When you run a restaurant, your objective is pretty simple: Get people in seats, and keep them there. Sounds easy enough, although the thousands of American restaurant owners who shutter their doors each year may beg to differ. What today’s restaurant owners absolutely MUST be doing is not only one of the easiest and most affordable methods of increasing business that modern technology allows; it’s also one of the most underutilized.
Build an email database, and use it.
Seriously. Securing lifelong customer is that simple. You worked hard to get guests through your door or to your website using ad buys, and earned publicity through various social media efforts. But once you get them there, you’ve got to capture their info if you truly want to convert them to long-time customers.
The fact of the matter is, customers all have short attention spans. Because we live in an instant gratification-obsessed society, with so many new venues and eateries opening at every turn, it’s entirely too easy to fall off the restaurant radar. If you’re not reminding customers to come to your restaurant via email, you better believe another restaurant is reminding them to come to theirs.
“But I don’t want to blast my customers with unwanted SPAM,” say many misguided restaurant owners.
Here’s the thing – your fans want to hear from you. You were able to collect these emails in the first place because these individuals knowingly opted in to your email database, and they want to know more about you and what you’re up to at your restaurant! You aren’t “cold-calling” by blasting out information about special events, menu changes. or upcoming discounts and deals to an audience who willingly signed up for them. And if at any time someone does desire removal, there’s always that useful little “unsubscribe” feature where they can remove themselves with nothing more than the touch of a button.
So…how do we build the database?
Check Presenters. Our restaurant clients have had great success utilizing a number of different methods. Using your check presenters is one of the easiest. I know, I know – no one ever looks at those things. But just as suggestive selling works for your servers when pitching a particular dish, (“Our Lobster Diavolo is out of this world tonight, and only here for a few days…”) a simple mention of the email form in the check presenter is more often than not enough to warrant a second look. Staff incentives are a great way to ensure they actually do this. Give a $50 gift card, first-cut status or whatever else you can think of to the server that scores the most emails within a given shift.
Social Media Contests. In one instance, we ran a tiny, short-term website and social media contest for one of our clients where participants submitted their emails as part of the process. Within five days, we’d collected more than 800 new guest emails via Facebook…and the budget? Less than $50. Talk about a ROI.
Email Capture. Another tremendously effective method of capturing emails is by utilizing an aggressive email capture feature on your website. Sure, you can make a little note on your “Contact Us” page that politely asks your customers to plug in an email, but what if they’re just checking out the menu and never make it to that “Contact Us” page in the first place? Our client websites all share a feature set to a timer that pops up a quick hello and a reminder to enter your email address to be invited to future parties, be kept in the know of upcoming specials, etc. The feature pops up 10 to 15 seconds after they’ve been on your page. It’s not mandatory, but often, all someone on your website needs is a little reminder and a subtle call to action.
Phone Reservations. Finally, there’s always the good old phone. Train your staff to take a reservation and then say something along the lines of “Thank you for the reservations, we’d love to stay in touch via email as well. Do you have an email address we can contact?” Pop those right into OpenTable!
While creating and utilizing an email database in general doesn’t require a lot of effort, there are a few things to note about the process.
- Utilize every possible method to build and expand your database. A missed opportunity is often a missed lifelong customer.
- Employ an aggressive email capture system. Sometimes people just need a subtle nudge.
- Direct that database to all of your social media and any restaurant review sites where you’re featured.
- Keep in contact one to two times per month. Frequency is key because diners have an incredibly short-term memory.
- Remember that these are people who first expressed an interest in YOU – not the other way around. There’s nothing unethical or annoying about staying in regular contact with them (within reason)!
- Underestimate the power of capturing an email address. In our restaurants, it’s the number one tool we leverage.
- Forget to train your staff and utilize incentives to ensure they push the email sign-up.
- Hesitate to use features like Facebook’s geo-target option to build a local audience you can then entice with special promotions, social media contests and the like.
- Let a customer off the phone without first politely requesting you be able to stay in contact.
- Forget to use that email database to promote anything and everything of interest to your guests, from special events and menu changes to upcoming discounts and private dining opportunities.
It’s simple, it’s affordable and it’s effective. I’ve been in this industry a long time now, and I can’t think of a single other marketing or publicity effort that’s as critical as database-building in helping restaurants connect with the modern consumer.