Definitive Guide On Restaurant Email Marketing

Definitive Guide On Restaurant Email Marketing
12 February, 2023 • ... • 801 views
Natalie Voloshchuk
by Natalie Voloshchuk

The COVID-19 pandemic gave the restaurant industry a severe setback over the last few years, putting many on the brink of collapse. But now that restrictions are getting lifted, it’s time for a fresh start — and email is one of the channels that have great potential for that. 

This guide will talk in detail about the benefits of email marketing for restaurants, how to get started, how to choose the right email marketing platform, build your email list, and the best email marketing ideas you can use to get results. 

Let’s dig in!

Does email marketing for restaurants really work?

Email marketing gives businesses a handy means to share news, announce new products, send promotions, newsletters, and overall be in touch with prospects and customers. In 2020, brands earned $36 for each dollar spent on average with email marketing, worldwide. Email marketing was and still remains a channel with one of the highest returns on investment.

Here are some of the latest statistics on email in the restaurant industry:

  • 50% of diners say email is their preferred way to hear from restaurants. 
  • 55% of diners open restaurant emails for coupons/promotions.
  • 46% of diners want to see offers based on personal details like their birthdays.

How to build a restaurant email marketing campaign in 5 steps

1. Set a goal

The goal comes first and is usually defined by your business objective. The next steps will depend on how the goal is formulated. 

When deciding on a goal, avoid vague, approximating words. It should be phrased in a clear and understandable way, leave no room for interpretation, and make it easy to measure the progress.

Consider using the SMART framework to guide you through this process, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based.

There can be one or multiple goals. Here is an example of one that aims to improve earnings during a restaurant’s slow season: 

Earn $1,500 in revenue daily during the downtime in December-February. 

This higher-level goal can then be split into subgoals or milestones, like these:

  • Grow a subscriber list to 1,000 contacts by December.
  • Launch a live music event every Friday and run an email marketing campaign promoting it to the subscriber list. 
  • Run an email campaign offering a discount of 20% off on drinks during workdays, only for subscribers.
  • Launch and run a weekly email newsletter, promoting to the customers your restaurant’s dishes. 

2. Build a list of contacts

After you’ve decided on your goal, it’s time to build an email list. 

Here are some of the best, restaurant-specific email marketing strategies to do it:

  1. Add information on how and why to subscribe to all your merch and printed materials: menu cards, bills, etc.
  2. Place a subscription form on your website and social media accounts.
  3. Have your waitstaff collect emails. If they are using iPads it would be easy for a customer to type in the email.
  4. Have the cashier inform the guests about the email newsletter during checkout and offer to quickly subscribe.
  5. In the waiting area or in the bar have a physical call-to-action for people to sign up and an easy way to do so — like, by scanning a QR code.
  6. Have a pad of paper or a collection area for business cards so people can quickly opt-in to your email newsletter.
  7. Insert a card promoting your email campaign with your takeout and delivery orders. Simply put the QR code they can scan and get subscribed. 
  8. Make entering an email address a requirement to connect to your guest Wi-Fi. If you use this method, make it clear you’ll use emails to send them newsletters and other marketing goals.
  9. Add a way to subscribe to your newsletter to listings and online restaurant reservation services like OpenTable (an online reservation network for restaurants). 
  10. Hold contests and use them to collect email addresses.
  11. Consider holding free giveaways as part of your marketing strategy, and ask for emails upon registration. 
  12. Make use of word of mouth. When you send customers emails about new menu items, discount hours and days, suggest they forward the email to invite friends in the email — offer some token discount or a free snack/dish as a token incentive.
  13. Find other local businesses whose products and services your customers use that have email lists of their own, and get them to promote you to their subscribers. It will help if that promotion will have a concrete topic like an event, a holiday, or your new/special menu.
  14. Organize and run cooking workshops led by your chef, and ask participants to subscribe upon signing up. 
  15. Go full offensive and create lead magnets and other content to grow your contact list.

