You know you need to market your restaurant.

After more than a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, your restaurant likely struggling to stay in business.

>> Sometimes a bit of humor helps in times like these.

Across the country, businesses closed temporarily. Now, as the country re-opens, you probably want to leverage every available marketing technology and strategy to herd as many customers as the law will allow you to into your doors.

To get more people into your restaurant and keep them coming back, you need to market your restaurant. One unique method of doing that is email marketing.

This method is unique for restaurants because it is a challenge to obtain an email address while the customer sits in your café. They have their mobile phone with them and in the relaxed environment of a meal out, rarely will they want to stop their meal to load your website on a browser. You might get their cell phone number pretty easily, but emails present a challenge.

 How can you capture your restaurant customers’ email addresses?

A few options exist for collecting email addresses. When we say “automatically,” we do not mean illicitly. Collecting email addresses always requires an ask. You can ask online or offline. Here are a few ideas for getting the important information surrounding the “@”.

Place an empty fishbowl next to the cash register.

Label the bowl as a collector spot for business cards. If you want to encourage many business cards, offer to draw for a free lunch once per week. You will only be out the cost of one meal, but you will encourage many business cards to get dumped into the bowl. At the end of each week, draw the card that wins and contact that person with their gift certificate. Then, empty the bowl and enter all of the names, addresses, emails, and phone numbers into a database or Excel spreadsheet. Post the name of the week’s winner on the front of the bowl, so people can see why they would want to drop their business card into the bowl. When your winner comes in, take a picture of them dining and post it, too. This could be your first email newsletter.

Ask your customers to text their email addresses.

Customers more freely share their email addresses when sitting at their computer, but pretty rarely have a computer with them when dining out. Some restaurants have had luck asking customers to text their email addresses to the establishment. For example, Elephant Bar set up a short code of 73757 to make it quicker to dial them. Customers can text their shortcode with the word “rewards” followed by their email address to join their rewards program. This method gets the restaurant two important pieces of data — the email address and the cell phone number.

Ask on your website via a reservations form.

You might doubt that restaurant patrons visit websites, but they do. You can encourage them to visit yours more often by offering specials or coupons that you only post there or by setting up an automated reservation system. The latter frees up your personnel from needing to answer the phones to make reservations. Patrons can visit the website to make reservations. You solve the problems of overbooking and bad handwriting, too. The reservation system only offers as many tables as you have, and you can set the reservation times. Your form prompts the patron for their email address to send a confirmation email. You can also offer to send a reminder of the reservation on the day of the meal.

Collect emails from your Facebook page.

Set up a Facebook page and advertise it using the quite reasonably priced Facebook ads. Offer an app for ordering through the Facebook page and prompt your visitors to share their email. You can send a confirmation of the order immediately and use the email in perpetuity, or until they opt out. Once you build your email list, you can improve your ad reach by using custom audiences.

Use a website email collector form.

Regardless of all the fancy stuff, you do with apps and reservation systems, you also need the straightforward method of a simple form. Using a company like JotForm lets you easily set up a responsive design form that collects just the customers’ names and email addresses. You can handily serve this up when customers visit you by offering free Wi-Fi.

Use ZenReach to serve an ad featuring the email collector form.

Programs like ZenReach let you market via WiFi. When a customer enters your Wi-Fi zone and signs on, you get the opportunity to serve them a sign-on page. Request their email address as part of the sign-on or ask for it as “payment” for using the free Wi-Fi. You can also use ZenReach to serve ads and capture leads using an email prompt. This program uses your Wi-Fi and the consumer’s device ID similar to the way a website uses a cookie. When the customer returns to your restaurant and signs on again, ZenReach recognizes them.

Using Your New Email List

Building your list just gets you started. Once you have it put together, you also need to use it. Put it to good use by sending a once per week newsletter that offers helpful content. You might include a recipe or contest news. Featuring biographies on your staff lets customers get to know the chef, bartender, servers, etc. You can personalize your ads and promotions via email, too. While radio, TV, and even direct mail cost money, you can put together an email list for free and use it for the same zero cost.

Remember to segment your email marketing on top of personalizing the emails. Business diners have different needs than date night diners. Those who order online should get different offers than those who come in to dine.

