Awesome Emails: California Tortilla

Every week, a group of hungry AWeber workers pile into cars at precisely 12:02 on Tuesday afternoon. We quickly buckle up and head to the nearest California Tortilla for what has become a weekly lunchtime tradition: Taco Tuesday.

It all started on a whim, really. Our web designer Bob had a hankering for a burrito and his partner-in-crime Eric suggested California Tortilla. Soon enough, developers and CS members caught on and began to tag along.

One day, as sometimes happens when you work for an email marketing company, the lunchtime conversation turned to the topic of email. “Dude, California Tortilla sends me awesome emails,” Eric stated mid-bite.

Dude, awesome? After such a bold claim, I had to see these “awesome” emails. Skeptical, I asked Eric to forward them to me when we got back to the office so that I could see for myself. He was right! Their emails are pretty awesome and they include easy things that you can do so that your email marketing campaigns are awesome, too.

Send an Informative Welcome Email

When you dine at California Tortilla as much as we do, it’s beneficial to become what they call a Burrito Elito, or a card carrying member of their loyalty reward program. From the moment you sign up, they shake up your inbox with fun and informative emails about your account.

Their welcome message is particularly engaging, because it does a few important things that every email campaign should do. It clearly explains:

  • What they will receive: The first email summarizes exactly what members will receive as Burrito Elitos.
  • How they will receive it: The message explains how members can redeem their reward points in the restaurant of their choice.
  • When they will get further messages: They explain that subscribers can expect to receive further emails from California Tortilla on a monthly basis.

Offer Free Stuff

Part of the reason that we go back to California Tortilla every Tuesday is their rewards program. After a few trips, each of us earns enough points to enjoy a lunch for free.

When we’re close to receiving a free burrito, Cali Tort sends us a reminder via email to let us know that we have free goodies coming our way. Giving freebies via email is a great way to build a loyal subscriber base. If it’s something you’re interested in doing, you should always:

  • Make sure the giveaway is relevant to your list: If you sell men’s shoes and you’re giving away a pair of high heels, chances our your subscribers will stop taking your messages seriously.
  • Write up a quick guide to your industry or offer a free sample: As long as your free gift is relevant to the content of your newsletter, it’s the perfect incentive for prospects who might be on the fence about signing up.

Send Birthday Messages

While lots of businesses send birthday emails, California Tortilla’s message is extra sweet. On your birthday, you get a free burrito! In our office, this is a big deal and grants the birthday girl or boy bragging rights for the day.

Sending a special message to your subscribers at the beginning of their birthday month, you can really catch them by surprise with a personal touch by:

  • Offering an exclusive coupon or discount: When sending a Birthday gift, remember to send something that’s actually of value to your subscribers. Something that really says thank you for being a subscriber, please come back!
  • Boosting return business throughout the year: Perhaps your subscribers visited your store or restaurant earlier in the year and signed up for your email list, yet haven’t been back since. Birthday emails get them back in the door and encourage return business throughout the year.

Why Do California Tortilla’s Emails Work?

As you can see, their emails aren’t intricately designed. In fact, each one contains only an image or two and some text. Their content is what makes their series a success – they infuse personality into each message.

California Tortilla has fun with their subscribers and the playful atmosphere of their restaurants carries over to their emails. After all, subscribers don’t want to read emails that sound too corporate or too impersonal. They want to know that companies are human, too.

Do your emails set the tone? Are they playful and welcoming? We’d love to know! Tell us more in the comments below.


  1. Bob Ricca

    2/3/2011 10:32 am

    Mmmmmmmmmmm Tacos.

  2. Mike Dauplaise

    2/3/2011 11:04 am

    Those are awesome e-mails. I would look forward to receiving them just for the entertainment value alone.

    Good job, Pam! (Queen of Burritos)

  3. Alan Petersen

    2/3/2011 11:33 am

    This post also shows the power of loyalty program like what they have with the “Burrito Elito Card” where customers can earn points and receive gifts. Powerful combination along with their email marketing.

  4. Melanie Green

    2/3/2011 12:05 pm

    This is great !
    I have a quick question though.

    Would I not need to use some type of Aweber API that links my Rewards program with emails sent out through Aweber ?

    I see the new “My Apps” in my account, but there is only one app listed for WordPress which I don’t use on every site I have.

    I’m trying to imagine my server counting up rewards, and automatically notifying Aweber to send an email with relevant information based on real data.

    Any thoughts on this?

  5. Jessica Chapman

    2/3/2011 12:05 pm

    I dig it! What a great way to bring in fun and funky to my customer base!

    Now I just have to show my designer so he can drop a new template into AWeber for me to use. (Cause this is totally awesome and custom and not something I can make on my own!) Thanks for sharing!