The legal regulations regarding email marketing vary depending on the recipient’s country. The CAN-SPAM Act in the U.S., GDPR in Europe, and Anti-Spam Legislation in Canada are the three most well-known. They discuss the acquisition and handling of consumers’ personal information (including emails) that you are required to meet if you do email marketing – i.e., that a person should give explicit consent to receive emails, or that there must be an opt-out/unsubscribe option available. 

For details about email-related regulations and requirements, read the article on email marketing compliance.

3. Segment your audience

As you begin to accumulate email addresses, start splitting them into groups. 

Email segmentation is about dividing an email list into smaller groups of people, based on criteria like interests, nationality, marital status, or others. 

For example, a fast food restaurant’s audience might consist of:

  • Families that come for a family outing with children on week-ends.
  • Students that come to hang out while snacking on something tasty after lessons.
  • Drivers that are after a coffee and quick bite that is convenient to eat in the car  .
  • White collar workers from nearby offices that look for a fast but filling lunch for a reasonable price.
  • etc.

People in each of these groups come to a fast-food place looking for different kinds of meals. And a restaurant would create different menus to cater to each of them. 

Segmentation in email marketing is similar: you serve each group of people “meals” (emails) that they would most appreciate.

4. Design and write your emails

Next comes writing email texts and designing their look. Make it simple with this workflow:

  1. Write an outline.
  2. Write the text of the email.
  3. Put together the design.

The outline will let you know what and in which order you should write. Make sure it has all the topics you want to include: the topic of the email in question, a section with a discount on special days, maybe a section with announcements, etc.

There are a few points to remember about writing the email copy:

  • The sender’s name should make it clear who it is from. You can use your restaurant’s name, or a combination of an owner’s/chef’s/restaurant’s “public face’s” name + a restaurant’s name. I.e., “Starbucks”, or “John from Taco Bell”. 
  • The subject line should reflect what is inside and be under 41 characters (this is the length Gmail and iPhones will show in the inbox). I.e., “A gift for our favorite guest”.  
  • Make sure to include call-to-action (CTA) buttons if you want your readers to take action. If the email is longer than a few paragraphs, you might want to add a few of them: in the beginning, in the middle, and at the end.
  • Include an unsubscribe link, your business’ legal address, and a link to the privacy statement somewhere in the email (bottom of the email is a popular choice). 

Putting together the design is the last and easiest part. Most email marketing platforms have templates you could use for this.

A few things to remember when designing an email:

  • Keep your branding consistent: make sure your brand colors, logo, fonts can be recognized. It might be a good idea to make it look similar to your website design.
  • Make sure your emails have a clear layout and progress logically from top to bottom. Aim to have up to three blocks of content per email — more than this could feel overwhelming to the reader.
  • Consider using web-safe fonts — i.e., Arial, Times New Roman, Georgia, Courier New. Your subscribers will open an email via different devices — notebooks, tablets, and smartphones — and they have different apps to read it. 
  • Use high-quality images. If you don’t have your own, there are a lot of beautiful, high-quality, and free images on photo stocks like Pexels, Unsplash, Reshot, or FoodiesFeed.  

5. Automate your emails

Once you’ve created the emails, it’s time to set them up and automate them.

Automated emails are also called triggered emails or behavioral-driven emails — they get sent to your subscribers based on actions they took or did not take, or conditions set up beforehand (i.e., customer’s birthday), without you having to do anything.

Some areas where automation shines are transactional emails and drip campaigns.

Some of the benefits of email automation:

  • It creates a better customer experience. Welcome email message for new guests who just booked a table, an email with a discount offer for long-term visitors, or something else — it all adds up to improve the experience.
  • It saves time by eliminating repeating tasks and lets you do things “in bulk”. Set up your Easter email campaign, Independence Day campaign and others for a year ahead. 
  • It lets you add some personal touch, i.e., sending automated emails with special offers, coupons, or gift cards. 
  • It boosts loyalty. With better experience, guests are more likely to return and eat at your place again and again.   
  • It increases revenue. All the previous points ultimately lead to increased revenue and business growth.

6. Analyze the results

The results of the four earlier steps need to be measured — that is where analytics comes in. 

