The Secret to Effective Restaurant Email Marketing
Email is still one of the most reliable methods of building customer loyalty. Small businesses are spending about 15% of their marketing budgets on email. It’s still above social media and even face-to-face contact as a marketing method.
The secret to effective email marketing is really thinking about what you want to communicate, and forming a clear strategy. This might seem obvious, but a lot of restaurant owners take an informal and non-strategic approach to emails.
Don’t let email marketing be an afterthought! Work through these steps to build smart strategy.
1. Choose and set up your software
You may intuitively want to start by building your email subscribers as the first step. It’s better to start by choosing a reliable, flexible email marketing software. That way you can acquaint yourself with the software’s features before adding subscribers.
I’ve seen some great reviews of a new mailing list service called Fishbowl. The developers focus on the restaurant industry, with separate solutions for chain and independent restaurants.
You may also want to try a generic, well-tested system like MailChimp. They’re very user friendly, and free to use for lists under 2000 subscribers.
Research the software you choose, and get familiar with its functions. Try creating a test list and learn how you can segment subscribers into groups. This will save you time once you start adding real people to the list.
2. Create a thank-you message and basic template in advance
As soon as you open your mailing list to new subscribers, you’ll want to be prepared with a thank-you message. (tweet this) This way you can follow-up immediately, putting across an attentive and professional image.
Your message may be a simple one-liner, or you might offer an extra gesture of appreciation. Some restaurants thank their new subscribers with a discount code for their next visit or special access to a recipe.
While preparing your thank-you message, you can also set up the basic template for your emails. Make sure you include crucial information in every email. This would be your street address, short directions, phone number and hours of operation.
Restaurants that use images in their emails get more attention. Add an attractive header to your template, and always use images in the future. The best image width for email images is between 600-620 pixels. Check out this recent post from SteamFeed for inspiration from four leading restaurant campaigns.
Remember to add links to your template, including your official website and social networks.
3. Start building your list
Now you can start adding new subscribers. Check out this article I recently posted, dedicated to methods of building your mailing list.
Some main points to remember:
- Make sure your opt-in form in visible on your website’s front page. Ideally you will add a form to menu, take-out order and reservation pages as well.
- Try offering a small reward in exchange for signing up on your website.
Example: Starbucks offers a 10% discount to newsletter subscribers at the bottom of every page on their site.
- Facebook is a great place to occasionally share your opt-in form.
- Comment cards are a strategic way to gather emails offline. Try bringing a comment card to customers along with the check. Customers are likely to pass the time filling out the card as they wait for their receipt.
- Make sure you gain clear permission. Unsolicited email can harm your brand image.
4. Be consistent and plan ahead
Most restaurants have busy times and low times, but they don’t factor this into their email marketing strategy. Particularly small, family owned restaurants might neglect their email marketing during high volume periods. This inconsistency can come across as unprofessional and inconsistent to customers. It can also mean missing out on great opportunities. (tweet this)
Use your slower periods to plan emails ahead of time. Some topics are easier to plan in advance than others. Do you know a new chef will be added to your team next month? Put together a little ‘Meet the Chef’ feature in advance. Cue it for sending out to your list as soon as she joins the team officially.
You can also tailor your emails to fit seasonal changes in your customer volume. Offering discounts and perks will be a great way to boost business during slow periods. Sending news about awards or community contributions in busy periods will boost your image without cutting into your profit.
By using a pre-planned email strategy, your newsletter workload will just be a matter of one or two tweaks and clicking send. This way you can stay consistent and take advantage of the best times for sending emails. Messages sent on evenings and weekends, for example, tend to have higher open and click-through rates. Timing matters!
5. Segment and personalize
Segmenting your list to appeal to customers’ distinct interests is also a proven method. Think about dividing your list into groups according to where they opted in. You might simply separate your online and offline subscribers, or create more detailed categories according to subscriber info.
Segmenting is something to consider when collecting emails – think about asking customers about their interests as part of the subscription process.
Where possible, insert each customer’s first name into the email greeting. Most email marketing software will provide an option for this. Personalized emails have been proven to get more positive attention.
6. Encourage feedback
Make sure it’s easy to reply directly to emails you send out. Never send from a ‘no reply’ address.
One reason why MailChimp is great is that recipients can reply directly to your address while their own information stays private. This creates a two-way conversation that feels personal and welcoming.
Check your emails regularly for responses. Try to reply to all customers within one or two days.
Tip: Create a separate email for your restaurant’s mailing list. This helps you organize your emails as your list grows, and isolates your customer messages from personal and industry emails.
Have you had success with restaurant email marketing? Share your secrets with other readers.