This post was last updated on Feb 19, 2021.
DISCLAIMER: This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, accounting, tax, HR, or other professional advice. You are responsible for your own compliance with laws and regulations. You should contact your attorney or other relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.
An email newsletter is one of the most powerful strategies in a restaurant marketing plan.
Why? Because the regular, predictable cadence of an email newsletter is a great way to build relationships, nurture customers, and create long-term loyalty. But that’s true only when your restaurant newsletter is done right.
Here are some steps to building a must-read restaurant newsletter for your business.
Understand the difference between an email newsletter and email marketing.
An email newsletter is a marketing tool designed primarily to engage, educate, and nurture customers over time. An email marketing campaign is designed primarily to sell.
A newsletter might include sales opportunities and calls to action, but its main goal is to create a connection between you and your customers.
How do I get started?
Secure your platform. There are countless email newsletter platforms that offer existing design templates, such as MailChimp or Toast Marketing for Restaurants. Most are easily customizable to match your restaurant’s branding, look and feel. If you are a chef-owner, consider including your photo either at the header or at the end of a newsletter. Doing so helps further that important human connection.
Encourage newsletter signups.
Include sign-up prompts into every customer touch point: as guests make a reservation; a line on the check or a comment card presented after the meal; via your restaurant’s social channels; on your restaurant’s website. You can also ask your existing subscribers to refer new subscribers (more on this below).
Remember that permission matters. You can’t add a customer to your email list without their express consent. It’s the law).
Don’t focus on list size. Focus on list quality.
There is no minimum number of subscribers required to start an email newsletter. If you have only 20 subscribers, that’s a big enough list.
Leverage existing subscribers to grow your list: Include an ask in each newsletter that encourages your existing subscribing to forward the email to friends and family who may also be interested in receiving the newsletter. For that reason, always include a sign-up link as well as a Forward button in each issue.
Food blogger Sue Lightfoot Moran includes both her photo to encourage personal connection as well as a forward button:
Create an onboarding sequence.
Start your relationship with a new subscriber off right by sending a Welcome email to each new subscriber. Research shows that More than 50% of brands don’t automatically send a welcome email when their customers or potential customers subscribe. Yet 74% of new subscribers expect a Welcome email and subscribers show a 33% higher engagement rate on a long-term basis, according to research.
You can automate this task in your email platform of choice. But be sure it matches the look, feel, and tone of your regular newsletter.
What should you say in your Welcome email, aside from the obvious Welcome? You can set expectations by letting a subscriber know how often they’ll hear from you. A nice touch might also be to offer a special insider item to create an air of exclusivity: Maybe a look at the kitchen, or a link to a video greeting from the chef, or a favorite recipe. Remember: Your goal is to build a relationship.
Planning your restaurant promotions with a budget in mind will help streamline your success now, and later.
How often should I send a newsletter?
There are no hard and fast rules. Plan your newsletter’s schedule at a cadence that feels sustainable. Weekly, every-other-week, or once a month are all fine. The decision is entirely dependent on what’s realistic and manageable for you from a quality perspective.
Special events, holidays, promotions, new menu items, or other big changes at the restaurant (or, small changes you want to make a big deal about!) are other great triggers to send a newsletter.
What should my newsletter contain?
The best newsletters are an engaging mix of marketing and other content. Self-promotion is OK; blatant advertising can be annoying to the reader. Collect news items, ideas, and relevant links as you see them.
Try using a simple Google Doc or the Notes app on your phone. This way, compiling and writing your newsletter will take less time.
A few things to keep top-of-mind:
Be sure the structure and form of each newsletter is consistent. Less is more. Focus on delivering relevant, quality content through your newsletter. Skimmable and short is fine, as long as it’s valuable and could come only from you. Some content ideas might be:
- Chef interview (or an interview with another staff member you want to recognize)
- How to create one of your signature dishes at home
- Ingredient spotlight
- “Staff picks”
- Food/wine pairings
- Community spotlight
- Your restaurant’s history
Also, remember that your personality and your point of view should shine through. Ask yourself: Does your newsletter feel like it could come only from you? Are you sharing your point of view and perspective on relevant aspects of your business?
Oleana Restaurant in Cambridge, MA did this by adding a personal touch. They added in a handwritten note from their head Chef, welcoming customers back after having to close their doors due to COVID-19.
Don’t worry about not being a “writer”
You don’t have to be a writer to send a must-read newsletter. The important thing is to write in your own accessible, relatable voice. Writing tips:
- Use a free tool like Grammarly or Hemingway app to catch any spelling or grammar mistakes or awkward sentence constructions
- Read your email out loud to be sure it sounds conversational and human
- Have second set of eyes double-check everything you send — they might catch something you overlooked.
A note on compliance with the law
In the US, the CAN-SPAM Act regulates advertising and marketing emails. The casual newsletter-sender who is using a program to send emails shouldn’t run into trouble; most email providers are built to ensure you comply with regulations. But the act (and what it means in plain English) is important to read and understand for anyone considering email. Privacy laws apply here, too.
You’ve got this!
The most important thing to remember when creating a successful newsletter is to make sure it reflects your restaurant’s personality.
Inject your voice, your thoughts, and your opinions into everything you write. Your customers signed up to hear from you — entertain them while giving them what they want, and reward them for their commitment to your restaurant!