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Best Practices In Email Marketing - A Step-By-Step Guide To Making Your Restaurant Top Of Mind With Customers


By Lisa Sparks

Stretch a buck. Do more with less. Frugality is in and simple is the new extravagant. What does this mean for restaurateurs? People are still dining out; they're just doing it less often. The key to getting diners into your establishment when they are ready to spend their declining discretionary income is to stay fresh in their minds at the point of decision, and that calls for savvy marketing. Email newsletters are an especially effective, affordable and easy marketing option that can help keep your establishment in the forefront of diners' minds when they make plans for a valued night out.

Step One: Plan ahead and use the right communication for the right time

Plan a six-month period to establish or modify your communications with diners. Set goals for what you want to accomplish and allow for regular analysis of your program. You'll always have the flexibility to make adjustments in response to your customers' needs and the changing market, but a plan puts you in charge.

Are you trying to motivate repeat business? Do you want to highlight special events? Do you want to highlight your wine list, regional cuisine or award-winning chef? Think about the points you want to make, and determine when and how to highlight the competitive advantages of your restaurant.

Also consider the people on your email subscriber list. What are their needs, desires and interests? What holidays and other calendar events tend to drive foot traffic? By knowing what keeps patrons coming through your door, you can engage customers in communications that are meaningful and build stronger relationships.

Think about what kinds of campaigns you may use. You have many options including newsletters, holiday or seasonal promotions, preferred customer events, new menu items and more. You may want to have different templates in place for different kinds of communications so your readers know immediately what to expect when they open the email. By striking the most welcome balance between steady communication and one-off emails for special offers or events, you'll raise the likelihood that diners will think of you for a typical night out and/or a special occasion.

Step Two: It's all in the timing

How often can you realistically do a newsletter? A promotional offer? A special event? Most businesses should communicate at least twice monthly -- more often if your event calendar dictates it. If you're just starting out or managing campaigns by yourself, communicate quarterly at a minimum. Email permission is perishable, so it's important that you commit and stick to a schedule you can manage, and follow up with subscribers who opt-in to your list promptly by sending a quick acknowledgement even before they receive their first newsletter.

One time-saver for the combination chef/manager/marketer is to write some of the copy on evergreen topics during the slower parts of the year. Then you can add current content, such as what's fresh from your seasonal garden, and complete the newsletter faster than if you had to write every article.

When is your audience most likely to open and read your message? While audiences vary, we have found that mid-day delivery is better than mornings or evenings. Choosing the right day of the week is also important. Some have found Tuesday and Wednesday achieve better results than the beginning or the end of the week. Your audience may be different, so do some testing to determine the delivery timing that is right for you.

Step Three: Analyze and revise

There is no replacement for analyzing your email tracking reports. Then you can adjust your campaigns based on what you learn about your customers and what works best for you.

Your tracking and reporting data is a treasure trove of information about your customers' responses to your communications. Your tracking data is posted for 90 days, so take a look back and find out who's opening, who's clicking through, and which subject lines worked best. The data will tell you which calls to action were most effective and you can tailor promotions to subscribers based on what you learned. It may also be useful to subscribe to newsletters and special offer notices from your competitors to get a better sense of what's working for them.

The lion's share of the work is not in creating the communications, but in analyzing the results and nurturing better responses. Build regular analysis into your campaigns -- at least quarterly. Make it a priority.

Step Four: Let the diners decide

Not all diners seek the same things from you. Everywhere you reach your customers - at the host stand, tableside, or on your website - you can invite diners to join your mailing list and offer them the opportunity to decide what kind of messages they receive. By segmenting your list, you will give customers what they most want to know, whether it's daily specials, holiday events, or a newsletter filled with valuable information.

You can offer everyone who receives an email from you the chance to set their frequency options to receive the newsletter more or less frequently. For instance, offer diners the opportunity to receive weekly, bi-weekly or monthly communications from your restaurant. Not only does this increase goodwill but it will increase the percentage of people opening your emails.

For more information on how to create a successful email communications strategy and stay top of mind, please visit http://www.constantcontact.com.


Lisa Sparks is Constant Contact's Regional Development Director for South Florida. With 15 years of experience in marketing, copywriting, and small business consulting, Lisa understands the challenges small businesses face and which tools they need to succeed. An accomplished public speaker and trainer, Lisa offers free seminars, interactive workshops, and industry-specific programs on email marketing in the South Florida area.





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