Email marketing analytics is a method to track how your subscribers interact with your emails by measuring and interpreting relevant metrics. Depending on your goal, you’ll need to measure different things, which means different KPIs.

Aside from goal-specific KPIs, there are also a few universal metrics. Anyone doing email marketing needs to pay attention to these:  

Next, you’ll need goal-specific KPIs to know if you are making progress: 

  • Conversion rate
  • List growth rate 
  • Email sharing/Forwarding rate
  • Overall ROI

Best email marketing ideas for restaurants

There are multiple ideas and approaches that work well for a restaurant’s email marketing. 

Welcome new customers with an email

When someone signs up for the newsletter or becomes a member of a loyalty program, they usually get a welcome email. Its main point is to thank the person for joining and give them the key information regarding their sign-up. 

Include personalized messages in your marketing emails

These could be emails with gift cards, discounts, or simple congratulations from the restaurant’s owner about special events like a birthday, engagement or marriage anniversary.

Promote events hosted at your restaurant

Attract new customers by hosting and promoting events. The grander they are, the more thought you should put into the planning of your email campaign. 

Examples:

  • TV translation of a sports tournament
  • Popular local band playing live music at your place
  • Bartender battle between your bartender and a guest one 

Promote new menu items

Highlight new menu items, changes to old items, chef’s specials, and remind about meals that are popular among visitors. When crafting such emails, use storytelling in email marketing.

Examples: 

  • New meat dish
  • Different sauce for a popular dish
  • Introduction of vegan or gluten-free products 

Come up with special offers on slow days

Special offers can bring in more guests and boost your revenue up during slow days. 

Examples: 

  • Big discount on a dry meat plate in a bar (which isn’t normally eaten by itself, but serves as a snack to go with a non-discounted beer)
  • 20-50% off on the late-night menu 
  • Free shaved ice during scorching summer days or the opposite — a big discount on a warming hot tee during cold winter     

Encourage reviews & feedback

A review and feedback request email should go to people who’ve been to your restaurant within the last 24 hours. You can choose a different time frame, but 24 hours after a visit is usually a good choice for this type of email.

Best email marketing software for restaurants

Where to start and how to choose

When choosing an email marketing service, consider the following:

  1. What are your key requirements for the platform?
  • Will you need both transactional and marketing emails? 
  • How will ESP (email service provider) integrate with your website to collect new subscribers’ emails?
  • Do you plan to run drip email campaigns? How will the EMS integrate with your CRM and other software?
  1. What volume of emails do you expect to send? You’ll need this information to calculate what kind of pricing plan you should be looking at.

How to calculate the volume: approximate how much transactional emails and marketing emails you’ll send within a month, then sum them up together. 

For transactional emails, consider:

  • How many emails will you send to a person for each transaction (booking a table, ordering a take-out, etc) they made?
  • How many online reservations, take-outs, etc. do you expect per day/month? 

For marketing emails, consider this:

  • How many contacts are there in your email list?
  • How much do you want your email list to grow over the next year or two?
  • How many marketing emails are you going to send per month (including newsletters, announcements, emails with coupons and gift cards, promotions, special event promotions)?
  1. What technical features and benefits should the platform offer?
  2. Onboarding and ease of use. 
  3. Other important features to consider are:
  • Does it have email templates, built-in landing pages, integration with social media ads, and easy-to-understand analytics? 
  • Is there a knowledge base and/or community that could help with questions?
  • Is their customer support helpful and responsive?
  • How reliable is the platform itself? Do people often complain about it?

Here is an example of what you could arrive at after considering those questions:

Must-have features: Nice-to-haves:
  • Visual WYSIWYG drag-and-drop editor to customize email templates and landing pages
  • For restaurants that do take-outs and offer to process some parts of customer-restaurant interaction online, the ESP should have integration with the software you use for that.
  • Segmentation by behavior, interests, and other parameters.
  • A free plan or free trial to test it before committing
  • Email automation based on multiple criteria or a combination of them
  • Extensive knowledge base/FAQs/a community that can help with questions and how-tos
  • Email personalization options
  • Ready-to-use landing pages
  • Mobile optimization
  • Integration with your website, your CRM (if you use one) 
  • Helpful customer support

Let’s take a look at some of the popular email marketing service providers that would be a good fit for a restaurant and how they stack up against each other. 

