Restaurant Marketing Tips: Beyond Coupons

Restaurant TableHow can email help restaurants best capitalize on a dining market while the local fast food joint pump out millions of burgers faster and cheaper?

As the first of a series, in this article I’ll offer advice on how quality oriented restaurants can use email marketing to increase their profits through cultivating a base of regular customers, something that could benefit a business of any type.

Return Customers Make the Difference

During my late teenage years, I started my first job at a restaurant, mostly because I needed steady employment while starting college. I was also interested in cooking on the side, and my parents liked the idea of my learning how to increase my food to mess ratio in their kitchen.

During my tenure, I worked with a few chefs (who were also the owners) and learned how important it is to draw customers back in. Getting a customer in the door can really cost a pretty penny when you consider the price of print advertisement.

Meanwhile, by cultivating a regular customer base, restaurants:

This is easier said than done, however. A good restaurant covers the food and the experience, but people are busy and there’s lots of restaurants in most towns. People like to try different things, so you can’t rely entirely on their own initiative to return.

So what is a restaurant to do? Print more coupons in the local paper that cost money and lower profitability?

The Common Approach

I still make messes in my own kitchen, but I’ve left the real food making to the pros. Since then, I’ve worked with AWeber on helping clients optimize their email campaign results.

I’ve seen a lot of customers fixating on price and giving sales pitches that focus on it. In coming up with ideas, it seems natural to start with what hits your subscribers’ pockets. For restaurants, we find coupons and specials in campaigns: weekly specials, birthday specials, valentine’s day specials, and so on, and so on…

Coupons are a great way to provide a particular of incentive for a visit to a restaurant, but remember that if all customers are looking for in a restaurant is value in a calories per dollar sense, they’ll choose the fast food joint every single time.

Beyond Coupons

What really makes a restaurant special? These USPs (unique selling points) are the points that should be highlighted in an email campaign. In helping a restaurant write its messages, I might ask them:

The personal touch that’s so important at restaurants is just as important in email campaigns. By writing messages that highlight their unique qualities, restaurants can take the first impression customers have about their restaurant and build something more lasting.

Lasting impressions lead to return visits and reduce the cost of the constant advertisement to draw in new customers. Instead of driving profits into the ground, why not increase the value using an email campaign?

Sounds Good. Care to Elaborate?

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll cover some ideas concerning ways you can effectively use an email service to not only set yourself apart from the giants but also the competition right next door on your block.

We’ll also chime in with some ideas on how to most effectively generate a list of subscribers from a customer base at your restaurant.

Until then, 86 on this post (if you own/work-at a restaurant, you know what I mean).

For more information on email marketing for restaurants, view our complete Email Marketing for Restaurants Guide.

This article is part of a series on restaurant marketing. Read our previous posts for tips and ideas on topics important to restaurant owners that can be related to businesses of all types.

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  1. B

    Awesome. Worked installing computers and helping
    restaurant owners for many years.

    Capturing customers data was/is key. Many restaurants
    that had been in business for years, didn’t have one
    single customer’s address?

    Permission based email is perfect for restaurants to
    get repeat business.

    4/26/2007 4:24 pm
  2. Thanks for publishing this info. We also use a blog built into our website, please check it out.

    But certainly we’re always looking for new ideas, so I’m subscribing to your blog and thanks!

    4/27/2007 8:40 pm
  3. Perfect timing! I’m working with the best restaurant in a small town. Sterling’s Southern Café in St. Marys Georgia. Because it is fine dining we do NOT want to offer coupons or discounts so I look forward to your ideas.
    Here are a few for you:
    + We are just starting to build the email list by including a comment and email card with the check. It reads – “Grace us with your email address and we we’ll grace you with mouth watering recipes, southern stories, specials and the latest goin’s on.” A place for their name and email address, then “Let it be known that we won’t give anyone your email address. It’s just not the Southern way!”
    + Once they sign up we will (I hope) figure out a way to split them into “tourists” and “locals”. Tourists (live out of town and only visit occasionally) will get a quarterly email newsletter and locals with get a weekly one with the specials and best seating times (trying to fill up those slow early and later times).
    + This restaurant is so good real estate agents bring their clients to it for lunch. We will do some “offline” post cards to all the real estate agents highlighting how deals get closed at Stearling’s and drive them to the weekly online newsletter.
    If you have any great ideas we will be glad to give them a try!
    Thanks ya’all…

    4/29/2007 6:04 am
  4. Don’t give up on the offline either.

    You could also advertise offline coupons or free recipes – some incentive – and drive them to a mini-site to get them to opt-in in exchange for the offer, and then "reveal" your restaurant in a series of emails that get so juicy they just have to come in.

    4/30/2007 4:20 pm
  5. Hi

    my client supplies delicious Belgian after-dinner chocolates to restaurants, here in the UK, and we’ve just started an offline and online newsletter for the restaurant owners, which will include marketing tips. So your series is great timing.

    May I use some of your suggestions in our newsletter? I’d be happy to acknowledge and promote Aweber as the autoresponder of choice in any emarketing campaign. (My client has already opened an account with you on my recommendation as have a few other business colleagues.


    5/3/2007 5:25 pm
  6. Absolutely Carol!

    5/3/2007 5:53 pm | Follow me on Twitter
  7. These restaurant articles are right up my alley..we are in process of getting another restaurant and currently I use my website to build interest in my blog and podcasts…

    Your services are great and easy to use.. I recommend them highly!

