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Restaurant email marketing: A no-nonsense guide to getting started

Restaurant Email Marketing: A No-Nonsense Guide To Getting Started

As a food business, it can be challenging to create lasting relationships with customers. That’s why many restaurateurs are looking to email marketing campaigns to promote their establishment and keep customers interested. Whether you’re entirely new to email marketing or you’re just looking for ways to make your existing campaign more effective, this guide will help you send emails that won’t make customers want to hit the unsubscribe button.

Why should you create an email marketing campaign?

Email is your best opportunity to connect with your customer. It requires substantially less effort than it takes to update a social media account constantly, and it’s a fraction of the cost of traditional advertising. Plus, it’s one of the best forms of restaurant marketing for staying in touch with loyal customers.

Of course, starting an email marketing campaign comes with hurdles of its own. Everyone knows how intrusive commercial emails can feel. But if you’re able to send emails that actually add value to your recipient’s life, then it’ll be easy to keep them hooked and excited for more.

Indeed, in this attention economy, it’s not enough to adopt an “If you build it, they will come” mentality. You have to build your business, and then constantly remind people that it’s still there. With this marketing strategy, you can increase customer retention and brand awareness.

But perhaps the most persuasive argument for using email marketing is the simplest one: “There’s only one common denominator that exists for all customers, and that’s email,” said MaryAnn Pfeiffer, who founded 108 Degrees Digital Marketing. “Some people don’t have social media, but everyone uses email.”

How to run an email marketing campaign

Email marketing enables you to stay connected with your customers long after they’ve passed through your doors. Here are a few basic steps you can take to set up a successful campaign.

1. Hire an expert

“The more you invest in your email program, the more you will get out of it,” said Pfeiffer. She compares the results of one of her clients to a bubble gum machine. “Every time we send emails, orders come in.” According to Pfeiffer, the amount the client makes every time they send out a campaign far exceeds what they spend working with Pfeiffer’s agency. And that’s not uncommon: In 2020, the average email marketing campaign had a return of $36 for every $1 spent. Obviously, hiring a professional is well worth the cost.

Learn more about restaurant website costs.

2. Tailor your campaign to your goals

As with all marketing initiatives, your goals will dictate what sort of emails you send. If, for example, your goal is to increase brand awareness, consider hiring a photographer to shoot high-definition food shots that you can include in your emails. If you want to increase sales, you can use email to promote events and special menus.

3. Make it personal

It’s tough to stand out in a crowded inbox; that’s where your restaurant CRM comes in handy. With all that data, you can send targeted emails to specific subsets of your subscriber group. In the marketing world, segmentation is the process of organizing subscribers by gender, age, buying behavior, or location. Through segmentation, you can make sure that each demographic subset is reading subject lines, email copy, and CTAs that are tailored to them.

4. Offer incentives to build your subscriber base

Print your subscription link at the bottom of your receipts and have your servers let their customers know that they can expect a discount in their welcome email. Alternatively, you could encourage people to drop in their business cards in exchange for a potential gift card to the restaurant. Just be sure to ask for permission to add them to your email list first.

5. Promote your newsletter where you already advertise

You probably already use physical and digital marketing tools to promote your business, so put them to work. Add online forms to your restaurant website where interested visitors can add their name and email address to subscribe. Then, tell the customers who visit your restaurant where to find those forms using your menus, flyers, and signs. It’s also a good idea to mention your newsletter on your restaurant social media from time to time.

6. Make your emails pop

Your emails should reflect your brand identity, so the aesthetic of your emails is arguably as important as the content. It needs to grab the attention of your subscribers when they’re skimming through dozens of marketing emails in their race to get to Inbox Zero. You can easily design attractive emails with Wix’s email marketing services, either by starting from scratch or by customizing one of the ready-made templates. In the email editor, you can use the same fonts that you do on your website and change the background to match your restaurant color scheme.

An email campaign for a happy hour deal in the Wix Editor.

7. Include photography

Your emails don’t need a ton of text; we eat with our eyes, after all. It’s in your best interest to include imagery because those that do have a 42% higher click-through rate than those without them. That being said, you want to be careful not to include too many images in an email, as doing so will slow down its load time.