Selzy

Selzy is an easy-to-use email marketing service for small and medium-sized businesses. 

Selzy email marketing service

Selzy covers all of the important features: mobile optimization, email templates, visual drag-and-drop email builder, email personalization, analytics, and segmentation. It allows you to set up website pop-ups and subscription forms, set up automated and drip campaigns, and do A/B testing. 

You can easily integrate Selzy with Joomla, AmoCRM, Magenta, PrestaShop, and other services.

Their free plan allows users to send up to 1,500 emails to an email list of up to 100 contacts, and it comes with all the main features except segmentation and A/B testing. Past that, Selzy lets you choose between paid plans (starting at $7 a month) based on your contact list size, or flexible pre-paid credits plans based on the number of emails sent, without any fixed monthly or annual payments. Try Selzy for free.

Mailсhimp

Mailchimp is one of the most popular services that has been around since 2001 and earned plenty of reviews and positive ratings over the years. It’s actually not an email marketing provider but an all-in-one marketing platform for small businesses — it also offers website and commerce-related plans alongside email marketing.

Mailchimp marketing platform
Source: Mailchimp

It comes with mobile optimization, an easy-to-use drag-and-drop email builder, templates, basic reports, and analytics. Mailchimp also offers subscription forms and landing pages, segmentation, automatic campaigns, and A/B testing. 

The platform easily integrates with Stripe, Yelp for Business, LiveChat, WordPress, Facebook, SurveyMonkey, and many other apps.

Their free plan allows users to send up to 2,500 emails per month to an email list of up to 500 contacts, but only basic features are available there. Paid plans start at $13 a month. They have a pay-as-you-go option as well.

Here is a thorough Selzy vs Mailchimp comparison in case you’d like to dive deeper.

GetResponse

GetResponse offers small businesses a suite of marketing tools, among which there is a fully equipped email marketing service. It also has awesome e-commerce tools and integrations that would be useful to restaurants with a lot of takeouts. This is an email marketing platform that will reduce your dependence on Deliveroo or Uber Eats, and help you save on their expensive fees.

GetResponse email marketing service
Source: GetResponse

GetResponse comes with a drag-and-drop email builder, templates, segmentation, subscription forms, website and landing pages, automation, and a number of other features.   

There are 100+ integrations available, among them — Shopify, OptinMonster, Facebook Lead Ads, Magento, Google Contacts, FreshBooks, PayPal, and others. 

GetResponse does not have a free plan, but they do have a free 30-day trial. Their cheapest paid plan after that starts at around $14.26 a month and has most of the important features, including automation and segmentation options.

6 great restaurant email examples you must see

Cheesecake Factory

The email campaign by Cheesecake Factory promotes celebrating St.Patric’s day at their place — and does so by tempting the reader with their menu. They enhance the message with a discount that has a time limit. 

Cheesecake Factory also addresses possible concerns about COVID-19 by describing its air filtration system. They use a simple design that alternates between custom images and text with a CTA on a clean light pink background. The section about COVID-19 uses a completely different style and sticks out in the email — which is good for attracting attention but does not match the design overall.

The email campaign by Cheesecake Factory
Cheesecake Factory promotes celebrating St.Patric’s day at their place. Source: Email Tuna

Arby’s

Arby’s email campaign offers a small lemonade for $1 — and they have three flavors to choose from. It’s simple, straightforward, and easy to remember — and a good deal for a drink made of real fruits. 

Arby’s email design features the growing trend of isolating individual images of products. The glasses with drinks and a burger with french fries put there by themselves create an online shopping feel. The alternation of green and white background (other than the header image) with isolated images of drinks and food focuses the reader’s attention on them — and on the CTA buttons.

