Is the catering industry suited to the world of email marketing? At first thought, you might not think so - after all, how do you promote food over the Internet? Can you convey how something tastes in an email? It turns out that with a little creativity every restauranteur and pub or cafe manager can use email marketing tools to gain customers, drive revenue and impact their bottom line. Let’s take a look at how some of the biggest players in the game have dealt with this challenge and use what they’ve done as inpiration for what the rest of us can do.
Where to start?
Collecting email adrresses through website sing-up forms or links in social media channels is quite common but surprisingly few restaurants do it when the customer is actually in the restaurant. It is hard to imagine a faster and more effective way to get in touch with potential subscribers than talking face-to-face. Good opportunities to ask for email address include:
- making it easy to sign up for a newsletter while at the bar in a restaurant or at a hotel reception desk - it’s enough to leave a tablet with a mobile sign-up application FreshForm or you can even use paper sign-up forms if the old school approach better suits you. A direct request to leave an email address with an attention-grabbing call-to-action describing the benefits of the subscription is a proven and effective strategy.
- asking customers about their experience when it’s time for them to pay for their meal, drinks, etc. This is a good time to ask them about their opinion on their experience and to entice them to do so by offering some kind of incentive - a free glass of wine, dessert, etc. - to use on their next visit in return for completing a short questionnaire and providing their email address. A satisfied customer will be happy to stay in touch with restaurant and benefit from special offers or discounts. All you have to do is show them that it’s possible and how to do it.
To make sure that every potential subscriber of a hotel, cafe or restaurant newsletter has been informed about it, you might also want to support your staff with printed materials:
- Menus are a perfect place to put the address of your newsletter website. That’s where customer attention is intensely focused while they decide what they would like to order so why not mention the benefits of joining your subscriber list?
- 'takeaway' containers and packaging also offer a chance to attract subscribers. Use them to place all of your email and social media contact information so that customers can get to know you online at a time that’s convenient for them.
Once you’ve built even a small mailing list you have established a new communication channel. You can use it to tempt customers to future visits, to build a unique image of your pub or restaurant and inform subscribers about interesting events. Your possibilities in this new medium are only limited by your imagination. Check out these examples.
Stand out from the competition
This clip illustrates how, by emphasizing the features that distinguish your restaurant, you can attract customers even if your rivals are some of the biggest names in the business, like McDonald's.
Both the film and advertisement show Andy Puzder, President and founder of the fast-food restaurant chain Carl's Jr. & Hardee's, refering to changes that occurred in 2013 in the McDonald's menu that frustrated McDonald's customers. He presents Carl's Jr. & Hardee's as the first chain that stepped in to fill a void in the market by offering customers burgers made with 100% Black Angus beef.
The same idea works in smaller restaurants and food service chains. You just need to identify what really distinguishes your establishment. Maybe an exotic dish on the menu? A babysitter available throughout your visit or perhaps a workshop in preparing unusual dishes? This information is great material for invitational mail that will help subscribers remember a restaurant as a place where something stands out. What's more, an interesting and elegant newsletter refers to the visual identity and appearance of the premises and is another opportunity to periodically remind customers about a pub or cafe.
Show that you are doing something charitable
Starbucks’ cooperation with the Red Cross to help victims of the earthquake in Haiti drew a lot attention in the United States and Canada to the fact that they are committed to helping those in need. The chain used a newsletter to present itself as an organization with concerns beyond profits and business and involved with searching for solutions to social problems. Using the large reach of its email marketing campaign and the opportunity to influence the attitudes of customers, Starbucks tries to do something good for the world.
It may be on a much smaller scale, but any pub, cafe or restaurant can take similar action. You can organize support for any social cause and openly communicate it via email marketing. The restaurant can give out free meals for people in need, take part in a local waste segregation initiative or publicize the need for more social action. A newsletter is not only useful for reminding customers about the business, but can show a more human face of the restaurant at the same time.
Remind customers of special moments, tastes and sensations
It is difficult to think of another product besides food which depends so much on the senses when persuading potential customers. The look, taste and smell of a food are often imprinted in the memories of anyone who has tried it. An image of an appetizing dish or the location where a customer spent a pleasant or important moments stimulates the neural connections responsible for that association. A well-designed email marketing campaign can remind customers of their last visit and be a stimulus to the next one, especially when it is accompanied by a special offer or discount only for subscribers.
Much on this topic can be learned from Pizza Hut. The following newsletter tempts every subscriber and puts their pizza on your mind.
The Sono chain of sushi restaurants uses images from their locations to remind customers of the unique atmosphere and tastes association with their locations. Add a great promotional price and you have the recipe for a your next visit to Sono.
I hope that these examples show you a different perspective on the use of mailings and newsletters in the catering industry. Sometimes just a good idea or inspiration is enough to breathe some new life into your promotional activities - even in business sectors where you might think that the advantages of email might not apply.