MRM EXCLUSIVE: The Go-To Guide for Restaurant Email Marketing Inspiration

The team at Emma Inc., which designs email marketing solutions for businesses, exclusively shared this "Go-To Guide for Restaurant Email Marketing Inspiration" with Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine readers. For more information about restaurant email marketing, click here.


When it comes to the restaurant industry, we all know that food is the main attraction. But as our culture continues to lean into social media and digital sharing, it’s become clear that the lure of a restaurant isn’t always just the food—it’s the experience.

From browsing online reviews when making a reservation to taking a picture of the dining room before ordering appetizers, restaurants are now on display more than ever, consequently making digital marketing even more important than it was before.

While almost every industry is seeing a huge shift in their marketing tactics and results, the restaurant industry faces many unique challenges and opportunities. Unfortunately, since restaurant or franchise owners don’t always have a marketing team to research and execute upcoming efforts, businesses may miss out on learning best practices for their marketing strategies.

After talking to many of our friends and customers in the restaurant industry, we realized thattime ​is the most valuable form of currency—from greeting guests at the door to following recipes on repeat to making sure a table’s order arrives promptly, you don’t have many seconds to spare.

And at the end of the day when you’re finished sweeping the floors and organizing receipts, the last thing you want to do is scour the internet for marketing inspiration and think about what you could be doing better. That’s why we decided to round up some of our favorite restaurant marketing campaigns and put them all in one place. After all, we’re on your team.

What’s Unique about Restaurant Marketing

In the age of social media and digital marketing, restaurants remain the brick-and-mortar kings because, well, we can’t virtually eat (yet?). Because food is a basic human need, the demand for restaurants is always high, but it’s the type of restaurant that fluctuates in popularity. That’s why it’s incredibly important for restaurant owners and marketers to keep their ears to the ground and continually make tweaks to remain relevant.

The Statistics

The restaurant industry is one of the first we should look to when looking for a big-picture perspective of cultural trends and marketing strategy. Food is the cornerstone of all types of celebrations and significant events, so it’s only natural that when we look to marketing as a whole, we can trust a lot of what the restaurant industry has to say.

For example, Americans are now ​spending 48 percent of their total food budget​ on restaurants, as opposed to 25 percent in 1955 (​Original Review​).

Eighty-eight percent of restaurants engage in paid marketing, advertising, and promotion, with the top three methods being social media ads, charity/event sponsorship, and newspaper/magazine ads (Original Review​).

Why Email Marketing?

In a world where technology changes by the day and there’s always a new social platform to join, it can be easy to believe email marketing is a thing of the past. But not so fast—the statistics say otherwise.

Seventy-two percent of people prefer to receive promotional content through email, compared to 17 percent who prefer social media. (MarketingSherpa)

And consider this: There are over 3.7 billion email users in the world currently, which means the projected number of users by 2021 is 4.1 billion. (Statista)

That’s right: email marketing is here to stay. But what about its benefits to marketers? Email marketing drives $44 for every $1 spent. (Campaign Monitor) You heard us. $44! Not to mention, the restaurant industry is one that’s set up incredibly well to succeed in email marketing.

Defining Your Restaurant’s Email Marketing Strategy

First things first: Although we know you’re probably excited to send your first email or improve your existing messages, you need to think long-term about a few things:

Your brand identity: ​Regardless of if you’re a new business with one location or a franchise with multiple restaurants, your brand identity is important. This will affect how people perceive and remember your business, how you talk to your customers, and why they want to come back for more. Consider these questions when brainstorming:

  • How do I want customers to feel when they interact with my brand?

  • How can I extend the restaurant experience to my digital communications?

  • What do people already know about my brand, and how can I change or maximize those thoughts?

Next up, you need to consider ​your target audience​. While it would be easy to say “anyone and everyone willing to come to my restaurant,” you need to get a little bit more specific. Is there a specific demographic you’re catering to? What pain points or motivations does your restaurant address?

Determine your target audience by considering these questions:

  • Who is most likely to enjoy my restaurant?

  • What about my restaurant is important to them?

  • What would motivate them to be a regular customer?

After you get a good picture of your brand identity and target audience, think about where the two intersect. How can you meet your target customer where they are to meet their needs?

Maybe you own a new smoothie shop in town that focuses on organic ingredients. Your target customer may hang out at the gym or in an organic grocery store, so that’s where you should focus your messaging. While emails don’t place you in a physical location, you can think about the best time to send them, as in when your target customer would be most likely to need a smoothie. Is it at breakfast time or after an afternoon run?

Once you know who your customer is, the need your restaurant fulfills in the market, and how to make the two intersect, you’re ready to start thinking about specific emails you want to send. Brainstorm specific times or occasions you want to show up in your customers’ inboxes. For example, you could send:

  • A welcome email

  • A thank-you email after an online order is placed

  • An event reminder

  • A survey after a customer’s first experience

  • A birthday email with a coupon code for free dessert

  • A holiday card via email

  • An email to announce a new menu item

  • An email to announce a special promotion

  • A “We miss you!” email with a coupon code

While your ideas start to flow, we’ve collected some of our favorite restaurant emails for inspiration. Let’s go!

Sweetgreen sent this email after a customer reached a certain level in their loyalty program:


Why we love it:​ We can never get enough positive affirmation, so the “Green looks good on you,” copy definitely wins us over right away. Sweetgreen also reminds the customer what the newly earned status means, as well as what they have to do to make it to the next level. We feel motivated just looking at it! This email deserves brand loyalty points for sure.

