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Leveraging Email Marketing for Effective Customer Loyalty Programs in Restaurant

Last Update: Dec 5, 2023 @ 6:50 am

“Make new customers but keep the old; one is silver, the other is gold. The same applies to your relationship with your patrons. Email marketing can turn the new gold.” 

– Noah Kagan, Founder of AppSumo


Today’s restaurant owners, managers, and marketers must attract new consumers and keep them coming back. With an array of dining options at their fingertips, customers can easily shift their loyalty. Here’s where email marketing comes into play; it’s a potent tool that often gets forgotten. Email marketing, when done right, can cultivate deeper relationships with customers, encouraging them to return time and again.

What is a Restaurant Loyalty Program
Loyalty Program Graphics From the Web

What is a Restaurant Loyalty Program?

A restaurant loyalty program is a marketing strategy designed to encourage repeat business by rewarding customers for their continued patronage. The basic idea is that repeat customers should be rewarded for their loyalty. Discounts, freebies, early access to new menu items, and invitations to exclusive events are just a few examples of the various shapes these incentives can take.

For example, a restaurant might offer a free dessert for every five meals a customer purchases. This encourages customers to return and makes them feel valued and appreciated, which can promote loyalty.

Key Elements of A Restaurant Email Loyalty Program

An effective restaurant email loyalty program is more than just sending occasional emails with discounts. Here are the key elements:

  • Personalization: Personalized emails can significantly enhance the effectiveness of your loyalty program. This can range from addressing the customer by their name to sending tailored offers based on their dietary preferences or dining history. For instance, if a customer frequently orders vegetarian dishes, you might send them an email with a special offer for a new vegetarian dish you’ve introduced.
  • Regular Communication: Regularly communicate with your loyalty program members via email. This could include updates on their reward points, special offers, or news about your restaurant. Regular communication helps keep your restaurant top of mind among customers, encouraging them to visit again.
  • Exclusive Benefits: Provide exclusive benefits to your loyalty program members that they can’t get elsewhere. This could be early access to new menu items, invites to special events, or additional points during their birthday month. These exclusive benefits can make members feel special and appreciated, enhancing their loyalty.
  • Simple and Clear Program Rules: Make the rules of your loyalty program simple and clear. This includes how to earn points, how to redeem them, and any terms and conditions. Clear communication of these rules can prevent confusion and frustration among members.
  • Feedback Mechanism: Include a mechanism for members to provide feedback. This could be a survey link in your emails or a feedback section on your website. Feedback can provide valuable insights into what members like about your loyalty program and areas where you can improve.

Role of A Restaurant Email Loyalty Program in Customer Retention

A restaurant email loyalty program plays a critical role in customer retention. It provides a platform for you to regularly engage with your customers, incentivize repeat visits, and build stronger relationships.

  • Incentivize Repeat Visits: By offering rewards for repeat visits, your email loyalty program encourages customers to choose your restaurant over others. The prospect of earning a reward can be a powerful motivator for customers to visit again.
  • Build Stronger Relationships: Increase the strength of your relationships with clients through consistent email communication. Personalized emails can make customers feel understood and appreciated, fostering a deeper connection with your brand.
  • Increase Customer Lifetime Value: By encouraging repeat visits, your email loyalty program can increase the lifetime value of your customers. A customer who visits regularly over several years is far more valuable than a customer who visits only once.
  • Gather Valuable Data: Your email loyalty program can provide valuable data on your customers’ dining preferences and behavior. This data can inform your marketing strategies, menu planning, and more.
Case Study_ Panera Bread
Panera Bread Restaurant From the Web

Case Study: Panera Bread

Another popular restaurant brand that has harnessed the power of email marketing for customer retention is Panera Bread. Panera’s “MyPanera” program is a standout example of an effective loyalty program that utilizes email marketing.

Customers who sign up for MyPanera receive personalized emails with access to a variety of benefits, including discounts, invites to members-only events, and previews of upcoming menu items. These emails are often personalized based on the customer’s dining history and preferences.

A consumer who frequently places orders for vegetarian options may receive an email promoting a new vegetarian option. This personalization makes the emails more relevant and engaging for the customer, increasing the likelihood that they’ll visit Panera Bread again.

Panera Bread also sends regular updates on the customer’s reward points, encouraging them to visit more often to earn more points. And on customers’ birthdays, Panera sends a special birthday reward via email, making the customer feel special and appreciated.

In addition, MyPanera members can also earn rewards by referring friends and family, promoting a sense of community and encouraging customers to advocate for the brand.

Panera Bread’s approach to email marketing for customer retention has proven to be highly effective. According to a case study published on the Oracle website, MyPanera has over 25 million members as of 2020, and these members account for approximately 50% of the company’s transactions. This shows the power of an effective email marketing strategy in driving customer retention and loyalty.