Images of your food and restaurant are always better than stock photography, even if you didn't hire a professional to take them. “Get a phone that takes really great photos, maybe get a white light box, and have a place where you can take beautiful photos when your chef makes that amazing-looking dish,” said Pfeiffer.

8. Simplify your writing

Email is the only digital marketing tool that isn't governed by algorithms, so there are few hard-and-fast rules about what you should write about or how to write it. Length and writing complexity are the only things you really need to pay attention to. One study found that emails under 200 words usually have higher click-through rates than longer ones. Another found that emails written at a third-grade reading level are 36 percent more effective than those written at a college reading level. That means the shorter and simpler your words, sentences, and paragraphs are, the easier it will be to get your message across. If your writing chops are rusty, use a proofreading software; ProWritingAid will actually tell you when your emails are a bit too verbose and suggest ways to make them simpler.

9. Send emails that are valuable

Although customers do appreciate commercial emails, they don’t want to receive one every single day. A monthly cadence is most effective, but you can email once a week if you regularly have something useful to share. Don’t know where to get started? Here are a few topics you could consider writing about in your next email:

  • Introduce a seasonal menu item: Share the story behind the recipe, how long it will be available, and include a link to your reservation page.

  • Wish them a happy holiday: The holidays are not only huge money-makers for restaurants, but they also offer great opportunities to connect with their customers. Send yours well wishes and briefly mention special menus or promotions. Make the subject line festive and friendly without mentioning the offering.

  • Send coupons: If your emails are lacking in engagement, offer a 20% discount coupon on a customer’s next order. Just make sure not to repeat such offers too frequently, or you risk diluting their value.

  • Ask for feedback: Create an automation that sends a survey link to customers after they attend their reservation or complete a takeout order.

  • Link to your blog posts: Either provide a brief summary of the blog post and share a link or copy-paste the first few paragraphs into the email and insert a “read on” call-to-action button at the bottom.

  • Share updates: Everyone likes to feel like they’re in the know. Talk about new offerings, expansion plans, or your loyalty program.

10. Pay close attention to your subject line

What’s inside your emails won’t make a difference if your customers don’t actually read them. You want to tempt them to open the email, but you don’t want to over-promise. Plus, subject lines that put pressure on a customer to “act now” or that exaggerate discounts will usually get caught in your recipient’s spam filter.

Instead, write in a colloquial tone, include the occasional emoji when it’s relevant, and use humor to grab their attention. Tell your customers what they can expect from the email or what value they can expect to gain from reading it. Your subject line should be 6 to 10 words long, because those that do usually have the highest open and click-through rates.

11. Mak a call-to-action

No matter how attention-grabbing an email is, it won't make a difference to your business if it doesn't motivate the reader to make a reservation or place an order. Therefore, the call-to-action (CTA) is the most crucial element of an email. It should be clear, concise, and compelling; something like Learn More, Book Now, Get Offer, or See Menu would do the trick. CTA buttons are substantially more effective than link-text CTAs, because they immediately catch the reader's eye. Luckily, every Wix email marketing template has a button, so all you need to do is type in the right phrase for your campaign.

12. Use data to make your emails even better

With Wix’s email marketing tools, you can track delivery rates, open rates, and click rates. These numbers are easy to monitor and interpret. For example, if your emails have a lower open rate than the industry average of 20.56%, that might mean your subject line is bland, ambiguous, or impersonal. You can fix that by making your subject lines more curiosity-inducing or actionable. If your click-through rate is below the industry average of 1.34%, you might need to include a better CTA in your next email.

The analytics on the email campaign for a loyalty program.

13. Don’t worry about getting everything perfect

When done right, email can be the most intimate form of marketing because people who subscribe usually intend to return. “You want an email list because you want to know who your customers are, and you want to be able to talk to them directly,” said Pfeiffer. Such a dedicated audience doesn't expect flawlessness; they subscribed because they want to stay connected to your business. Allowing your humanness to come through—both in terms of your personality and your imperfections—will only make that connection stronger.

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