perfect starting point for building and growing your email list. 

It should only take around three steps to access the emails of everyone who has purchased from you on your current POS.

First, you’ll login to your dashboard.

Second, there should be a tab or option that says “Customers” or “Contacts” or something along those lines. Click that tab, and you should see something like this:

Third, click on “Export”. You’ll receive a CSV file with your customers names and emails that can be uploaded into email marketing software or into an all-in-one system like Owner.com that automatically does all your email marketing for you.

Start collecting emails from new orders.

In a perfect world, your restaurant is using a POS that automatically collects emails with every transaction, and you were able to easily access your customer database in the previous step.

In reality, there might be a few issues:

  • Your POS is not collecting emails
  • Your POS is only collecting emails in certain situations
  • Your POS or online ordering system is unable to collect emails

Now is the time to fix these issues and make sure you are collecting emails as often as possible.

If your POS or online ordering system is unable to collect emails, it’s incredibly important you change systems. Not only is email marketing invaluable to your business, but email collection is such a basic, fundamental feature, that not having it means your systems are so outdated, they are likely hurting your restaurant in other ways as well.

In-person customers should always have the option to get their receipt via email, adding their email to your database.

And any reservation systems you use should automatically sign people up for your email list as well.

Most importantly, your online ordering system should be collecting emails (or phone numbers that connect to emails) at checkout.

You typically only want to ask for one form of contact information. At Owner.com, we ask for phone numbers, because Stripe automatically provides email addresses connected to Stripe customer profiles. 

As you can see from the following image, the vast majority of consumers have provided their email to Stripe at some point, so we end up getting the emails for our restaurant partners automatically when the customer includes their phone number.

These are the most basic steps you should take in order to build your initial list and grow it over time.

There are also some additional (optional) steps you can take to grow your list more aggressively.

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Creative ways to grow your email list

Don’t be afraid to use old-school tactics when collecting emails. 

If you own a restaurant that sees a lot of customers from local businesses during lunch or when people get off work, set up a “fishbowl raffle.” 

Most people have seen these at some point when going out to eat. There’s a giant fishbowl so people can drop their cards inside to win a free lunch or dinner entree, a certain percentage off a full tab, or whatever your imagination can come up with.

Be creative and let people know what they get by participating.

Cafe Lola does a fantastic job of setting up their fishbowl, even offering a QR code to scan in case customers want to learn more.

Another old-school tactic is using a clipboard with a pen and an email sign-up sheet to collect contact information. Print a template off the internet and put it by the hostess stand or front counter.

It’s a more passive approach, but if time and labor are limited, this is a great way to start collecting emails until you can develop a more active approach to email marketing.

A more modern version of the “clipboard sign-up sheet” is to have an employee use a tablet and go down the line of people waiting to get into the restaurant and ask if they’d like to sign up to receive deals and promotions. 

Offering people a 5%-10% discount on the meal they are waiting to sit down and eat would be a huge incentive to sign up. It’s an immediate return after giving their email address, and they’ll get an automated email discount while waiting in line.

You can also simply offer free WiFi to guests in exchange for their email address is another way to grow your list. 

Just be sure to let people know that by accessing the WiFi, they are also signing up for a free membership to your loyalty program and will receive exclusive deals and promotions.

By now, you’ve probably started to notice a recurring theme. When asking for an email address, you need to offer something in exchange.

Businesses in every industry are savvy to the power of email marketing, so you aren’t the only company trying to collect their email address. 

The key is to provide something of value and offer it at a moment when the customer is already engaging with your business of their own initiative.

2. Send Weekly Emails To Your Customers

Now that we have strategies in place to help you grow your email list, let’s cover the types of emails you’ll be sending and how often you should send promotions to your customers.

Once a person signs up for your email list, you’ll need to send them a series of  “Welcome” emails. 

I’m going to demonstrate the same “Welcome” email sequence we use here at Owner.com for each one of our partners as part of the onboarding process. 

This email sequence is to let customers know that the partners restaurant is switching to their own online ordering system and that they are moving away from 3rd party apps like DoorDash, GrubHub, and UberEats.

You can create your own “Welcome” emails, but this is what we do automatically for all Owner.com partners.

First, you’ll need to take the steps we took earlier to locate your email list in your POS database.

If you use Owner.com, it’ll look like this.

Now that your email list is ready to go, it’s time to send out your first email blast. If you don’t use Owner.com, you’ll need to purchase your own email service provider. Here are a few high-quality brands at an affordable price:

You’ll just need to upload your email list to whichever email service provider you choose and set up a broadcast email to your list. Each software brand will look slightly different and come with email templates to help you build emails, but they make the whole thing pretty straightforward. 

If you hit any snags, each company has a great customer service team to walk you through the process.

