Many of you will shake your heads when reading the title of this blog. After all, you are in the restaurant business, not in the email marketing business, right?
However, let me tell you something that may shock you: you are in the sales business. If you don’t sell your food and beverages, nothing else counts so you need to apply the same marketing and sales techniques than the rest of the business use.
Email marketing is one of the most effective communication and promotion vehicles in the Internet. 90% of Internet users and 56% of all Americans use email on a regular basis (source: e-marketeer Aug. 2006). Restaurants can benefit from email marketing because it’s fast, direct, cost-effective, and builds loyal relationships with your clients. Restaurant email marketing is, perhaps, one of the lowest cost marketing vehicles available to the restaurant industry to book tables and build customer relationships. High quality email campaigns can deliver effective messages that drive action and clients to your restaurant.
Email marketing can be a tricky proposition. People hate email spam and often they delete any email that they don’t think is useful or interesting to them. For your email campaigns to be truly effective, they must be managed properly and conducted in a professional manner. This article provides restaurateurs with some practical tips for conducting effective email marketing campaigns that maximize their return on investment.
If you want your restaurant email marketing to be effective, it’s important for you to develop a targeted, permission-based database. Email addresses can be collected either on your restaurant’s website or at your place when your clients are eating. Let’s look at both:
1.- Create an opt-in form on your website so that visitors to your site can sign up for specials and promotional offers. (If you don’t know how to do this, ask your web site designer to do it for you.)
You may want to offer an additional incentive to sign up, such as coupons, etc. I propose to give discounts or gift certificates as an incentive to capture email information.
Once your visitors hit “Send” on the opt-in form, they receive a confirmation email verifying that they have been added to your mailing list. If they are not interested in getting your emails, they can simply “unsubscribe.” You need to always give your clients the ability to easily unsubscribe from your emailing list in case they think that your emails don’t give them enough value.
To automate this process, you will use what it’s called Autoresponders. (Please read my previous blog for more information about autoresponders)
Basically, an autoresponder is a computer program that automatically answers e-mail sent to it.
Studies show that it takes, on average, at least five or more contacts with most of your potential customers before they finally decide to buy, or in this case, to go to your restaurant.
They get busy and forget. Or they haven’t really absorbed what your offer can do for them…
Using an autoresponder system, you can send emails to the people who subscribe to your site on the schedule you set. Usually, you will send the first email with the coupon the same day they subscribe to your list. Then, three days later you can send them a reminder to visit you place (if they haven’t already done so). You can track whether or not they visit you and delete these customers from your autoresponder, although you may still want to keep them in your list. If they still didn’t come to your place, you can follow up with another autoresponder a week after that.
Meanwhile, you’re off running your restaurant as all these processes happens in the backend. You don’t have to make sales calls or remember to email your potential customers. You don’t even have to enter each new prospect into your database; even that is automatic. All you have to do is keep track of the new customers coming to your restaurant and delete them from your initial autoresponders so that they don’t get annoyed by your automatic emails reminding them to visit your place, since they already did.
This is what a “sequential autoresponder” can do for your business. That’s a fancy name for a system that automatically sends a series of emails that you set up once, and then walk away to let it work all by itself. You load your messages, designed to build one upon the other… the prospect opts in to get your discount coupon… and without any other work on your part, that prospect receives a series of personally addressed mailings on the schedule you’ve set, until the series is complete or until that prospect unsubscribes from your list.
With an autoresponder program, you can also monitor how many emails are opened, how any readers click through, what geographic regions bring the best responses, and more.
You can use this system all sorts of creative and profitable ways. A few examples:
• Deliver a series of staggered reminders to use the coupon that they’ve received when they subscribed.
• Send your regular daily, weekly, or monthly newsletter.
• Start a reminder service to keep you and your staff aware of your customers’ important birthdays, anniversaries, etc.
• Communicate your specials, events, etc.
2.- Collect email addresses at your restaurant.
In addition to collecting addresses on your website, you can also collect email addresses at your restaurant. Approach your happy clients at the end of their meals and ask them for permission (on an opt-in card) to get their emails so that you can send them information, discounts, coupons, etc. via email.
Or better yet, you can use a nifty gadget called Sterizon wiZit. The Sterizon wiZit is a small wireless, portable, handheld WiFi device for collecting customer information and feedback at your restaurant. You just hand out the device to your clients, and they will enter the information themselves. No spelling mistakes, no errors with emails, they do the job for you.
If you have done your homework and have provided your clients with a memorable eating experience, they will most likely willing to share their emails with you.
Now, this is very important: Enter the information of that client directly on your website form (or ask somebody from your staff to do it for you). By following this process, you assure that all the information is collected in the central database, and that they are legitimate email addresses following the opt-in process.
Now what do you supposed to do with all these emails?
When you send emails, please try not to make them an obvious sales pitch. People hate to be told what to buy or where to go for a dinner. Instead, use email to communicate with your clients as follows:
Some examples could be a special event or gala hosted to raise money for charity, a special wine dinner, etc. You can also announce festivity specials such as Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, Holidays, Christmas, etc.
Not only they will appreciate your thoughtfulness, but they will also probably honor the coupon and bring along lots of family and/or friends to celebrate at your place!
Please notice that if you have the mailing address of your clients, it is better (and classier) to send them a printed coupon with a personal Happy B-day letter or card. You can have these cards pre-printed, and just be sure to add a personalized note with the name of your client. Use email only when this is the only contact information that you have about your clients.
As you can see, Restaurant Email Marketing can be used very effectively to bring clients back to your restaurant and keep your place fresh in their minds, so that they will book your place instead of somebody else’s when they think about their next meal out, specially if you give them the motivation via discounts or gift certificates.
With your email campaigns, you will also build stronger relationships with your clients and they will have an opportunity to give you feedback that you can act on and improve upon.
It’s a win/win situation for both of you!
Jose L Riesco