Scott Shaw, chief executive of loyalty marketing service firm Fishbowl, in Alexandria, VA, and an 18-year restaurateur himself, learned from experience that restaurant chains of modest means could effectively and profitably reach out to repeat customers spurring more frequent visits and building stronger relationships.
While some firms have a difficult time coming up with plausible reasons to stay in regular contact with customers, eating always holds interest. "The great thing about seafood is [the question] 'When is the best time to eat what?'" says Ed Maurer, marketing manager at Dallas-based Rockfish Seafood Grill, a Fishbowl user.
In a poll conducted with AOL, Fishbowl found that on the aggregate, half of all restaurant diners would definitely join an eatery's email list, with another 38 percent reporting "maybe." Shaw argues that all major restaurant categories can benefit from reaching out to customers via email, whether through a full-service agency like his, or simply through a well-maintained internal list. Casual-dining outfits appeal to a broad, modestly affluent customer base, finer establishments tend to draw the older audience (the fastest-growing age group online), and fast food joints draw teenage clientele, who often have the time and technology to read and act upon e-mail.
The result, Shaw says, is up to 15 percent redemption rates for printable coupons, and extremely high response rates for attractive or highly relevant mailings, like the 1,300-plus responses Rockfish received to an email query about gaps in its wine list.
Fishbowl client Kahunaville, of Wilmington, DE, aggressively built a 60,000-name mailing list in less than a year using a no-nonsense incentive for managers. "No marketing dollars until you get 700 email addresses per week," says Larry Ferenchick, director of marketing.
Ferenchick also put his money where his mouth is, canceling the company's traditional mailing list. "[Email is] the future of the company," he says, noting that each email mailing costs far less than postage and appeals to the chain's "party bar" clientele.
Shaw, Maurer, and Ferenchick generally agree that email contact for restaurants is primarily a loyalty opportunity, rather than an acquisition strategy. Joining forces with radio advertising partners for special messages may be worthwhile in carefully measured doses, but the emphasis is on getting names as customers enter and leave the premises. All three recommended against the use of canned lists, as customers tend to join lists for restaurants they frequent most often--meaning that every email campaign can efficiently reach a large portion of a location's revenue stream.
Anyone who doubts that email marketing is an appetizing prospect need only look at Kahunaville's recent Mother's Day campaign offering a free meal to accompanied moms. More than 90 percent of the impressions were sent via email, and the result was an enormous improvement over Mother's Day 2001. "We gave away 2,900 dinners, but we ended up doing nearly 100 percent more in sales," Ferenchick says.