You’re probably familiar with reservation company OpenTable, but even if you don’t use it in your restaurant, this is an easy and straightforward example of a follow-up survey about a guest’s experience:


Why we love it​: Your emails don’t have to be fancy to be effective. This message is easy to understand, has a clear CTA, and even provides additional restaurant recommendations. We also love that it specifically recalls the details of your reservation—personalization at its finest!

The restaurant industry leaves a lot of room for creativity and fun, and we love how Olive Garden created their own holiday for guests to celebrate:


Why we love it​: Three words: National Meatball Day. Need we say more? Okay, we will. This image is engaging but not distracting, and we’re pretty sure it’s impossible to scroll to the bottom of this email without making plans to go to Olive Garden. When you know your strengths, play to them, and the guests are sure to follow suit.

Speaking of celebrations, it’s always advantageous to think seasonally and plan ahead for what your customers may be doing. For example, Chick Fil A does a great job of speaking to those New Years Resolutions:


Why we love it​: From warm soups to healthier options, the entire email is seasonally curated to speak to a wide spectrum of customer needs. It’s divided in an organized way that allows readers to quickly sift through the information and decide what’s most important to them. Not a fan of football? Here’s a glass of champagne. Not into resolutions? Join our rewards program instead. You can’t please everyone, but if we could, CFA would be first in line.

When you have a menu full of delicacies, it can be hard to choose just one to feature, but that’s exactly what Starbucks does in this email for frappucino happy hour:


Why we love it​: This email is a great way to show off a product. See how they incorporate bright colors that complement the frappuccino instead of overpower it? We love the whimsical tone of this email—it’s truly the happiest hour and makes us all want to leave the office and celebrate. Don’t tell our bosses.

While we have high standards for large brands like Starbucks, it’s even better when local restaurants become stiff competition. Nashville favorite Stay Golden is a worthy contender:


Why we love it​: Let’s start with the casual waving emoji use. It’s cool, collected, and definitely winning us over. Then, instead of featuring a picture of the food, Stay Golden pivots to show an image of their space. Instagram lovers everywhere are on the way. Bravo, Stay Golden!

You may be thinking “I work for a franchise restaurant and all of my messaging is ‘been there, done that,’” but stop right there. Pizza Hut shows us how it’s done:


Why we love it​: Gifs, gifs, gifs! And this one serves a really great purpose of showcasing the various menu options. Just when you thought you knew about everything Pizza Hut had to offer, they surprise and delight us with the big dinner box possibilities.

If you’re not familiar with Jeni’s Ice Cream, buckle up because their marketing is ​almost ​as good as their ice cream:


Why we love it​: Here we see the gif striking again, and we’re still not over it. 18 reasons and just as many gif frames and ice cream scoops? Say no more! We love you, Jeni.

As a marketer, it can be difficult to walk the line of your established brand identity and introducing a fun new menu item or event. Taco Bell shows us how it’s done:


Why we love it​: This is an unexpected take from Taco Bell, but just enough to keep us engaged until we see the recognizable logo at the bottom. This is a fresh take on a new menu item that gives us just enough information and photography to keep us wanting more.

And if you’re left wondering how to advertise restaurant events or news, look to Boston favorite Mei Mei:


Why we love it​: Interesting articles, beautiful photography, and a community-focused approach. We love the various events held at Mei Mei (This guide image was cropped because the list of classes and events was so long!) This is a wonderfully personal approach to restaurant marketing, and we’re already dreaming about those dumplings.

Emma HQ: Created for the Restaurant Industry

We’ve covered a lot of ground here, and we can’t wait to see the incredible emails you send to your customers. But first, we wanted to let you know about a little something we like to call Emma HQ.

At Emma, we’ve talked to thousands of restaurants and franchises to understand their unique concerns and partner with them to create solutions. Here are some of the pain points we’ve worked hard to address:

Your problem​: “We need a way to keep brand consistency across locations. For example, our restaurant in New York needs to send consistent branding with our restaurant in Los Angeles.”

Our solution​: Done and done. With Emma HQ, you can easily share templates, set and lock brand colors, fonts, and more, making it easier to keep brand consistency across all communications being sent. Your locations will be empowered to send and grow, and you’ll never find an old logo in your emails again.

Your problem​: “We want to see all of the communications going out in a given day, week, or month.”

Our solution​: Here’s visibility into your entire email program. See what’s happening across all sub-accounts and drill into individual sends with ease. The at-a-glance view of recent activity and results helps you identify which teams are nailing it (and which ones could use a little help).

Your problem​: “I’m a marketing manager who wants to review and approve an email before it goes out.”

Our solution​: We hear you! With Emma HQ, you can approve every send, from any location or team member. Before each email is sent, it’s delivered directly to the approvals dashboard so you can quickly review the content, comment to suggest changes, and quickly approve or deny the mailing.

Your problem​: “I wish an expert could help with my email strategy.”

Our solution​: Meet our Professional Services team. They can provide strategic advice, compelling content, and design custom email templates for your brand. Plus, our deliverability experts will ensure you’re maximizing the number of emails that land in the inbox.

Your problem​: “I feel like this is too good to be true.”

Our solution​: Nope, it’s just email marketing that works for you. Pull up a chair.