Building an Email Marketing Strategy for your Restaurant
Follow these tips for choosing a platform for your email marketing and building your list of subscribers.

An email marketing strategy should be a key piece in your overall restaurant marketing campaign. Why? Despite the buzz around online advertising and social media, the return on investment for email marketing has been proven again and again by marketers in a number of industries, including restaurant and small retail. In fact, email experienced a huge resurgence with the widespread adoption of smartphones. The first thing that 62% of consumers do in the morning is check their mobile devices for missed calls, messages, and yes, you guessed it, emails.

So if you want to try email marketing, where do you start? In this post, we’ll cover two of the basics: choosing an email marketing solution and building your list. In a follow-up post, we’ll cover the essentials of planning and developing your email communications.

Choosing a  Solution

A wide range of email tools exist when it comes to developing and executing an email marketing strategy.  Free tools are out there, and popular. Free is a good price - until you bump up against the common limitations of free solutions. For example, some free tools only let you have a certain number of subscribers in your list before you have to upgrade to a paid version.

When selecting your email marketing solution, consider if it delivers these capabilities.

  • List Segmenting. Want to reach out to a specific neighborhood? Need to target only customers celebrating their birthday this month (provided you’ve asked them for their birthday month)? You’ll need a tool that lets you segment your list.
  • Design Templates. Choose a provider that offers attractive, easy-to-use templates that look great on any device.
  • A/B Testing. This will be integral to testing variables like subject lines in order to produce better email marketing results.  Measure opens and click-throughs. Even better if the tool scores a recipient’s responses and aggregates this information, making it clear what actions you should take.
  • Coupon Tracking. Some email tools offer features that make a restaurant or retail business owner’s job easier. One example is a coupon/discount tool that inserts a coupon or special offer into your email, and lets you track its redemption. This way, you can measure usage (even track usage per recipient) and effectiveness.

Building Your List

Building a list is key to executing an email marketing strategy. When it comes to finding ways to collect new email addresses from your guests, get creative, ask your staff for ideas, and have fun. Some restaurants run contests, with prizes such as entry into a drawing to win a free lunch. Make it easy for patrons to enter via the guest check or your guest comment card. And be sure to have staff promote your email sign-up campaign. For that matter, consider running a contest among staff to see who can get the most email sign-ups. If people will give you their birthday month, you can send them birthday wishes, with an offer for a slice of birthday cake on the house. And let’s not overlook the obvious: Provide a way for patrons to sign up via your web site to receive emails. Some email marketing tools include an easy way to create a form and place it on your website, so the email addresses you collect there get automatically imported to your list.

Before you start collecting email addresses, have your ‘thank-you for signing up to receive emails’ email prepared and queued up so it’s ready to go out the moment you start receiving sign-ups.

Start with the end in mind

What do you want to accomplish with your emails? Your goals related to your email marketing strategy may change over time, and you may have more than one. But choose one to start with, and work up – and out – from there. Is your initial goal to drive foot traffic into your restaurant? To foster loyalty and repeat business? To encourage foot traffic during traditionally slow times of the day or year? How about information designed to share and build your brand?

Each of these goals will require a different email campaign type. Increasing foot traffic may center on specials and coupons. Encouraging loyalty may involve campaigns related to your brand, such as announcing seasonal changes to your menu or introducing a new chef on your team.

With some thought and planning, you can have your email marketing strategy up and running – and helping to increase your bottom line--before you know it.