Arby’s email campaign
Arby’s email campaign offers a small lemonade for $1. Source: Email Tuna

Cracker Barrel

Cracker Barrel uses Christmas celebration habits to promote their holiday meal sets. They know that cooking for Christmas takes a lot of work and time — and suggest to their subscribers to spend that time on getting along with their family (and the food can come from Cracker Barrel instead). 

The email’s design uses blank spaces, divider lines, and subheads to segregate the content into distinct sections that make it comfortable to read and easy to skim through. An easy-to-use, accessible email design is one of the trends in 2023 — and Cracker Barrel has already adopted it. 

Together with the matching fonts, this design makes the email distinct and matches perfectly with the company’s branding.

Cracker Barrel makes use of Christmas celebration
Cracker Barrel makes use of Christmas celebration habits to promote its Holiday meal sets. Source: Really Good Emails

Dishpatch

It’s winter and it’s cold outside, but Dishpatch got you covered with their cozy and tasty dishes. Their email campaign displays high-resolution photos of four tempting meals with just their names — as the proverb goes, “Better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times”. 

Dishpatch email design uses the same pale pink background as their website does, with similar vivid, lifelike custom images. Customized imagery is a way to go if you want your design to feel exclusive and up-to-date. Other than images, Dishpatch’s email has a simple structure and is easy to read and scroll through — a widespread trend in 2023.

Dishpatch’s email campaign
Dishpatch’s email campaign comes with high-resolution photos of four tempting meals. Source: Milled

Sweetgreen

Sweetgreen’s email campaign introduces new menu items and they got rid of distractions to achieve maximum effect. Vivid pictures with a short description on a clean white background focus the reader’s attention, while two CTA buttons — at the start and at the end of the email — make sure the reader does not need to scroll.

The simple and clean design of this email uses different shades of navy blue for subheaders, text, CTAs, and even as a background for the images. The color scheme is very close to their website’s design — they made sure to be consistent so that their customers can associate the email with Sweetgreen right away. In addition, a clean email setup makes the realistic and detailed photos of the dishes they promote stand out more.

Sweetgreen’s email campaign
Sweetgreen’s email campaign promotes new menu items. Source: Really Good Emails

Starbucks

Starbucks campaign is a great example of combining at least two out of the marketing ideas listed above:

  1. Promoting an event that is hosted at the restaurant
  2. Creating special offers on slow (or usual) days

Starbucks hosted Pop-Up Parties in select cities across the U.S., and offered free tall handcrafted espresso beverages from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. local time. 

The email campaign promotes both the party and the special offer. Revealing a new location every day instead of just publicizing them all at once added to the intrigue and made the whole thing more fun and exciting for their customers.

Starbucks went for a very simple email structure — it only has a custom header image and a short text that gets straight to the point, plus a CTA. All of it — in their brand colors.

Starbucks’ email campaign
Starbucks’ email campaign promotes an event with a special offer. Source: Really Good Emails

Final thoughts

Email marketing for restaurants works whether it’s a dine-in, take-out, drive-by, drive-in, delivery, or even food truck-only. There are plenty of great email marketing ideas you can try.

  • Start by setting up a goal and KPIs.
  • Consider how to grow your email list — there are plenty of effective ways for a restaurant, like adding a QR code or a link to the subscription form to all printed materials (cheques, menu cards), your website, getting your stuff to invite visitors to subscribe, partnering with other businesses, etc.
  • Choose an email marketing platform, then design and write the emails once you have some subscribers.
  • Make sure you measure all your KPIs and track the performance of your campaigns with analytics and know what your progress is. 
  • Automate as much as possible — save yourself time and ensure your emails go out as scheduled, even if you forgot or got buried in day-to-day work.
12 February, 2023
Article by
Natalie Voloshchuk
Natalie is a content writer and blog writer that specializes in SEO and on-page optimization. Her specialty is marketing and sustainability niches, with years of actual hands-on experience in the roles like digital marketer generalist, webmaster and Facebook advertiser. Outside and in the course of work, Natalie remains an animal lover and a human-nature coexistence enthusiast.
Visit Natalie's

Latest Articles

Selzy Selzy Selzy Selzy