Restaurant Marketing: 5 List-Building Ideas

Restaurant Email Signup FormIn previous articles on restaurant marketing, we’ve floated a number of content ideas for your emails, like sending birthday emails and giving a behind-the-scenes look at your chef and kitchen.

The thing is, these ideas (and others that we’ll continue to publish here) don’t do much good if you don’t have any potential diners to send to!

Just as with any other business, a restaurant’s email marketing campaign has to start by getting subscribers.

So where/how can restaurant owners build their lists?

On Your Website

As part of the research for this post, I looked at a number of restaurant websites, and was struck by the fact that most of them did not offer any email signup at all.

This is a no-brainer for any business. Get a signup form on your website already!

Restaurants in particular should put a signup form in at least two places:

  • The homepage
  • Their menu page (if you have separate pages for lunch/dinner, all the better – get the form on each of them)

Ideally, you should have a signup form on your other pages as well, but your home page and menu/s are a good start.

In Person At Your Restaurant

Comment cards have been popular for years at restaurants.

Include an email signup on those cards and bring them with the check!

Be sure to bring a pen with the check, too – even before you know if the customer is paying by credit card. That way, they can pass the time (while the server brings them their change or runs their credit card) by signing up to your email list! 🙂

With Takeout/Delivery Orders

Insert a card promoting your email campaign with your takeout and delivery orders.

Simply put your site URL on it and tell people to go there to subscribe.

Or, for a twist have them fill out a form on the card and bring it in on their next visit (this could work well where you’re offering a signup incentive like a coupon or half-price menu item).

On Menus and Other Promotional Pieces

Do you offer paper menus for customers to take away? Or send direct mail pieces?

If so, mention your emails on them.

As with the takeout cards, you may want to have people fill out something in person and then bring it back to your restaurant – that way, not only do they not have to wait until they’re at their computer to sign up, but they have an extra incentive to come back (to drop off the card and get whatever bonus you’re offering new members)!

When People Make Reservations

You don’t have to wait for customers to finish their meals before offering an email signup. Heck, you don’t even have to wait for them to arrive at your restaurant!

Someone making a reservation is identifying him/herself as a customer, someone especially interested in your restaurant (compared to say, someone who happens to visit your website but is not yet committed to coming in and dining with you).

Sites like OpenTable know this, and offer diners the chance to sign up to restaurants’ email lists when making reservations.

If you take reservations on your site, you should be doing so, too. It helps drive repeat business.

In theory, you should also be doing this when taking reservations by phone, but to be honest I haven’t quite worked out when during the reservation I would ask that, or how I would word it.

What Other List-Building Opportunities Do Restaurants Have?

In a future article on restaurant marketing I’ll talk about incentives you can use to make list-building easier.

For now, though, let’s come up with some other ideas that restaurant owners can use to build their email lists.

Share your ideas and suggestions below!

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


  1. Jim Cockrum

    10/2/2008 6:34 pm

    Great article guys – this is going straight on the discussion forum NOW.

  2. Callie

    10/3/2008 8:37 am

    How to ask a customer to sign up for your email list when taking a reservation…

    Reservationist: "Thank you for your reservation with us Mr/Ms Smith, we appreciate your business. Could I take another moment of your time to let you know of a special offer we have for our reservation guests?"

    Guest – "Certainly, I’m always up for a deal!"

    Reservationist: "Wonderful! Mr/Ms Smith, here at The Grape Divine we offer (insert $$ amt) eCertificates/eCoupons to our customers who enjoy receiving our weekly menu specials through email. Would you like to be added to our email list to take advantage of the coupon for your dinner reservation?

    Guest – "Hey, that would be great… will you send me out the email with a coupon before my reservation Friday night?"

    Reservationist – "Yes, Absolutely."

    Guest – "Great. My email address is"

  3. Justin Premick

    10/3/2008 8:52 am


    That’s exactly the kind of example I was looking for. Thanks!

  4. Sheri Zampelli

    10/5/2008 7:04 pm

    Hello, I have many years of waitressing experience and I love to eat out. No doubt, the best time to ask a customer for something is after they’re well fed, well served and feel a connetion/obligation to show their appreciation. If you nurture the client throughout the entire meal, they might just ask YOU if you have a mailing list.

    You could say something like, "Did you enjoy the meal?" And while they are gushing your praises, you can smile, pause, then say to them, "you know, we have a mailing list so you can find out about our specials" if they love you, they will beg to sign the list. That brings me to another point: make them love you first.

  5. Murray McFadgen

    10/5/2008 9:31 pm

    This is a fabulous way to ask for the email address. But more…
    how could the customer feel anything but good about this offer.
    Clearly if the emails have good quality content and are interesting, the customer may begin to tell others of this experience.

    Thanks for a great suggestion.

  6. Karin H.

    10/6/2008 5:55 am

    Hi all

    And if your combine Callie’s great idea with the no-brainer on the website for (first time) web visitors chances are you can double your list in double quick time.
    Incentives, that’s what counts!

