Use Email to Pack Special Events With Your Best Customers

The key to marketing special events in restaurants is putting the right message in front of the right customers. You want people who love your brand to know you’ve created something perfect for them. If you do it right, you can build a strong community and, ultimately, build your business.

I’ve found the best way to do it is with quality over quantity. As the Executive Director of Marketing for the Dinex Group, I’m in charge of getting the crowds to show up at our 16 restaurants located around the world. Dinex Group is a collection of high-quality, fine-dining, casual and quick-service restaurants founded by French chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud.

Part of our marketing vision includes producing custom events featuring experiences that build on the unique vibe of each location. There’s something for foodies of all walks of life. For example, at Restaurant DANIEL, we recently hosted a luxurious caviar-and-wine-focused event (with high-priced tickets).

Anyone can host a wine dinner, but we really work to create a theme that resonates, and with partners that have a following. Because our chefs have relationships with all the top purveyors, we’re able to offer our guests specialty ingredients and the highest-quality goods on the market that they can’t always find elsewhere. During the last year or so, we’ve found there are a few key steps to selling out these special events. Here they are.

Cocktails by Darryl Georgina Salte

#1: Make it Easy to Stay in Touch with Loyal Customers

A famous chef attracts media attention and Dinex is lucky to have that angle covered. Besides having Daniel on the marquis, one of the most effective tools I’ve found for promoting events is email marketing.

For many years, we used our website and customer comment cards to collect guest contact information. Before I joined, our site really wasn’t optimized for signups, and customer comment cards were slow to trickle in. I needed an “automatic” solution and a way to rapidly grow our database.

Jazz band

I had used WiFi marketing at my previous job and knew it was a good option. We offer guests free access to WiFi through a platform called Zenreach when they’re in our restaurants, in exchange for giving us their name and email address. Since we already know email is a tried-and-true channel, building a massive list that is customizable, easy to use and cheap to run has been a game changer for us.

#2: Build Segmented Lists

Once we collect email addresses, it’s simple to segment lists by specific demographics — namely which restaurant they’ve visited — so we can connect with the customers most likely to be interested in an event at that venue.

Segmented email lists take almost no effort to manage, and gives us information about visit behavior. This data helps us build more relevant email marketing campaigns, which is helpful for segmenting. In about a year, Dinex Group has collected over 64,000 contacts and we get hundreds of new emails every month.

Crawfish Boudin by Georgina Salter

The overall quality of the contacts is high as well. Since they’re collected in our properties, the information we collect represents customers who have already dined with us. These are ideal contacts to have because they’re from people who we expect have had a good experience and naturally want to return. The events give them another reason to come in, and us another chance to impress them with our quality and hospitality. 

#3: Give People What They Expect

Even though I had success with WiFi marketing at a previous job, there was initially some resistance when I suggested it to the executive team as a solution. The Dinex Group didn’t offer free WiFi because there was an assumption that it was wasn’t needed in fine-dining restaurants. But pretty much everyone expects WiFi now, and not having it is annoying. (Especially when you want to Instagram a beautiful dinner!)

Whether it’s fine dining or casual, we’re always looking to improve our guests’ experiences. So offering WiFi was just a natural progression of something that guests wanted.

#4: Design Events Tailored to Customer Behavior

Our events capture media buzz, strengthen customer relationships and allow our amazing, creative staff in our kitchens and bars to show off what they can do. The messaging and content that goes out to the public is individualized and location-centric because Zenreach has helped us collect and segment high-quality lists.

In short, we’ve been able to create separate lists for each location. One of our segmented lists for Bar Boulud highlights what’s going on in the world of wine and share the weekly lineup of big-bottle Panier offerings. Because we’re connecting with an audience who we know is interested in wine, when we send out an email announcing a special wine-focused event we see immediate action.

Gumbo Pouring by Georgina Salter

Another recent example is a Mardi Gras dinner we hosted featuring Chefs Daniel Boulud and Emeril Lagasse that sold out the day after we sent our e-blast! We also host an annual cheese dinner at Restaurant DANIEL, where we partner with a cheesemaker and offer a smorgasbord of amazing cheeses with a multi-course dinner. It’s also a luxurious kind of experience, and a little higher priced than some of our other events. Within two days of emailing our list it sold out. Due to popular demand, we decided to add another night and sent out a blast announcing it. That one sold out, too. We’re still amazed at what we were able to accomplish with just two targeted emails.

Email sometimes gets a bad rap because too many companies spam their customers with irrelevant or visually unappealing content. We’ve found that when you offer people something they’re interested in, they eat it up.