Wednesday, September 17, 2014

None-Too-Small: Email Marketing for the Independent Restaurant

(cross-posting my article which originally appeared on LinkedIn)

Is there any business that can't benefit from Email Marketing? I'm not sure there is. This might be the first in a series - please feel free to try to stump me by suggesting industries where email marketing wouldn't be successful.

Let's take the small, independent restaurant. Imagine their protest:

"We're not selling anything online."

No, you're using email as a reminder to bring repeat business to your physical retail location. Your conversion will look different from that of an online retailer, but you'll still see a lift from sending out emails. If someone's indicated to you that they want to be on your newsletter, it will serve as a great reminder to get them back in again.

Pick your slowest night of the week, send it around 1:30 in the afternoon and remind them that you offer take-out.

"We don't know who our customers are."

You should. People want to be known, noticed, made to feel special.

Give them a printed card with their receipt that they can fill out and drop off on their way out the door or leave with their signed receipt. Don't ask for too much or you'll get fewer responses. Email address, first name, optional birthday (month/day only) is probably good enough. Be prepared for bogus (and sometimes rude) responses and run them through a double-opt-in to make sure they're serious. Don't wait too long, though, or they'll forget they signed up.

(Ed.: A reader on LinkedIn also suggested Text-to-Subscribe - using a text message from their phone.)

"We don't have time for that."

There are companies (like mine) who can handle this for you rather inexpensively. They'll collect the cards (or you fax or email), enter them into the database, perform the double-opt-in and perform the sends on your behalf.

"We can't afford to be sending out coupons all the time."

While it is true that many have become conditioned to expect coupons, it's not an absolute. There may be cases where this is a good idea, but more on that later.

But there are plenty of other things you can send them.

"We don't have enough to say to bother with a newsletter."

You do. Trust me, there are some customers who think of you as friends, even if their visits are infrequent and you don't necessarily know them as well as they know you. (I'm thinking of Betty and Ernie at Aloha Food Factory in Alhambra as I write this. So good but so far away. Alas.) They come back repeatedly because the enjoy the experience, love the food and want to support local independent restaurants. What could a newsletter to people like that include?

  • Reviews from other customers (especially those posted on other sites like Yelp - increases trust)
  • Special invitation to order new exclusive item not yet on the menu
  • Opportunity to vote or provide feedback on new potential menu items
  • Highlight new seasonal items
  • Talk about the quality ingredients or the sourcing if that's an element
  • Free (fortune cookie, soft drink, etc.) on your birthday with paid order
  • A discount on a larger to-go or catering opportunity (where you've already got better margins and the opportunity to expose your food to a larger audience)
  • "Share this" coupons (encourages them to print out the email and give to friends or to bring friends)
  • Celebration of staff achievements outside of work (to promote the "family" feel if that's core to your restaurant's experience)
  • Celebration of the Little League or PeeWee team your restaurant sponsors
  • Charity or fundraising nights
  • Reminders about things like gift certificates
  • Stories of customers who recently celebrated big occasions at your restaurant (anniversaries, proposals, birthdays) and how you can help make that special night a little more special

The options, really, are endless. You (or your family) started this restaurant because you knew you had something unique and different to offer. According to Business Week (2007), success rates for restaurants are around 40% (43% for franchise). You owe it to yourself to make every effort to make sure those who love you don't forget you.

So let's get sending. For a small independent restaurant, I would recommend mailing once or twice per month.

I founded BoostCE ( to help small businesses write successful digital marketing success stories. Let's connect if you'd like to learn more about how I can help.
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