  7. Charles Heineke

    10/6/2008 2:40 pm

    For subscriptions, one might use something like this:

    "Are you on our email list for specials and free offers?"

  8. Building Your Restaurant’s E-Newsletter Audience | Successful Restaurant Websites

    10/9/2008 8:50 am

    […] Restaurant Marketing: 5 List Building Ideas (AWeber) […]

  9. Agatha

    10/22/2008 12:17 am

    Nowadays you talk to a restaurant owner these days, it is almost invariably a story of how hard it is to be in the restaurant business. For them your blog is helping a lot. And after a while, it may not seem like restaurateurs have been dealt the worst possible deal.

  10. Ron Davies

    11/4/2008 12:03 pm

    Hi Justin,

    I couldn’t figure out where to put this, and you had sent me an email a while back looking for ideas and suggestions. Well procrastination got the better of me, and I put it off. Here it is:

    How about a "search & replace" feature that was campaign or series-wide? This would be a huge help when there is a price change, a site url change etc. I have 75 messages in one of my campaigns, all of which have prices in them.

    Would be cool if I could just search and replace the whole seaies of 75 from a single dialogue.

    Don’t know if it’s possible, but would be awesome!

  11. Johnnie Green

    12/3/2008 1:52 am

    If I was a waiter, I will first serve them refreshment while they are waiting on their order. Then meal and make sure I am available for any other service that needed. End of the meal, I will present the receipt and ask them "how they enjoy their meal and service. Then I will ask them if I could get their e-mail to send them update special meal deals in the future.

  12. Ken Burgin

    12/7/2008 5:30 pm

    There’s nothing like a good juicy bribe to get people to subscribe. It may be a voucher of some sort, but a useful E-book or Guide may also do the trick. At my site I have a free download of a ‘Restaurant Cost Control Ebook’ that is a magnet to get people subscribing – works non-stop day and night. See the home page at

    A restaurant, bar or function venue could offer as a download:

    – ‘Insider Guide’ to the 20 Best Places to Visit in our Town
    – 99 Ways to Make Your Wedding Fuss-free and Fantastic
    – 25 Ways to Organise a Brilliant Party for Work
    – Cafe Troppo’s 20 Favourite Desserts – Recipes and Pictures
    – Bar Troppo’s Summer Cocktail Guide – Shake and Make
    – Chef Nino’s Favourite 12 Favourite Italian Recipes

    etc etc – you get the idea!

  13. Jeffrey Summers

    12/9/2008 6:05 pm

    Coupons or discounts are not necessary and are the absolute worst thing you can do for your business. Ken outlines several ways to accomplish your subscriber goals without them. Discounts just damage your business on too many levels for you to ever recover from. This may be counter-intuitive for most of you, but people don’t want coupons, they want value.

    Remember, the best way to have people talk about you is to give them something (valuable) to talk about.

  14. Email Marketing Essentials for Restaurants

    1/4/2010 1:20 pm

    […] You’ve got your lists set up. You’re broadcasting menu changes, special events and coupons. Your regulars are responding and new customers are subscribing. […]

  15. Subba

    1/5/2010 10:23 am

    For in-store collection of customer email opt-in’s, portable electronic handhelds (such as the ones from Sterizon) is worth mentioning. They provide direct integration with AWeber. Also, if the restaurant can afford it, a kiosk for eclub enrollment may also be worth looking at.

    Collecting emails at the restaurant has much higher opt-in rates compared to others, as the customer who dine at your restaurant are more likely to sign up to receive offers than others.

  16. Brian Haugen

    3/11/2010 9:48 am

    I’ve seen some servers specifically call attention to the email opt-in when they bring the check. If the restaurant management can come up with a good promotion that’s actually worth talking about, servers won’t be afraid to bring it up to guests. (You bet that I filled mine out to receive the 50% off my next meal)

    Also, I think it gets a little more attention when the opt-in is printed on the actual credit card slip, rather than a separate piece of paper.

    Here’s a blog post I wrote with 20 email list building ideas, though they aren’t specific to restaurants:

  17. Justin Premick

    3/11/2010 9:53 am


    Printing the opt-in on the receipt is an interesting idea, though I wonder if (a) the limited space makes it difficult to sell the email signup and (b) if most restaurants are able to make such a change to their receipts easily.

    I completely agree about getting server buy-in – if your people are taking good care of customers, and they make a good case at the end of the night for the signup, you’ll see far better results. I’d make sure that any such contest only rewarded confirmed signups, though, as a contest brings along an incentive for servers to fill out the email part themselves on their receipts.

  18. Desmond Herbert

    1/8/2011 8:30 pm

    Great article. I am speaking to restaurants in the coming weeks to give them some advice on their online marketing.

  19. Gee

    2/18/2011 5:04 pm


    Great article. Some very useful tips here.

    I am about to approach a series of restaurants so I WILL BE TRYING OUT THESE IDEAS.