How Restaurateurs Can Successfully Build Customer Lists for Their Email Programs

By Rick Zambrano, Foodable Industry Expert

Engaging customers is a central and key driver of repeat business. And emails are an important tool for restaurateurs to get their brand promise across and put a spotlight on their brand experience. Both Forbes magazine articles and McKinsey & Company have identified in the recent past that email is a more effective tool than social media, which has become one of the best marketing tactics to engage customers. For email, building lists is not a hard task, but it requires a constant commitment. Better yet, according to McKinsey, email can be 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter combined.

Let’s look at a few ways that restaurateurs can build their email lists:

  1. Loyalty marketing/frequent diner programs
  2. Special events
  3. Rewards for emails
  4. Sweepstakes
  5. Special landing pages

Frequent diner programs can be enticing and effective in giving restaurateurs a direct channel to customers. Surprisingly, there are still fast-casual restaurant chains in several categories that do not have a frequent diner program in place. Starbucks boasts one of the most successful reward programs though the Starbucks card/app and it’s able to lower transaction costs because of it. That constant communication with customers that comes from its email marketing programs is second to none. The chain is able to constantly build its lists and find new ways to bring repeat business to its stores.

Special events, including dinner pairings, holiday parties, celebrations, and tasting events are a great way to collect emails from customers. I’m amazed at how many times I’m asked to call a phone number to RSVP for a special event, instead of signing up online. Use any of these events as a way to subscribe customers to your email list, whether for your own newsletter or for targeted blasts to customers. Make sure you get customers’ permission by adding a check box to opt in or allowing them to opt out directly on the subscription page.

Smashclub sign up

Trade a free dessert or drink for a customer’s email. At Maggiano’s, new subscribers to its E-Club are offered a dollar amount reward when they sign up. At Smashburger, customers can join its email list and receive a free order of french fries. At Paladar, a Latin-style casual dining chain and lounge, new customers receive a free order of chips when they sign up for the email club. Use rewards to obtain emails from customers and make sure you keep that information safe and don’t share it with other parties.

Nearly everyone likes to win a prize. Sweepstakes are another way to receive email lists and business cards from customers. It’s been done many times by all types of restaurateurs and written about nearly just as much. Raffle off prizes and free sides, drinks and desserts each week. Ask new guests to drop off their business cards or fill out a information card in exchange for a chance to win a prize. Additionally, if you promote a charity, launch a fundraiser for a community organization, or do any type of promotion for another business, make sure you also use the related special web or landing pages to collect email addresses, promising sign-up for loyalty program, eclub memberships or news about your restaurant.

Keeping in touch with customers and communicating with them through email is a sound way to engage customers, to help them stay informed and to drive repeat business. There are many ways to do so and the list here is just the tip of the iceberg. New technology is making it easier to collect emails. In-restaurant table-top tablets and kiosks are also getting this done. Paperless point-of-sale systems also help collect emails by promising customers a paper-free copy of their transactions. With emails in hand, many restaurateurs this year will find ways to grow their business and keep customers interested in what they’re doing–even with the competition that could pull these customers away.