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7 strategies for growing your restaurant email list

Learn seven foolproof strategies for growing your restaurant email list in this PosterMyWall live class presented by Melissa Libby, president of Melissa Libby & Associates.

Email marketing is an incredible way to build lasting relationships with new and existing bar and restaurant customers. Today, roughly four billion people have at least one email address, which is more than the number of users on all major social media platforms combined. 

In this week’s live class by PosterMyWall, Melissa Libby shared her tried-and-tested strategies for building a robust email database. Melissa is the president of Melissa Libby & Associates – an Atlanta-based public relations and communications agency that serves clients in the food, beverage, and retail industries. 

Why is email relevant?

The four billion email users worldwide we mentioned earlier aren’t the only reason that businesses should be using email to communicate with their customers. Use email to:

  • Build your loyalty program. Through email, you can send special offers to your loyalty program members and ask them to refer you to their friends. You can also use it to introduce a rewards point system – the more people spend, the more points they earn toward a free meal. 
  • Promote new dishes, deals, daily specials, and important news. This email from Marlow’s Tavern mentions new menu items, a “help wanted” ad, and curbside pickup and delivery services – all in one seamless email.
  • Sell tickets to an event. Stem Wine Bar sells tickets to its weekly wine tasting events through email. The events sell out every time because Stem Wine Bar has built a relationship with their customers – who look forward to attending. 
  • Attract new customers and bring existing customers back to your restaurant.
  • Grow restaurant revenue by directly marketing to individual customers.

Tips for a good email program

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that you should be sending your emails to the right people rather than a lot of people. It’s a lot more beneficial to have 50 people on your list who live close by and are interested in your food, than it is to have the email addresses of 500 people who live 50 miles away or don’t think highly of the kind of food you serve.

Also, it’s a good practice to ensure that everyone on your email list has actively agreed to receive your emails. You don’t want to spam people, which can get you in trouble in some countries. Make sure to add a small “Unsubscribe” button at the end of your emails too so people know they can opt out of the list at any time. 

Be realistic about how often you are going to send emails. Start with once a month and build from there if you have enough content. Or send out an occasional additional email when you have an event coming up or a new dish you’d like to promote. 

Atlanta restaurant, Aria, sends out a new email everyday to share its daily curbside pickup menu. Customers look forward to learning what new options they’ll have to choose from. 

The best practice is to “give, give, take.” In other words, you should provide something of value to your customers twice as often as you ask them to buy something. Give them offers, perks, and discounts – and only then ask them to come eat at your restaurant. Nobody wants to feel like they’re being sold to. 

Whiskey Bird follows the “give, give, take” formula in its email by sharing menu specials, and publishing recipes and Q&As with its servers. Then, it follows up with a link inviting patrons to make reservations. This approach gives its newsletter a warm, “you’re part of our family,” feel.

It also helps to have a professional platform to send your emails from. Look for a service that makes it fast and easy to create and send emails, plus store your email lists. One option is PosterMyWall’s email tool which makes it very simple to create and send beautiful emails.

7 ways to build your email database

Now that you know how important email marketing is and how to approach it, it’s time to collect your customers’ email addresses and build your database. You may be starting from scratch or looking to grow an existing list. Either way, here are some strategies to keep in mind. 

1. Create incentives for your staff

Your staff, especially servers, can do a great job of collecting emails from customers. Especially if you give them an incentive.

Ask team members to approach customers individually and fill out a form or scan a QR code to bring up an online subscription form. Or collect email addresses on a tablet. Instruct them to collect the email address of everyone at the table, not just the person who pays for the food. 

For the incentive, you might award whoever collects the most emails a gift, such as a dinner at a nice restaurant, a bottle of wine, event tickets, or a Starbucks gift card. You might also reward whoever finishes in second and third place.

2. Place a fishbowl at reception

This may seem like an old school strategy, but it works. Place a giant fishbowl near the doorway of your restaurant so people can see it as they come and go. Then add a small sign, encouraging people to drop in their business cards. 

Increase participation by adding a raffle. One lucky card-dropper could receive a voucher for a free dinner for two, or something similar. You’ll be surprised how readily people give their information when there’s an opportunity to win something.

3. Import contacts from your reservation system

If you have an electronic reservation system, such as Resy or Open Table, they are already collecting your patrons’ email addresses and obtaining their permission to be contacted by email. You just have to download the email addresses to take advantage of it. 

We suggest that you download your reservation emails once every two weeks and immediately add them to your email list. If you don’t make it a point to do this regularly, you’ll likely miss some emails.

4. Capture information at events

Set up a booth at festivals, trade shows, farmers’ markets, and other community events. Tell people about your restaurant, give out free samples, and most importantly, ask for their contact information. This is easy to do with an iPad or by sharing a QR code that links to a subscription form.

Show your new subscribers your appreciation by sending them a $5-off coupon the next day. This will help them remember you, make a good impression, and entice them to come dine with you. 

5. Collect subscriptions on your website

One of the easiest ways to grow your email marketing list is to use a pop-up form on your website. Invite people who visit your website to sign up and let them know what to expect in terms of frequency and content. Write your copy in a tone that represents your brand.

Cowboy Chicken invites its website visitors to sign up for its “Campfire Club.” Not only does the name reflect the restaurant’s fun brand, the word “club”  implies exclusivity, adds intrigue, and makes people more likely to sign up. Cowboy Chicken is very clear that its monthly outreach will include coupons, discounts, and news. 

6.  Provide a thank you gift to new subscribers

A free gift can go a long way in enticing people to share their email address. This can be as simple as a free drink or dessert. Cowboy Chicken seals the deal with its patrons by giving a free Peach Cobbler to every new Campfire Club newsletter subscriber. 

7. Promote your newsletter everywhere 

No place is off limits or inappropriate when it comes to promoting your newsletter. Mention your newsletter on your menu, table napkins, and on posters hung around your restaurant. Place comment cards on each table, and give people the option to sign up for your newsletter at the bottom. 

Advertise your newsletter on all of your social media pages. A brief “don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter!” at the bottom of your posts can help bring in more sign-ups. 

Building an effective email marketing campaign takes some work. But if you use these strategies to build a list of quality subscribers, then send them content that is authentic and engaging, your efforts will pay off in no time. 

Bonus: Download Melissa’s presentation on how to grow your email list.