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Hospitality Marketing

Restaurant Email Marketing #1: Build That List

The foundation of a restaurant’s email marketing strategy is “the list.” Without that, you may as well be standing in your walk-in, pitching your fabulous food and world-class experience to the produce. 

And the produce is never impressed.

Here on the blog, we’ve talked about email marketing a bit before. But it’s a valuable enough tool that it’s worth diving into the details. What kind of information should you share? How often should you email? What open rates and click-through rates should you expect?

All that juicy info is on the docket for upcoming blogs in this Restaurant Email Marketing series.

First thing’s first, though — we’re going to talk about the list. Until you have a robust list of email addresses, everything is just theoretical.

Addresses first. We’ll talk about what to do with them later. Here are four free and one paid way that you can start collecting that email goodness. And give the produce a much-needed break.

Add a sign-up form to your website

This is the bare-bones, absolute minimum thing you should do to start capturing email addresses. And yet a surprising number of restaurants fail to do it.

You can put the sign-up form in the sidebar (like I did →) or in the footer (like I also did ↓). You can also add a pop-up to your site, asking people to sign up before they navigate away from your page. (I have one of those, too. I’m starting to think I may have gone overboard on my sign-up locations.)

Sign-up form for a local Austin restaurant

Before you start capturing these email addresses, you’ll want to select an email marketing platform. Connect your website to your email marketing service, so the email addresses will be added right to your list. 

I use MailChimp, but there are lots of good options like ConvertKit and Constant Contact.  

This is a start, but it’s also completely passive. It relies on your site visitors both seeing the form and acting on it.

We need to be a bit more direct.

Use a lead magnet

If you’re asking people to hand over those bright, shiny email addresses, you should probably offer something in return, right? It’s just polite.

That “something in return” is called a lead magnet. In the online marketing world, lead magnets are often things like ebooks or free online trainings. I’ve downloaded enough of both to know that they’re often not worth the value of my inbox.

But you have something everyone wants. Food. 

A restaurant lead magnet can be as simple as a discount. Ask website visitors to give you their email address, and their first (automated) email from you will be a coupon for X% off.

If the idea of offering a discount makes your stomach churn, no problem. Got a menu item that is both a) a fan favorite and b) can be recreated at home? How about offering the recipe as a lead magnet? Side dishes are great for this.

Don’t worry about losing business to home cooks. I’ve seen popular restaurants post recipes in national publications, and I can confidently say they did not lose business because of it.

Another option — do a social media giveaway. Post on Instagram and Facebook that you’re giving away dinner for two. And all your followers have to do to sign up is sign up for your email list. 

Free stuff = more email addresses. It’s science.

Capture emails from your online ordering system

If you’re using third party delivery services like DoorDash or GrubHub, you’re out of luck here. The third party gets to keep those email addresses. They’ll then use your customers’ email addresses to promote other restaurants on the platform. 

Quick note: A new law has been proposed in California to force the third parties to share the email addresses with the restaurants that customers order from. Could be interesting!

But if you have an online ordering system through your own website, you should be collecting those email addresses for future marketing use. 

You have to let people opt out, though. Them‘s the rules.

So you’ll need to add a check box that says something like “I consent to receive marketing messages from Bob’s Restaurant” on the checkout screen. To use these email addresses for marketing without prior consent is against the law, and can get you into very expensive hot water.

Use an in-store lead magnet

So we talked about lead magnets on your website. That’s good — for website visitors. But what can you do to capture the email addresses of the people already inside your restaurant?

You can use the exact same method that we discussed for online lead magnets. But to claim their discount, recipe, or enter the giveaway, provide a QR code to scan instead. 

The QR code will lead directly to a special landing page that will let them opt-in to your marketing emails, and get them whatever freebie you’re offering. Put the QR code on the menu, a table tent, or even in the bathroom. 

Graphic layover a laptop and brown leather folio that says: Restaurant Email Marketing - Build that List

Capture email addresses with Wi-Fi

Unlike the other lead capturing methods on this list, this one requires some third party help. But if you’re able to make the investment, it may be able to help you capture beaucoup email addresses.

By providing guest Wi-Fi, restaurants can require network users to provide their email addresses and opt-in to their marketing emails in order to use the internet. 

Now, in a fine-dining establishment where guests are celebrating anniversaries and special occasions, this may not bring in big numbers. But in a cafe (where people come to work) or a casual restaurant (where groups gather to catch up and hang out) you can collect huge numbers of email addresses. 

Zenreach and GoZoneWiFi both offer this service.

As a bonus — some of these guest Wi-Fi services will also track guest movement. So you’ll be able to tell how long it’s been since that guest’s mobile device has connected to your network. You could send an email to everyone who hasn’t visited in six months, telling them how much you miss them and inviting them back. 

And that brings us to…

Segmenting your list

I’m gonna throw a small curve ball at you here and talk for a second about list segmentation. “Segmenting” refers to separating your overall email list for more focused messages that may only apply to smaller groups of your audience. 

There are a zillion ways you could segment your list, like existing vs. new customers, customer lifetime value, birthday, gender, and a ton more. Segmentation can get really detailed, and I don’t want to get bogged down in it. 

But the reason I bring it up here is because you may want to segment your list by lead capture method. Using the methods laid out above, you could segment your list like this: 

  • Segment 1 – People who signed up through your online sign-up form or lead magnet. These are people who have shown interest in your business by visiting your website, but may not have come in. How can we get them to actually walk through the door?
  • Segment 2 – People who opted in to receiving your marketing messages after placing a to-go order. These folks have ordered from you at least once, and they may want to again…if you send them the right email messages. 
  • Segment 3 – People who scanned the QR code or used your in-store Wi-Fi. These people have put their physical bodies in your physical restaurant. Fantastic! Let’s thank them — and get them to come in again. 

See the value in segmentation? You can send targeted emails to potential and existing customers based on their past behavior, increasing your email open rate and reducing unsubscribes. 

So as you set up your lead capture methods for email addresses, think about what segments will be useful to you in the future. 

Restaurant email marketing next steps

Now, what are you going to do with all those brand-spanking-new email addresses? Stay tuned for Part 2 in my Restaurant Email Marketing series.

And to make sure you don’t miss anything…sign up for my email list.

nic cage winking

P.S. If you’d like some help crafting your email marketing messages, I’m here to chat!

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