    5/9/2007 11:34 pm
  8. My wife runs a great little gift shop in Chepstow – OK, not a restaurant, but in a small town like ours – repeat customers are our lifeblood.
    You’ve certainly given me some food for thought.
    Big thanks

    6/5/2007 8:01 am
  9. Thanks for this timely article that pertains to all businesses. As a consultant to gift basket retailers I continually emphasize the importance of having a unique selling position. A gorgeous design alone is not enough to make a client part with their money, especially over and over again. They need to trust you to help them make a good impression on the recipient with prompt delivery and follow-up. When this is in place they not only become repeat clients, but evangelists.

    6/5/2007 8:59 am
  10. David and Flora,

    Thank *you*. One of my goals with this article was to write something that could benefit people running any type of small business. Email marketing provides a good opportunity build rapport, and that should be taken advantage of.

    I’m glad to hear that it hit home for you and appreciate your feedback.

    6/5/2007 9:46 am
  11. Excellent information Marc.

    Having a unique selling proposition, care during and after the sale with true personalization is what every business strives to achieve.

    Even though my business is not in the restaurant arena many pointers in this article have resonated with me.

    I can’t wait to read the follow up article Marc.

    6/12/2007 11:44 am
  12. I agree and there are new programs that are promoting the brick and mortar companies like restaurants and offering promotions thru email.
    I myself am loyal to a few good ones that are even out of state for me.

    6/20/2007 12:56 pm
  13. It’s about time we heard about the fact that there are more effective strategies than coupons, from an email marketer. Thank you!

    7/16/2007 1:28 am
  14. Great Article Mark!

    As a restaurant development consultant, I find email marketing as an essential tool for all restaurant owners. Email marketing allows you to advertise wine events, charitable events, coupons, introduce new menu items, as well as other valuable and attractive promotions.

    Another under-utilized email tool is marketing to your employees. I help owners develop ways to keep their employees informed about specials, policies, and other valuable and important information. The best part is many marketing programs allow you to see who opened the email and when. This is invaluable when trying to make sure your entire staff is on the same page.

    3/14/2008 10:02 am
  15. TMG

    e-mail marketing is the way to go. Enticing customers with upcoming holiday specials or rewarding them when they exceed a number of visits in a specified period. Customers love it when you treat them like VIPs. Appreciate the fact that they come in often, and they will continue to come and they will gladly bring their friends.

    5/19/2009 2:45 pm
  16. E-mail newsletters are an incredible way to cheaply and effectively keep in touch with guests. By capturing a guests e-mail from a visit, you are then able to send this guest specials, news, coupons, what have you, extremely cheaply and extremely effectively.

    The most effective marketing tactic in regards to ROI are increasing the frequency and check size average. Targeting guests are already aware of your establishment and don’t need to be sold on going there for the first time.

    6/8/2009 6:39 pm
  17. I have worked in restaurants for a long time and now am selling to them. I see day in and day out these owners putting in their blood, sweat and tears only to throw it away to advertising in the phonebook, radio and tv. Very rarely do I have one of them tell me that this is effective. Most of the time they say they don’t know, but it is the only way they know how to promote. Every restaurant owner needs to have information on auto responders and list building. You can not sit idle and pray for customer loyalty, you need to be active in promoting it.

    7/20/2009 3:55 pm
  18. Here’s an innovative idea for you…

    Create an opportunity for guests to opt-in to your email marketing newsletter + social networks as they access in-store wi-fi (via a wi-fi login page). Saves some data entry and allows you to build a bigger list much faster.

    7/25/2010 6:53 pm
  19. Great article, thanks. When I look at the email marketing benchmarks of restaurants, industry average of open rate 26%, and average click rate is more than 4%. Email marketing is one of the most effective marketing tool for restaurants.

    8/15/2010 2:47 pm
  20. Using web tools that generate managed business to your restaurant at the time you need it is something we’ve been working on with our last minute table booking site

    Not a coupon site, it enables restaurateurs to schedule deals limited only to low peak periods, eg 5-7pm dinner deals. Our site takes the booking for only these times and calls the restaurant or sends them a text message, so no equipment costs.

    All restaurants are welcome to sign up and try it out for free – we’re already going in NYC and LA and have been operating in Australia successfully.

    1/19/2011 12:25 am
  21. I am looking to expand my business through email, we provide services to restaurants

    4/20/2011 10:30 am
  22. I’d be interested to find out what web or online tools people use to help them market their restaurants. Are you actively seeking reviews from your customers or collecting information such as e-mail addresses to be able to build an active community. I’m mostly interested because I’m looking to develop a set of tools if they don’t exist for restaurants.

    5/21/2011 10:37 am
  23. Chris ~ With AWeber, you can collect email addresses and send messages. If you’re looking to develop related tools, we do have an API that apps can be built with.

    Pamela ~ It looks like you’d want to invite some restaurants to subscribe, then send them some helpful tips and product offers.

    5/23/2011 8:36 am
  24. Kevin Valdez

    Marc, thanks for sharing! Here is another idea, Restaurant Spirit Nights, or Dine and Donate Programs are a great way to connect with schools, churches, and any organization in the community. Here’s the link a website that lets you publish your spirit nights opportunity and it’s also free

    I hope this helps, good luck to everyone!

    5/2/2012 3:36 pm
  25. Jess

    This is a great follow up read, delves more into the PR side of eateries

    2/4/2013 5:44 am