5 Email Marketing Best Practices for Restaurants

Large chains are taking over more and more of the restaurant market each year, making it difficult for smaller businesses to connect with an audience and differentiate themselves from other options. In such a competitive space, marketers need to leverage every tool at their disposal in order to achieve sustainable success.

While email is no longer the cutting-edge marketing tool it was 15 or 20 years ago, it’s still one of the most effective ways to get in touch with potential customers. In this article, we’ll cover some of the most effective ways restaurants and other food and drink vendors can leverage the power of email marketing in 2021.

1. Referral Rewards

Yelp and other review platforms can give your restaurant some credibility, but consumers tend to trust the recommendations of friends and family members over the opinions of people they don’t know. Referrals are a critical source of new customers for restaurants and many other vendors, and word-of-mouth marketing also tends to be more cost-effective than other methods of lead generation.

With the right tools to automate your marketing, you can set up surprisingly sophisticated referral programs with relatively little work. Even a small discount or other gift will be enough to get some of your email subscribers to let their friends and family know about your restaurant. For example, you might give referrals 10 percent off their first meal, with an additional 10 percent off coupon for the customer who referred them. That’s ultimately a small price to pay for the benefits of customer acquisition.

2. Exit-intent Pop-ups

Marketers often view pop-ups as distracting, but the reality is that pop-ups are one of the most misunderstood forms of content in digital marketing. While some pop-ups are unnecessarily annoying, they can be extraordinarily effective when used correctly.

Exit-intent pop-ups are an easy way to integrate pop-ups into your website without pulling users away from what they’re doing. In contrast to conventional pop-ups, exit-intent pop-ups only appear when a user is about to leave your site—for example, if their cursor leaves your webpage to click on the “X” in the upper-right corner.

Rather than distracting website visitors, these kinds of pop-ups pull their attention back to your site at the most important point of their visit. Extending their interaction will keep them engaged with your brand and increase the odds of conversion.

Your first exit-intent pop-up might include a field for users to subscribe to your email list along with another gift. As we mentioned in the referral rewards section, a small gift is an affordable way to increase engagement and motivate customers to take a particular action. Most internet users are already subscribed to more email newsletters than they want to read, so they’re much more likely to provide their contact information if they feel like they’re getting something valuable in exchange.


3. Birthday Offers

Birthdays are another great opportunity to offer an exclusive discount and create a sense of urgency by giving customers a limited amount of time to claim the offer. Keep in mind that customers often receive a number of birthday-related offers and may have other plans on their actual birthday. A one-week deal is the perfect balance—long enough for them to be able to make time, but short enough to give them the fear of missing out.

With marketing automation, sending out birthday offers is as simple as collecting birthdays during the sign-up process and setting up an automatic email. The more automated workflows you configure, the more time you’ll free up to focus on other areas of your business. If you’re new to automation, birthdays are an easy way to get started before adding more sophisticated sequences to your email marketing workflow.

4. Holiday Gift Cards

While referral rewards give referred customers a small incentive to try a new place, gift cards give them money that can only be spent in your restaurant. With that in mind, gift cards are even more powerful than conventional referrals, and you should make a point to promote them at specific times of the year.

Christmas is a classic time to market your gift cards since many people feel more comfortable buying gift cards rather than giving more specific gifts. Again, don’t hesitate to throw in something extra—your subscribers will likely be receiving similar messages from other vendors, so you’ll need to do more than ever to stand out during the holiday season.

For example, you could offer a flat discount on all gift cards or give customers a bonus when they buy a particular value. If you give $10 extra when they buy $100 or $50 when they buy $250, that additional amount could be enough to motivate some customers to buy a greater volume.

Depending on your restaurant’s branding and target audience, other holidays like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day could be excellent opportunities for gift card promotions. You know when your restaurant gets busy better than anyone else—don’t miss the opportunity to capitalize on that traffic by generating more gift card sales.

5. Advertise Your Email List on Receipts

Getting a customer to eat at your restaurant once is good, but getting them to stay engaged with your email newsletter is even better. It’s important to focus on customer retention as well as acquisition, and a small note on each receipt could give you a new source of email subscribers.

While QR codes were once a relatively niche technology, they’re becoming more common in nearly every industry. This is a particularly convenient delivery method for restaurant customers who already have their phone with them—rather than entering a URL, they’ll be able to simply scan the code, access your website, and join your contact list.

Many restaurants focus on social media marketing, but email can be incredibly effective for generating traffic, subscriptions, and sales. These tips will help you optimize your approach to email marketing and move even more leads through the sales funnel.

Guest Author Bio: Alex is a digital nomad and a writer for Omnisend. When he’s not writing content, you can find him reading, learning a language, or exploring the natural beauty of every location he visits.

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