Current customers can be a full-service restaurant's top target.

One of the most primary concerns for every full-service restaurant operator is revenue.  Stalled cash flow equals lots of problems for a restaurant. There’s no way to pay for staff, supplies or even rent if customers aren’t coming in the door. The challenge is that many restaurant owners assume that the best place to find new revenue is new customers.

With marketing costs and ramp-up time, the reality is that new customers can cost five to seven times more to acquire than leveraging current customers.

The real low hanging fruit for generating revenue for full-service restaurant owners are current customers. In fact, a study done by Harvard for restaurants indicated that getting just a meager 5 percent of customers to return on a regular basis could increase revenue by 25 to 125 percent.

For many restaurant owners, that could dramatically change the equation around how much money they have available spend on food acquisition, equipment upgrades, staffing, and expansion.

Knowing that, the challenge becomes how to access those current customers in a way that is controllable, economical and reliable. Recent changes to the way that some social media platforms display business information has made it increasingly difficult to stay visible in front of current customers without investing in ongoing paid advertising. 

What is the best way to boost restaurant revenue by leveraging current customers?

Arguably, it is email marketing. According to the Direct Marketing Association, only 26 percent of companies use email for sales and an even smaller amount, 11 percent, use it for client retention. 

With the time demands of running a full-service restaurant, the percentage of restaurants using email marketing may even be lower. Either way, 74 percent of business owners aren’t using email marketing. That means that the field is wide open for restaurants to expand their marketing and communication.

Some full-service restaurant owners are concerned that people don’t want more email than they are already getting. They worry that customers don’t want to be “bothered.”  The statistics just don’t support this assertion. In fact, customers do want to get promotions via email. An article by Allen Finn of Wordstream says of the business-to-consumer (B2C) space, “77 percent of people prefer to get permission-based promotional messages via email (versus direct mail, text, phone, or social media).”

Effective email marketing can be easy to achieve for full-service restaurants. Here are a few tips to determine if email marketing is a good fit for the restaurants that you operate:

Having a low-cost, low-effort way to stay in contact with current customers is important. An email can be written quickly—or even farmed out to a contractor who can do them for you—and loaded within just a few minutes. Using a professional email platform is cost-efficient and an effective way to breach spam filters to get specials and events directly to your customers.

Building a personal relationship is part of your strategy. For full-service restaurants with a focus on building personal relationships, email marketing can provide the platform to tell customer, staff and restaurant stories that build feelings of connection among current customers. Feeling “part of the family” will drive traffic back to a restaurant again and again, especially if the emails show that people are missing out on the experiences they could be having.

Changes to social media algorithms concern your management team. Recent changes to social media platforms like Facebook mean that more and more businesses will have to pay for their items to appear in the newsfeed either through boosted posts or through a formal ad campaign. If having permanent access to leads and not being subject to the whims of social media is important—which it should be if building a brand is important—then email may be a good fit.

The onsite team creates a personable environment. Getting access to email is relatively easy if the onsite staff is personable and can follow a quick email collection strategy. Follow up with a simple method of collection resulted in a list of over 12,000 contacts for one restaurant in the space of just a few months.

Being able to schedule contact with customers ahead of time is a priority. One of the best features of email marketing is that emails can literally be scheduled weeks in advance. That allows management teams to do other tasks and only “touch” their email programs once or twice a month.

For full-service restaurants that want to increase revenue, email marketing can be a viable tactic that will bring customers back again and again. Easy to manage, cost effective and a positive part of a restaurant brand strategy, email is an simple way to leverage customers that already appreciate the food and service that is being offered.

Expert Takes, Feature