Three ways to master restaurant email marketing

Updated on 26th January 2022

Paper fliers. Print advertisements. Billboards. Email marketing has become all of these methods rolled into one.

For restaurants, emails can be one of the most effective ways to communicate with guests. After all, they are one of the few marketing methods that go directly to potential customers’ inboxes and inform them of events, special menus and the latest news. Email marketing is an important part of an arsenal of tools that today’s restaurant owners use to set themselves apart, bring in new guests and drive revenue.

“The reason why email marketing is crucial is because it’s an opportunity for restaurants to engage,” says Chris O’Leary, marketing expert for the hospitality industry. “Everyone on an email list wants to be there, so you have a captive audience that is having an interaction with a restaurant they like.” Chris has worked with restaurants, helping them craft a marketing plan that speaks to what they do best. 

It all starts with what Chris calls a “nugget of gold,” or a brand narrative that gets to the heart of what that restaurant is all about. “It’s all about ‘storytelling marketing,’ he explains. “Restaurants need a brand narrative and editorial calendar around 10 to twenty words that summarise their business.” From there he helps create marketing emails that go out to subscribers.

Here, he talks to OpenTable about how to build an email marketing campaign that will draw in new guests and delight existing diners.

Build your database

So, you’ve decided to start an email newsletter for your restaurant. What’s the first step you need to take to make it successful? Work on adding as many people as possible to your list. If you’re just starting out he recommends that you add an email capture feature to your business’ existing website and include an offer to go with it. “One way to get people to add their email to a list is to add a compelling hook,” he advises. “For example, if someone signs up they get a free bisque or a beer. Add that offer to your social media posts too, to encourage email sign ups.”

Diners should also be asked to join the email list. O’Leary says something as simple as having a container where people can leave their business cards is a great way to start to capture emails and add them to your subscriber list. “Also, when people come in and dine, offer them a chance to join the email list by asking servers to mention it.”

Content before coupons

Surprisingly, customers don’t just want coupons when they sign up for an email newsletter, says O’Leary. “Customers don’t want offers, they want content,” he says. While coupons and offers add value, content that is relevant to your restaurant, whether it’s an article or blog post, adds a story which carries its own sort of value. 

“If a seafood restaurant started a promotion with a seasonal micro brew and sent an email about the company behind that beer, that would be a great way to tell a story and add value,” O’Leary says. After the content, add an offer or coupon to the bottom of the email. Once they’ve interacted with the content they’ll be more likely to see it’s a value and want to come into the restaurant to participate in the offer.

Subject lines are important

Just like the title of a book, subject lines can attract or repel potential readers of your marketing emails. “The subject line is crucial,” says O’Leary. “Add some mystery or intrigue and make it short, sweet and punchy.” Sure, ‘Monthly Newsletter’ is to the point but it’s not enough to make someone open an email. 

“In the early days of email you were so excited to get an email from someone that you opened it right away,” O’Leary says. “These days we all get loads of email so it really has to stand out for people to care.” Think about your own inbox – which email subject lines make you want to open certain messages? Make your subject lines intriguing so your guests want to see what’s inside.

Building a list of email subscribers can be a slow process but it’s ultimately worth it. “An email reader is more interested than a social media reader,” he says. Email marketing is a great way to get guests to interact with your restaurant and become regulars.

Boosting communications with email

Emails offer a great way to engage with past and future guests, and you stand more chance of striking a chord with them because they’re already opted in. As long as the content is interesting, you can build up a loyal email following. And with OpenTable, you can enjoy extra email marketing support with targeted campaigns to guests, the ability to capture special diner information and much more. 

Find out more about email marketing with OpenTable