Ok, let’s send out the first email blast.

Introduce your customers with a Welcome email sequence.

This first email aims to get the restaurant back on the customer’s radar, tell them to use the new online ordering system, and push them to put in their first order.

As you can see, we have reached our goals when writing this email. Customers are now aware of the new ordering system and are enticed to act on the 25% off code so they experience the new system for themselves. 

Every “Welcome” email should have a few key components.

  • Thank your customer for being a loyal patron.
  • Let them know what you’re promoting.
  • Give them an enticing offer so they come back soon.
  • Provide a link so they can take immediate action.

Here is an example from Keystone Bar and Grill. 

Giving new subscribers a discount or coupon right off the bat washes away any doubts they had about giving up their email address. 

Sometimes all you get is a confirmation email, it’s not very exciting, but at least you know you’re in the system. 

When the confirmation email comes with a 20% off code, it stays on the top of their mind and dramatically increases the odds of your customer returning sooner rather than later.

Now that we’ve sent out our initial email, we need only to wait a couple of days before sending a follow-up email.

The next email doesn’t need to have a discount or coupon because you just sent one two days before. Still, you should send an email that reminds them to come in and eat, order some food to go, or educate them on using your restaurant website or loyalty program (we’ll get into that in just a minute).

Our second email aims to show customers why they should use the new online ordering system.

Customers get educated on why 3rd party apps are bad to use, and we also outline all the benefits a customer receives when ordering directly from the restaurant.

Even when an email doesn’t offer a coupon or discount, always provide a call to action (CTA) button so people can quickly take action with your promotional email. Whether it’s to book a reservation, check out the menu, or place an order—give customers an option besides just clicking out of the email.

Send a variety of engaging emails every week.

Executing an email marketing campaign means you’ll need various email types to send people. Anyone who sees duplicate emails a couple of times a month will quickly hit the unsubscribe button. 

The emails need to be engaging and offer customers a variety of things they can get excited about—but every email can’t be a discount, which would eat away at your already thin profit margins.

Instead, what you’ll send is prompt and reminder emails. 

Emails that encourage your customers to take action. Maybe they forgot about the 25% discount code you sent last week. A prompt email puts the restaurant back in front of the customer.

Here is your basic prompt email. No discount code, just a friendly invitation to order food.

This next email is to remind customers of how many loyalty points they have (we’ll talk about loyalty programs in a moment).

People easily lose track of stuff like this. A simple email reminder to redeem their points will encourage them to place a new order.

This email shows customers your most popular items.

Everyone likes to try what’s popular. People want to see what all the fuss is about, and it greatly increases the odds that what you order will taste good. Using social proof and people’s FOMO is a great way to drive new orders.

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Emails that drive discounts and promotions.

The emails that really push people to take action are discounts and promotions. The reason why is self-evident.

Who doesn’t love receiving an email for buy-one-get-one-free from their favorite restaurant?

Or getting the heads up that a special event like Negroni Week is around the corner, like this email here.

Deals and promotions are the backbone of why people sign up for your email list, so it’s essential that you deliver on that promise. 

Be selective when creating these emails, and make sure that the discounts benefit the restaurant. 

For example, this email here promotes specials on the slowest days of the week.

You wouldn’t want to run these on days when you're already busy and making good money.

Here’s a discount email to cover 20% of an entire check.

The idea is to get conversions through the door—to get people excited and motivated to take action when they open your restaurant emails. 

When searching for email ideas, listen to what your customers are saying, look at your POS data to see what’s popular, promote seasonal foods— whatever you send your customers, just be sure it inspires people to take action.

Building an email blast schedule.

At this point, you’re probably asking yourself, “how many emails should I send every week?”

Over the last few years, we’ve worked with thousands of restaurants and found that, on average, two emails a week works well.

This frequency isn’t spammy, and it’s just enough to keep your restaurant on the top of their mind. 

Setting up a rotation of emails that contains prompts, reminders, and discounts is an incredibly good way to keep customer loyalty to your restaurant. 

Here’s what a 1-month scheduled rotation of emails looks like for one of our restaurant partners:

  • Tuesday, Week #1: Basic prompt email, version #A
  • Friday, Week #1: Loyalty points reminder
  • Tuesday, Week #2: Popular items email, version #A
  • Friday, Week #2: Basic prompt email, version #B
  • Tuesday, Week #3: Loyalty points reminder email
  • Friday, Week #3: Popular items email, version #B
  • Tuesday, Week #4: Basic prompt email, version #C
  • Friday, Week #4: Monthly discount coupon email

You can see a steady flow of emails, but each email has something of value offered to the customer. 

Email marketing can be incredibly effective, people use email every day, and the value of each email means more money in your pocket. 