Benefits of Email Marketing for Customer Retention

The benefits of email marketing for customer retention are numerous:

  • Increase Repeat Business: Email marketing allows you to stay top of mind with your customers, reminding them to visit your restaurant again. A study by Bain & Company found that a 25% to 95% increase in earnings may be achieved by increasing client retention by just 5%.
  • Build Stronger Relationships: By regularly communicating with your customers through personalized emails, you can build stronger relationships with them, enhancing their loyalty.
  • Cost-Effective: Email marketing is among the most cost-efficient methods of advertising. According to Campaign Monitor, every $1 spent on email marketing can generate $38 in ROI.
  • Highly Targeted: With email marketing, you can segment your customers based on their preferences and behavior, allowing you to send highly targeted emails that resonate with each segment.
15 Best Email Customer Retention Strategies For Restaurants
Panera Bread Email Customer Retention Strategy Birthday Promo From the Web

15 Best Email Customer Retention Strategies For Restaurants

1. Personalized Emails

Personalize emails by using the customer’s name and tailoring content based on their dining history and preferences. For example, if a customer often orders vegan dishes, you might send them a personalized recommendation for a new vegan dish.

2. Segmentation

Segment your email list based on shared characteristics such as frequency of visits, dietary preferences, or average spend. Send targeted emails to each segment. For instance, send a special offer for a free appetizer to customers who haven’t visited in a while to encourage them to return.

3. Regular Communication

Send regular emails to keep your restaurant top of mind among customers. This could include updates on their reward points, special offers, or news about your restaurant.

4. Reward Updates

Keep customers updated on their loyalty points, encouraging them to visit more often to earn more points. For example, send an email when they’re close to earning a reward to motivate them to visit soon.

5. Exclusive Offers

Provide exclusive offers or benefits to your email subscribers or loyalty program members. This could be early access to new menu items or special events.

6. Birthdays and Anniversaries

Send special offers or gifts on customers’ birthdays or anniversaries. This can make customers feel special and appreciated, increasing their loyalty.

7. Feedback Solicitation

Regularly ask for feedback through your emails. This can make customers feel heard and valued, and provide you with valuable insights to improve your restaurant.

8. Automated Email Campaigns

Set up automated email campaigns based on behavioral triggers, such as a welcome email for new subscribers or a ‘we miss you’ email for customers who haven’t visited in a while.

9. Referral Program

Encourage customers to refer friends and family by offering them a reward for each successful referral. Promote your referral program through your emails.

10. Responsive Design

Ensure your emails are mobile-friendly, as many customers will be reading them on their phones. A responsive design ensures your emails look great on any device.

11. Clear Call to Action (CTA)

Every email should have a clear CTA, such as ‘Reserve a Table’, ‘Order Now’, or ‘Claim Your Reward’. This guides the customer on what action to take next.

12. Test and Optimize

Regularly test different aspects of your emails, such as subject lines, send times, or content, and use the insights to optimize future emails.

13. Value-Adding Content

Besides promotional content, also send value-adding content, such as recipes, behind-the-scenes looks, or cooking tips. This can enhance your brand’s perception and keep customers engaged.

14. Seasonal Promotions

Leverage seasons or holidays by offering themed promotions or dishes, and promote them through your emails.

15. Transparency

Be transparent about how you use customers’ data and how they can manage their email preferences. This can build trust and respect with your customers, enhancing their loyalty.

Step-by-step Guide on Implementing an Effective Email Loyalty Program For Restaurants

Step 1: Define Your Program’s Goals

The first order of business for an email loyalty program is to establish its goals. This could be to increase repeat visits, boost average spend, or enhance customer engagement. Having clear goals will guide your program’s design and allow you to measure its success.

Step 2: Understand Your Customers

Understand your customers’ dining preferences, behavior, and what motivates them. This could involve analyzing your sales data, conducting surveys, or having conversations with your customers. This understanding will enable you to design a loyalty program and craft emails that resonate with your customers.

Step 3: Design Your Loyalty Program

Design your loyalty program based on your goals and understanding of your customers. This includes deciding how customers will earn points and what rewards they can redeem. For instance, if your goal is to boost average spend, you might offer 1 point for every dollar spent.

Step 4: Develop Your Email Strategy

Develop your email strategy. Email frequency, recipients, and content (e.g., prize updates, special offers, feedback requests) are up to you. For instance, you might send a monthly email with updates on their reward points to all members, and additional personalized offers based on their dining history.

Step 5: Implement an Email Marketing System

Implement an email marketing system that can handle your email strategy and loyalty program. This should include features for personalization, automation, segmentation, and analytics.

Step 6: Promote Your Loyalty Program

Promote your loyalty program to your customers. This could be through in-restaurant signage, on your website, through social media, and in your emails. For example, send an email to your existing subscribers introducing the program and its benefits.

Step 7: Launch and Refine

Launch your loyalty program and email strategy. But don’t stop there. Regularly review your analytics, gather feedback from members, and refine your program and emails based on these insights. For instance, if you find that emails sent at a certain time have higher open rates, adjust your send times accordingly.