  6. Stacey Kane

    2/3/2011 12:25 pm

    Wow A Weber folks – thanks for the e-mail love. We adore you and appreciate your loyalty. Don’t forget to come in this month – we are giving away tons of free food with every Burrito Elito swipe.

  7. Dave Meanwell

    2/3/2011 12:51 pm

    This post is great and perfectly timed!

    I am working on a promotion plan for my favorite lunch venue and will certainly incorporate these ideas (once I have convinced our local queen!, but I am sure she will love them).

    Thanks for the informative posts.

  8. SHOW YOUR HUMAN SIDE AND SUBSCRIBERS WILL LOVE YOU « Facebook « Facebook « Sweet Businesses

    2/3/2011 6:52 pm

    […] know, let us know below. Thanks!Related articlesA 7 Step Guide to Email Deliverability ( Emails: California Tortilla ( Tweet var a2a_config = a2a_config || {}; a2a_config.linkname="SHOW YOUR HUMAN SIDE AND […]

  9. Rebecca Swayze

    2/4/2011 10:19 am

    Thanks for the feedback, everybody!

    Alan – I agree! California Tortilla’s loyalty program is a big part of their marketing success.

    Melanie – To actually send Reward Program emails with your AWeber account, you would initially import new rewards members when they sign up for the program.

    Then, you would need to work with a developer to create an app that would automatically update a subscriber’s information each time they made a purchase or counted up rewards.

  10. Andrei Knight

    2/4/2011 3:15 pm

    Great idea, and I’ll consider adding a custom field for birthdays on future forms. Only question is… how do I go back and get them for the 3000 or so people who have ALREADY signed up for our list?

  11. Lush

    2/6/2011 8:41 am

    Ok, the birthday treat really put a light bulb above our heads, so perhaps it is time to think of how we can get this piece of useful information from our clients, it sure surprises our clients to be getting some free jewelery on their birthdays =D

  12. Luke

    2/6/2011 5:18 pm

    This is pretty cool! It’s interesting to see the personal touch that each email they send out has. What really surprises me is how the personalize their emails by having “Pam, The Burrito Queen” sign off and each email

    It’s refreshing to see large businesses actually put a face to a service rather than your typical Mr. Robotico response.

    Nice find Rebecca!

  13. Justin

    2/7/2011 12:31 pm

    Inspirational. Thanks for posting this.

  14. Karl

    2/7/2011 11:01 pm

    Hey, they don’t seem to be using Aweber any more? Have they got a special account?

  15. Rebecca Swayze

    2/8/2011 9:08 am

    Andrei – At this time, the only way to edit the information for past subscribers is to do so manually.

    Luke – I agree, the personal touch really makes these emails fantastic!

    Karl – California Tortilla doesn’t actually use AWeber, we just thought that they did an exceptional job with their email campaign so we wanted to highlight them on the blog.

  16. rich

    2/8/2011 11:53 am

    I’m wondering if open and deliver rates suffer because all of their emails are imaged based?

  17. MW

    2/11/2011 4:33 pm

    You’re such a tease!

    Now I’m hungry. Thanks for blowing my diet all to heck.

    Just kidding. Great post.

  18. Mads

    2/24/2011 5:27 am

    Thats brilliant.. Great with the humor in the mails. And they actually make you hungry… uHmmmm

  19. TonyS

    4/9/2011 11:26 am

    This is really useful information. The particular restaurant that I have in mind here in London is not what I’d call a fun crowd. This will be a challenge.

  20. TonyS

    4/9/2011 11:32 am

    Responding to Rebecca’s email of 2/4/2011 10:19 am about the application…

    Thinking about this, what is required is a webpage made for a mobile that the customer could somehow be made to visit with their mobile) and write straight to their aweber list.

    How much of a developer does one have to be to effect something like this?

  21. Amanda Gagnon

    4/11/2011 8:34 am

    Tony ~ You could just use a regular sign up form on a web page to have people sign up for the rewards program. Just have a separate list for the program. You would have to be pretty tech-savvy to build the app that updates when they purchase, so that’s best left to a developer. But none of it has to be mobile-related.

  22. TonyS

    4/11/2011 1:47 pm

    Yes, of course none of it has to be mobile, but I bet you have your mobile within a few feet of you wherever you go rather than a pc. My thinking was that to get people to interact immediately it would be easier right there in the restaurant rather than waiting until later. But yes, of course, none of it HAS to be mobile.

  23. Jesper

    8/29/2012 3:10 am

    Great example, this kind og personal campaigns really works. People today would kill for a free burrito 🙂

  24. Morten

    3/10/2014 3:29 am

    Ha ha awesome – love great e-mail work. They are too often dull and boring standard mails. Zappo’s also has great “standard e-mail” copywriting 🙂