6 Easy Steps to Use Email Marketing for Your Restaurant

By Cara Wood

Illustration of emails arriving on a computer screen

You’ve probably heard of email marketing. It’s a phrase so ubiquitous that even my grandma has heard of it. Although, my grandma can operate an iPad better than I can, so maybe she’s not a great example. Regardless, you’ve probably heard of it.

If you’re thinking of starting up some marketing initiatives for your restaurant (which you definitely should), start with email marketing. It has the highest ROI of any marketing practice, and there are many (excellent) free solutions for first time marketers, so there’s literally no reason not to try it out.

But where does a restaurant start out? Use this step-by-step guide to help you get set up with a solution, templates, and a campaign strategy.

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1. Find a Solution

As a restaurateur who’s brand new to email marketing, you’ll want to start with a free or very cheap email marketing system to get your bearings. You can always upgrade later if you decide you need something more robust.

The great thing about email marketing is that many excellent platforms offer “free-mium” tiers. For instance, MailChimp is free for small businesses with small email lists. Start with this list of excellent free email marketing systems.

Once you’ve picked a solution that fits your budget, skill level, and preferred ease of use, it’s time to get to the fun stuff.

2. Know Your Brand

Before anything else, you need to make sure you know what your restaurant’s brand is. Your branding will guide everything else. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is my restaurant upscale?
  • What is our atmosphere? Are we friendly and casual? Are we reserved and elegant?
  • Are we a sit down restaurant or more of a fast casual place?
  • Who is our target audience? (Consider making a buyer persona to define who your ideal customer is.)

Questions like these will help you decide what your templates should look like, what your brand voice is, what the emails should be about, and when you should send them. For example, a coffee shop will send very different emails from that of an upscale fine dining restaurant.

Brand voice (what your writing sounds like), is very important to settle on during this time. The aforementioned coffee shop may want to use casual language, even slang, while the upscale place will likely want to use more formal wording. The target audience for both places will matter as well. After all, a fine dining restaurant with a Millennial target market may decide that they still want to use casual language, since Millennials overwhelmingly eschew many formalities.

3. Set Up Your Templates

Unfortunately, I can’t offer step-by-step instructions on how to do this because every system is different, however, most systems these days use a simple drag-and-drop editor and offer premade templates that you can simply customize. MailChimp’s editor, for instance, is so easy that you could whip up a gorgeous email in less than 20 minutes.

Make sure to customize the templates with your brand colors and logo. Include at the bottom your location and phone number for those who wish to reach you. And if you have any social media channels, be sure to include those as well. Usually, you can drag and drop in social buttons that you can then link appropriately.

4. Decide On Your Goals

Email marketing without a goal is not very useful. Sit down and outline one or more clear goals that you want to achieve with your emails. You may even want to include some KPIs (key performance indicators) to numerically show when you’re hitting your goals. To get your brainstorming started, here are a few goals that may work for you:

  • To drive foot traffic into your restaurant.
  • To drive an increase in your catering agreements.
  • To drive customer loyalty.
  • To drive merchandise sales.
  • To drive event attendance.

Each of these goals will require different email campaign types, and the success will have to be measured differently. For instance, driving foot traffic may require more coupon-based campaigns, and would be measured by the amount of emailed coupons used. Driving loyalty, on the other hand, would perhaps involve more campaigns around more brand-based things, like your new menu, and would be measured by looking at how many customers on your email list become repeat visitors.

5. Start Building Your Email List

What good is an email campaign if you don’t have anyone to send it to? Once you’ve decided on what your goals are, you can move on to building your list. There’s plenty of ways to do this and you’re limited only by your creativity.

At the absolute minimum, you need to be collecting a person’s email address. You should try to collect as much information as you absolutely can so that you are able to send a highly personalized an email to them. For instance, if you know your subscriber’s birthdays, you can set up an automated campaign that sends them a birthday coupon. Beware, though: the more information you ask for, the more likely a customer is to reject you.

So how do you get these emails? Here are a few options:

  • Run a contest where people submit business cards and you choose a random winner for catered lunch.
  • Start a loyalty program, and run it largely out of email. With a loyalty program, you can encourage sign ups by offering a percentage off their current meal. When you do that, you’re also able to ask for a little more information without facing rejection. People expect a loyalty program to make a return on the information they give up front, so they tend to be more open to sharing something like their birthday month. 
  • Offer to email customers their receipts and allow them to opt into your program once they’ve already given you their email address. (Make sure the ask comes after they’ve given you their email – typically once people have acquiesced to one thing, they’re more likely to acquiesce to the next ask.)

6. Come Up With Your Campaign(s)

With goals, a list, and a solution all under your belt, it’s time to decide what kind of emails you will be sending out.

As a restaurateur, you probably don’t have very much time to be constantly coming up with new types of emails. You may want to take some time right now to come up with a few core types of emails you’ll be wanting to send and go ahead and schedule them on the calendar. For instance, you may want to schedule one type of campaign to go out at the beginning of every month, another to go out the second week of every month, and so on, so that you’re just repeating a pattern every month.

Keep in mind that you likely want to be emailing no more than once a week and no less than once a month. More than that, as a restaurant, you’re pushing it; less than that, and they’ve already forgotten you. 

Here are some repeat campaign ideas to get your brainstorming started:

  • A “Dish of the Month” email – send this out on the first of the month. Include a mouthwatering photo and tell the story of why it’s special. (Or link to your blog where you tell the story.) You can talk about why your chef decided to make it, or you can talk about where you got the ingredients (this is especially good for health and/or local eating focused restaurants).
  • Share your employee’s stories once a month. Send out a head shot and some fun facts about them to help your customers get to know your team better.
  • If you are a restaurant that’s into local eating or into ethically sourcing your ingredients, you might consider sending out emails sharing the stories and information behind each of the farms you work with.

Other campaigns you can run on a more one-off basis:

  • Any promotional offers you’re running.
  • Emails announcing an event you’re hosting – potentially including a link to a sign-up form.
  • An email directing customers to purchase any merchandise you might sell online (t-shirts, sauces, etc.).

You may also consider a welcome track for new subscribers, sending them your basic information over a short period of time – your happy hour specials and best-known dishes, for instance.

Finally, make sure that as you’re sending out these emails there is only one call to action in each. That means: If you’re sending out an email about the dish of the month, don’t also include information and link to your merchandise.

At this point, you’re ready to get sending. Be sure to report on your campaigns’ successes so that you can find what’s working for you and what’s not, and adjust accordingly. Don’t be afraid to mix things up and try something totally new.

At the end of the day, successful email marketing doesn’t take a marketing wizard. It just takes someone willing to put in a little bit of time and strive to listen to what their customers want from them. Anyone can do it.

2 preview pages of the guide to restaurant marketing
The Ultimate Guide to Restaurant Marketing

Everything you need to know about social media, digital marketing, SEO, and more!

Download Now
Photo of Cara Wood
by Cara Wood

Cara Wood is a Marketing Specialist at Capterra, where she writes about retail technology and CRM. When she’s not busy writing articles, she can be found napping, horseback riding, or trying to convince her beagle to stop eating the trash.

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