Step 8: Segment and Personalize

As you gather more data on your customers, segment your email list based on shared characteristics, such as dining frequency or average spend, and send targeted emails to each segment. Also, personalize your emails based on the customer’s individual dining history and preferences.

Step 9: Test and Optimize

Regularly test different aspects of your emails, such as subject lines, content, or send times, and use the insights to optimize your future emails. For example, you could test two different subject lines for the same email to see which one gets more opens.

Step 10: Keep Customers Engaged

Keep your customers engaged with your program and emails. This could involve regularly updating your rewards, sending value-adding content (like recipes or cooking tips), or hosting special events for members.

Implementing an effective email loyalty program is a continuous process of learning about your customers, refining your program and emails, and keeping customers engaged. But if you follow the aforementioned procedures, you’ll have a loyalty program that keeps customers coming back.

Restaurant Email Loyalty Programs Don'ts
Restaurant Loyalty Program Checklist Graphics From the Web

Restaurant Email Loyalty Programs Don’ts

1. Don’t Overwhelm Your Customers with Emails

Sending too many emails can lead to fatigue, causing customers to unsubscribe from your list or worse, mark your emails as spam. Maintain a balanced frequency that keeps your brand at the top of your customers’ minds without overwhelming them.

2. Don’t Ignore Personalization

Each of your customers is unique, with different dining preferences and habits. Sending the same generic emails to everyone can result in a lack of engagement. To avoid this, always aim to personalize your email content.

3. Don’t Make It Complicated

If your email loyalty program is too complex to understand, customers are likely to lose interest. Keep your program rules simple and clear. Don’t complicate things with too many tiers or confusing points systems.

4. Don’t Neglect the Mobile Experience

Many customers check their emails on their phones. If your emails aren’t optimized for mobile devices, you risk providing a poor user experience and losing potential engagement. Always ensure your emails are mobile-friendly.

5. Don’t Forget to Test and Analyze

Don’t assume that what works once will always work. Email marketing is all about learning and adapting. Neglecting to analyze your email performance and not conducting A/B tests can lead to missed opportunities for improvement.

6. Don’t Ignore Customer Feedback

Customers can reveal your business’s successes and failures. If you disregard their opinions and suggestions about your email loyalty program, you may miss out on valuable insights.

7. Don’t Neglect Non-Promotional Content

While it’s important to promote your rewards and offers, only sending promotional emails can make your customers feel like they’re constantly being sold to. Balance this out by also providing valuable, non-promotional content.

8. Don’t Undervalue Privacy

Always respect your customers’ privacy. Avoid requesting unnecessary personal information and always be transparent about how you’ll use and protect the information you do collect.

9. Don’t Delay in Responding to Issues

If a client reports a reward program issue, repair it. Delayed responses can lead to customer dissatisfaction and can harm your brand’s reputation.

10. Don’t Forget to Celebrate Your Customers

Never miss an opportunity to make your customers feel special. Neglecting to acknowledge special occasions like birthdays or anniversaries is a missed opportunity to enhance customer loyalty.

By steering clear of these mistakes, you can ensure that your restaurant email loyalty program is as effective and engaging as possible, fostering greater customer retention and loyalty.

Summary Checklist of Action Plans

  • Build a robust email list: Start collecting email addresses from your customers. You can do this on your website, social media, or at the restaurant register.
  • Segment your email list: Divide your email list into different segments based on shared characteristics, such as dietary preferences, frequency of visits, or average spend.
  • Personalize your emails: Customize your email messages by using the information you’ve gathered. This could include addressing the subscriber by their name, sending targeted offers, or providing personalized recommendations.
  • Set up automated email campaigns: Automate your email campaigns based on behavioral triggers, such as a welcome email for new subscribers or a ‘we miss you’ email for customers who haven’t visited in a while.
  • Test and optimize your emails: Regularly test different aspects of your emails, like subject lines, content, or send times, and use the insights to optimize your future emails.


In conclusion, as a restaurateur, restaurant manager, or marketing professional, harnessing the power of email marketing is essential for customer retention in the increasingly competitive restaurant industry. It not only helps keep your restaurant top of mind among customers but also fosters a deeper relationship with them, turning occasional diners into loyal patrons.

The journey of email marketing for customer retention is not a short sprint, but a marathon that requires consistent effort and iteration. But now that you have read this essay, you have the tools necessary to begin your trip and succeed. Remember that your email list is more than just addresses—it’s a community of people who have chosen to communicate with your business. Treat them as such, and you’ll see your customer retention rates soar.

Harness the power of email marketing for customer retention, and watch as your restaurant thrives, one loyal customer at a time.

READ ALSO: Restaurant Loyalty Programs and Rewards: Encouraging Repeat Business and Strengthening Customer Relationships

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