At Constant Contact, we do our best to get our customers’ perspectives on email marketing.

Recently, we sat down and thought, “Wow, how cool would it be to just have four or five people in the same industry talk about email marketing?”

Then, we thought, “Wow, how unrealistic is that?”

So, while we didn’t go as far as arranging a Google Meet for a good-humored discussion, we did interview four different restaurants from Massachusetts to Canada to Florida to California to figure out just how each one uses email marketing.

Here’s the transcript of the almost-group discussion:

How did you get started with email marketing? What were you looking to accomplish?

Galuppi’s of Pompano Beach, FL, has been using email since 2010.

Grant Galuppi, Galuppi’s: We got started when we were transitioning to the internet, because a big chunk of that is email. We started collecting email addresses and Constant Contact was great, affordable, and pretty easy. We loved the templates, because we could be as creative as we wanted to get – we could also keep it very flexible.

We’ve been in business 10 years and we’re transitioning from yellow pages, magazines, newspapers and stuff to Google Adwords, organic SEO, text messaging, and check-ins, Facebook, etc.

Tim Burke, In A Pickle: Before I even owned a restaurant I knew how powerful the internet and email marketing could be. As a customer of other businesses I wished they had utilized it more. I knew that when I started my own business, I would use it heavily in my marketing plan.

What I wanted to accomplish with email marketing was to leverage the massive reach of the internet with the comparatively miniscule cost of advertising using email marketing.

Tobias Pohl-Weary, Red Canoe Bistro: I opened a new business and wanted to reach new customers, and stay connected with them. We thought it would be a great resource for passing on news about our restaurants and events that we’re involved in.

Marisa Vallbona, president of CIM Incorporated, consultant for Luna Grill: We have a lot going on – between specials and news updates at our different locations or connecting members of our new rewards program, we wanted a way to keep all of that connected.

How did you promote the business before email marketing?

Tim: We would run some ads in the local newspaper, host philanthropic events, use word of mouth and occasionally use guerilla marketing tactics.

Marissa: We used print, radio, and PR, and continue to do a lot of other advertising but we’ve used email marketing and social media to stay more connected with our customers on a daily or weekly basis.

Tobias Pohl-Weary: We did a lot of print advertising, and other things on the web.

How did you build your list?

In A Pickle of Waltham, MA, has been using email marketing since 2008.

Grant: We have postcards in the restaurant that you can sign up with that say ‘Join our email club!’ and talk about how we offer a lot of vouchers, coupons, free drinks, free parties, and contests through our email.

Tim: We build our list in various ways. In the beginning, we would host contests to harvest email addresses.

One of our best was a Super Bowl contest we ran. Each customer would put their email address in a 10X10 block and we would assign points to each block.

The customer who landed on the score of the 1st, half, 3rd and final score won a prize. It was a lot of fun and we were able to grab a lot of addresses.

We also have a ‘Free Lunch’ program where we have a fish bowl that says, ‘Get on our email list and WIN a free lunch’. They drop their business card in the fish bowl and we draw a name every week and enter all the email addresses into the Constant Contact database.

We also use the Facebook App on our Facebook page, and have an email field on our website. Lastly, we’ve put a sign-up sheet at events we’ve been at, and another one at our register.

Tobias: In the restaurant, we have a jar where people can put their emails and sign up for our newsletter. I also collect a lot of my contacts at events and shows that I host or attend.

The key is to be honest and be careful that you’re not upsetting people by sending them something that they weren’t expecting. You need to communicate clearly what you’re sending and be careful not to bombard people.

Marisa: We ask our customers to drop business cards into a fishbowl to receive our monthly newsletter. Letting them know that they’ll receive information about special offers from each of our restaurants is a good way to get people involved.

What results have you seen from email marketing?

CA-based Luna Grill has been using email since 2010.

Grant: Five years ago, we started with about zero contacts, but we have a great database now – we have 7,000 email addresses. That means I can push out a social event or a holiday and let 7,000 people know 7,000 people know, instead of advertising it for $500 in a newspaper.

Tim: Our results are directly correlated by the effort we put in. We have a very steady list and have a decent open rate.

Tobias: We always see a boost of interest for about a week after we send out our newsletters. We send our newsletters every 3 to 5 weeks, so getting more people to come in is important to us.

I also see a boost in analytics in website and social media. Being able to drive people to our pages right from our emails makes a big difference.

Marisa: We always get feedback from our newsletters – whether it’s someone just saying they enjoyed hearing from us or someone asking a follow up question.”

When we send a newsletter announcing a new location, we will have people contact us asking when we’re going to be opening near them. It’s a great way to generate interest and get a feel for where the demand is for our restaurants.

What advice do you have for restaurants struggling with their own email marketing?

Grant: You can’t give up. You have to start somewhere and even if you don’t have anything, you’re going to have 100 before you know it, and that’s 100 more people than you did.

Red Canoe Bistro in Burlington, ONT, has used email since 2010.

Tim: First I would suggest that you think like a customer and not as an owner/operator. Think about how you would like to be treated by businesses where you are on their email list.

Don’t abuse the trust they put in you. Only send emails that actually have value. Don’t send just to send. Don’t send emails at a rate that is annoying to your customers, and let them know that you will never sell or give away their email address.

There’s no silver bullet in restaurant marketing, but there are easier ways of doing it with a better reach-to-cost ratio. Email marketing is one of those ways, but, like everything else, the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.

Tobias: Try and make your emails into something that you would want to receive. If it’s not something that you would like to read then you shouldn’t send it out.

Don’t take it personally if someone drops out. You’re going to lose people, but you’ll always gain new people as well.

Marisa: Definitely track results.

Every time we send an email, we keep track of how many people are opening, how many people are responding, and how many people are opting out. It helps us judge how effective our emails are for our customers.

The Takeaways

For all four of these restaurants, email has been a key way to maintain relationships and create a cost-effective way to reach out to customers to promote specials and events.

While the similarities are interesting to see, we also liked to hear the differences, particularly when it came to list-building strategies.

As we can see, each of these businesses has taken email marketing best practices to heart and made them their own.