Offer a coupon for something free on their birthday. Now that you have their emails, you can build a real professional relationship with your customers and that gets you valuable word of mouth advertising.

11 Responses

  • One tactic that we used at a restaurant that I used to work at was to ask for guests’ emails right at the table! A lot of restaurants now have kiosks to order from or pay their bill at. You can have an option added to the kiosk for the guest to enter their email address for “promotions and news”. If you promise a free desert at their next visit if they provide their email you are likely to get a large percentage of emails. Everyone likes dessert! You can also send out small coupons through your email service. This won’t just gain you more customers throughout that week, but more people will hear that their friend got an email with a coupon for 15% off their meal and they want in! Word of mouth is the best marketing strategy and doing things like this is guaranteed to get people talking.

  • I’m not in the restaurant business but the ideas you gave were good. If I owned a restaurant I would offer my customers something for their email address. The empty fishbowl and the website are two ideas I certainly would use. Offering a free meal would definitely work in my line of work I make candles so once a month I would give away a candle the customers love it and so do I it gives me repeat business.

  • Hi Taylor,

    I have seen collections of business cards for a free lunch or free meal at many restaurants. I have always wanted to put my business card in there, but often times, I do not have it with me. Now that we are in the digital age more than ever, do you propose any other ways to do the same thing but make it easier for those who do not usually carry their business cards to participate?

    I also wonder if work emails will more likely filter out emails coming from restaurants or other businesses as it may see them as spam. Do you have any suggestions on getting around this?

  • I have a buddy that owns a restaurant in New York City, and we were just discussing how this could help him reach more customers. He’s been resistant when it comes to social media and other marketing tactics, but slowly he is coming around to see the benefits of increasing his reach.

    I’m going to share this article with him just to reinforce everything I told him the other day. Thanks for confirming my initial thought process on restaurant owners using email campaigns to build their brand. I’m especially interested in what he thinks about implementing ZenReach!

  • Almost 9 out of 10 marketers use email as their primary channel to distribute content organically. However, not all indeed give them feedback. It’s because they do not build consistency and relationship first. These are really great strategies in getting those sales through email marketing, even for a local restaurant.

  • Hi Taylor,

    My friend is a restaurant owner and some of these tips will be passed along to him. Emails are a vital form of communication and a direct way to spread the word to your consumer base. While this post offered a lot of great solutions on how to capture email addresses, I would have liked to read more about what to do after you get their email address. Like you mentioned in your post, it’s important to use your email list after you have them signed up. Offer them incentives so they won’t be likely to unsubscribe in the future.

    • Josh, there are many creative ideas for using a newsletter list. If you’re a restaurant owner, one thing you can do is collect their birthdate and email, in exchange for letting them use the internet, and then send them out a birthday email with a special offer. This gets the customer back in the door, possibly with a large birthday group. I will try to do another newsletter dedicated to creative ways to use a newsletter list. 🙂

  • Glad that I was able to read this article and now I’m learning a lot regarding email marketing. A lot of customers are very hesitant to write down their emails because they don’t want to get spammed. Trying out the some of the suggestions mentioned above won’t harm the businessand at the same time its gonna generate results. I’m thankful that I was able to gather some useful ideas for our next marketing campaign. Right now I’m working with someone to help me design and upgrade my webpage so I’m keeping all advises in mind.

  • Hi Taylor,
    I saw your post and it really opened my eyes to how to improve my email list. I never imagined how effective getting email addresses at your physical location could be. I’m going to apply your advice on gathering emails in the workplace as soon as I’m done on this site! Keep up the good work, you’ve earned my email address as a thank you! I don’t wanna miss any advice you have!

  • Ok, I know what I have to do now. I’m in love with your “fishbowl” idea, I’m not the owner but a manager of a local restaurant here in the Bay area and I’m going to tell him tomorrow that we need a fishbowl with our Hostess at the register. Amazing idea – I will update some time later if I remember to and let you (& everyone) know how it goes. Customers don’t realize how important it is for companies to have their “blessing” on their email addresses, especially when it comes to potential, regular customers.

  • I think I should use the above strategies in my action plan to generate enough leads and attract more customers to my restaurant. I would certainly use your suggestions for my company’s website.

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