You’ll have noticed a reference to loyalty points twice now—once in the schedule of emails and once as an email example. This is because loyalty programs will turbo-charge your email marketing engagement. 

Let’s dive into what will be your greatest email marketing tool.

3. Create A Comprehensive Loyalty Program

I’m sure you’re already well aware of loyalty programs. Companies like Starbucks, Chipotle, and McDonald’s have made them famous, but implementing one in your restaurant could have amazing results.

While working with our restaurant partners, creating a full loyalty program has been the single biggest reason we’ve seen an average of 50% growth in the first 90 days.

Most loyalty programs fail because of a few reasons.

  • The motivation to opt in isn’t strong enough.
  • In-program rewards aren’t appealing enough.
  • Lack of progress emails toward their rewards.
  • Customers don’t regularly see new offers.

Luckily, these issues are easy to fix.

This is how we structure the rewards program with our partner restaurants. You can do something very similar if you have a loyalty program in place or are looking to build one.

  • 15% off coupon for joining
  • Monthly member coupon
  • Automatic point updates and prompts through email and in-checkout
  • Points system with appealing rewards

Here is an example of a 15% off coupon customers receive when they sign up with the loyalty program.

We’ve experimented with this coupon a lot over the years, and found this one to be the strongest performing across all styles of restaurants, locations, and cuisines.

We aren’t entirely sure why, but it works. 

It’s clear, concise, simple, and easy to act upon. We also encourage you to give each of your subscribers a 15% off code every month, as we do in the email schedule above. 

Your list will receive at least two weekly emails, and giving a consistent 15% off every month helps as a simple “thank you” to those loyal patrons who have stuck with you.

People appreciate these gestures, and loyalty programs are easy to understand, but here is where most restaurants fall short. 

Customers will not keep track of their points, so it’s up to the restaurant to hold the customer’s hand and keep them up to date with their points. Do this, and you’ll outperform most restaurants with a loyalty program.

Keep customers up to date with Loyalty

We do this a couple different ways.

First, we send out two emails after a customer signs up for a loyalty program membership.

The first email is a “Welcome” email as we covered above. It gives a rundown of what new subscribers can expect with a summary of the benefits—reward points, faster delivery, discounts, etc.

We then send a second email with 20 free loyalty points, explaining how the loyalty points work and a prompt for customers to put in a new order.

After this, anytime a loyalty member puts in an order, we send an email giving them an update on the new number of points they have and how many points they are away from receiving a reward. 

Like this email here.

Loyal customers appreciate these emails, and watching the points grow like a coin jar on top of a dresser is fun. 

Let’s look at more ways to incentivize people to earn more points.

Appealing rewards, so people earn more points.

When we say “appealing rewards,” we mean something that customers find valuable. More often than not, this means free food and drink. 

While giving away free food motivates the customer, you need to make sure that you aren’t giving away too much to each loyalty member. You appreciate their loyalty, but you are a business and have to meet your margins.

The best items to reward are appetizers, desserts, and drinks. 

You can narrow down these special offers even further, focusing on inexpensive ingredients and food that won’t back up the kitchen during busy shifts. 

Items like these Loaded Nachos from Talkin Tacos.

Food items like this are easy to prepare quickly and don’t cost the store very much to produce. 

The best food items to give away to loyalty members usually include:

  • Nearly anything made with onions (onion soup, onion rings, etc.)
  • Queso, and other specialty dips
  • Nachos, chips, or fries
  • Large batch baked goods (cookies, brownies, etc.)
  • Deep fried items that aren’t protein 

Even better if you’re able to pair the items you give away with popular food items and high-value entree dishes. Whatever you decide to give away, just be sure the choice is affordable to your restaurant. 

Point-based systems work because they are simple and straightforward. The ease of use, coupled with the guiding hand of the restaurant, helps to make a system where both the customer and the restaurant come out on top.

We'll Do Your Email Marketing For You

In this guide, I've given you everything you need to succeed with email marketing at your restaurant.

Unfortunately, I can't give you more hours in the day to do all this yourself.

What I can do is invite you to try Owner.com for yourself and see how we automatically do your email marketing for you through our platform, along with your SEO marketing and SMS marketing as well. Our partners see an average growth of 270% in direct online orders over their first 90 days on our platform. Click below to schedule a demo.

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Take back control of your margins, customer data, and online reputation.

Our all-in-one-platform helps you take back control of your online presence, drive direct sales, save money on fees, and manage everything in one place. Schedule a demo to see the platform in action and discover why our new restaurant partners increase online sales by an average of 270% in their first three months using Owner.com.

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At Owner, we help restaurant owners drive customers to order directly from their website, to save on ridiculous 30% commissions. Want a free demo?

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