How Restaurants Can Capture More Customer Demand With Email

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Many restaurants have shut their doors or switched to offering delivery or pickup options during the coronavirus lockdown. There is incredible uncertainty for the industry, with a large number of restaurants still closed, and the fear that social distancing will limit capacity to the point of unprofitability. Yet many others are carrying on. Fast food restaurants are still attracting customers. Restaurants are considering opening outdoor dining or are already doing so in many places. And many are finding that curbside pickup has helped them stay afloat and that they will continue as they consider dine-in options.

With so much variation across the industry, great communication with customers is very important — especially when things are changing week by week. Qualtrics reported that 68% of Americans say they would feel uncomfortable eating at a restaurant, but it’s not the same everywhere. Data from ADARA shows that dining reservations in certain cities including Atlanta and Dallas are already trending back up. 

Email is often the primary channel for restaurants to stay in touch with customers and let them know about changes. When email is done right, there are many small ways restaurants can use it to personalize messaging, drive more engagement, and make their lives easier with scalable best practices. Chipotle learned this in 2015 when their “Dear Valued Customer” emails generated responses that their emails didn’t feel genuine. They learned and now use personalization to create engaging messaging for their 8.5 million loyalty members that is winning them positive customer reviews through the coronavirus pandemic.

Here is a list of email upgrades that will drive value for restaurants fast: 

Tap-to-text moves customers from email to texts, which increases app-downloads, frequency of engagement, and makes communication during an order easier. Simply send an email that asks customers to join SMS with a single click.

Personalize with “moment-of-open” data, which not only keeps content fresh, but also reduces the need to manually create new emails every day. With a single template that includes a moment-of-open element, restaurants can set rules that share the daily special, that day’s operating hours, or even social distancing rules by region.

Enhance trigger email templates by embedding a live feed that can pull in content from other places. For example, restaurants can share a photo of the day from their social media accounts or link to breaking news.

Use dynamic content features so emails can be updated even after they are sent. For example, display the most recent menu when the customer opens their email. Dynamic content helps mitigate any mistakes such as wrong hours or a missing phone number. It can also help restaurants update offers coupons and images easily without having to send out a new email push.

Use streaming video to increase engagement. Perhaps the chef has a live cooking video or the bartender is hosting a virtual happy hour. Adding these personal video elements can keep customers in touch with their favorite elements of the dining experience. What’s more, sharing UGC from customers can help create a community feel to marketing messages.

Build renewed confidence by adding recent reviews. Recent reviews not only make the customer feel more comfortable about what to expect and how safe they might be but also show that things are actually back in business.

Use local and time elements like countdown times and maps to highlight things like reopenings or the arrival of a new seasonal dish that is a customer favorite. Giving customers reason to plan ahead makes dining more than a spur-of-the-moment idea, and more of an event to which they can look forward.

Personalize dining options by location. Make sure no customer mistakenly gets a message that take-out is available for a location where it isn’t. Have more flexibility to offer delivery for locations where it’s raining that day or let people know if outdoor dining is open when the weather is nice.

Gretchen Scheiman is senior director of marketing at Liveclicker.