Email marketing for restaurants & cafes: your recipe for success

You have a tasty menu, inviting ambience and top-notch service that people love. But word-of-mouth won't fill up your tables every single day.

Email marketing is by far the easiest and most effective way to get more customers into your restaurant or cafe. Unlike social media or even search, email is the most established platform and continues to grow, with an expected 4.3 billion users by 2022.

If that figure whets your appetite, wait until you hear some of the other advantages of restaurant email marketing:

  • It drives customer retention. The profitability of your restaurant depends on your ability to get customers and keep them coming back. Email marketing does both better than any other channel.
  • It's a direct line to the customer. Whether you need a review or you want to promote a special menu, email marketing gives you a direct line to your customers and has a level of personalization few channels can match.
  • It's cheaper than social and gives you more control. The organic reach of your Facebook page keeps steadily declining while the cost of running ads keep increasing. With email marketing, you control how and when you communicate with your customers.
  • It gives customers what they want. Not only is it a cost-effective way to reach your customers; studies confirm that people actually prefer receiving promotional content through email.

Convinced that creating an email marketing plan for your restaurant is a smart move? Here's how to actually do it.


The most important thing you need when starting email marketing is subscribers. The more subscribers you have, the more foot traffic you can generate with your campaigns.

While it might seem daunting at first, growing your list is fairly straightforward. It just takes patience and consistency. You already have customers that visit your restaurant, social media profiles and website every day.

All you need to do now is start collecting their email addresses. Here are some tried-and-true ways to grow your email list both online and off:

Offer free WiFi in exchange for an email address 

Requiring a person to accept certain terms and conditions to use wifi isn’t new or offensive. Provide an opt-in form to access the restaurant's wifi and watch your email list take off.

restaurant email list building - Free WiFi in restaurant

Put marketing copy in strategic places

Take advantage of the times when restaurant patrons are actively taking in written information. Include your website URL and messaging that encourages patrons to sign up. You can add your message to your menus, posters and even at the bottom of receipts. 

Example: "Join our mailing list to be notified about upcoming beer tastings!"

A well-designed table tent with an offer for a free dessert or an enticing event like a cooking workshop can also lead to the collection of email addresses. Tip: Use a QR code to encourage immediate sign-up.

restaurant email list building - Table tent example

Have a server or cashier ask for an email address after the meal 

The most obvious time to ask is after customers have had a positive dining experience.

Train your staff to be able to talk about the benefits of your mailing list and offer something desirable in exchange. (20% off the next meal, a free gourmet coffee drink...think about an incentive your customers would want and go with it.) 

restaurant email list building - Offline sign up example

Bonus: If you have a MailerLite account, you can collect emails using the free iPad app. All the new email addresses are automatically synced to your email list.

Include a customer comment card with the bill 

Yes, it’s old school, but many people enjoy filling things out while waiting to settle their bill. While you’ve got their attention – and they have a pen in hand – ask them to fill in their name and email address so they can be added to your email list to receive exclusive content and discounts.   

restaurant email list building - Restaurant comment card example

Leverage mobile payment apps 

If you use Square (the most popular POS in the US), it automatically sends digital receipts to your customers. Ask them to enter their email to get the receipt as well as important restaurant news and deals.

restaurant email list building - Square example

Your offline marketing efforts may lead to an online customer experience, so let’s not forget those online tactics.

Pop-ups 

You can add pop-ups on your website, giving visitors a simple way to share their email addresses. Choose between time-based, welcome mat, scroll-triggered, hello bar or exit intent pop-ups.  

Here's an example of a pop-up on the homepage of the FOGO De CHAO steakhouse.

restaurant email list building - Fogo de Chao pop-up example

Embedded opt-in forms 

You can also choose to embed an opt-in form on your website. It can be on your sidebar or any page you choose.

Here's an example of a simple embedded opt-in form on the Tovala homepage.

restaurant email list building - Tovala embedded opt-in example

Create an opt-in landing page

If you have a social media presence, you can leverage that to grow your list. Simply create a landing page that contains an opt-in form and add the link to your social media profiles. You can even share a link to your landing page every once in a while.

Here's an example of an opt-in landing page used by Tutti Frutti.

restaurant email list building - Tutti Frutti opt-in landing page

For more inspiration, you can visit our restaurant landing page example gallery.

Whichever method you use to collect email addresses, make sure you offer an incentive for people to subscribe.  


Once you have an email list, the next step is to engage those customers. Treat them like you would patrons in your restaurant.

That means you shouldn't just store their email addresses and send an email when you want to promote something. There are plenty of other things you can share, including:

  • New or seasonal menu items
  • Birthday wishes
  • Upcoming events
  • Recipes and reheating tips
  • Exclusive discounts, coupons, and gift card deals
  • Surveys
  • Employee profiles
  • Requests for reviews
  • Instructions on how to order online, schedule a delivery or make reservations
  • A simple thank you

Your aim is to provide value for your subscribers at every interaction. Get creative!

Here's another excellent example of a restaurant email from Swiss Chalet. Notice the image of delicious food and candles on the table. Images like these can inspire positive feelings in the minds of readers and give them a desire to come in and actually taste that food.

restaurant newsletters - Swiss Chalet email example

Create appetizing email subject lines

Unopened emails never get read, so let’s talk about the importance of subject lines. Getting a customer to open an email is the first step to getting them in your restaurant.

Pique their interest and make their stomachs growl! Here are some subject line examples you can use for inspiration.

Restaurant Subject Lines

Yo Sushi! – It’s YO Birthday. Get ⅓ Off Your Food Bill

Sweet Green – Yup, we’ve got a “late summer” menu

Donato’s Pizza – Dinner is covered: $10 carryout deal on large 1-topping pizzas

Guerrilla Tacos - Thanks! Here’s an offer for your next visit to Guerrilla Tacos

O’Charley’s – Waffles, bacon and eggs...Oh My!

Fazoli’s – * FREE Kids Meal * This weekend. Open for coupon.

Papa John’s – Lakers fans, get 50% off your ENTIRE order for today’s game!

Taco Bell – Take a break from Cyber Monday. Have some Taco Bell.

Pret – Pret’s Veggie Menu is here

Mimi’s Cafe – Start off the New Year with a Free Entree.

Olive Garden – Tonight only! FREE Meatballs


This post wouldn't be complete without some examples of restaurant emails to inspire your own campaign.

In this email, Olive Garden uses great imagery to entice their subscribers and ends by offering them a discount on their next meal.

restaurant newsletters - Olive Garden email example

Omaha Steaks proposes quick and delicious meals at home. Notice how they incentivize customers to purchase by including an offer to get a free skillet with 4 meals.

restaurant newsletters - Omaha Steaks email example

It's clear that enticing food images are a standard with restaurant emails. Pizza Express uses them to promote their new menus while zeroing in on the Meat Free Monday trend.

restaurant newsletters - Pizza Express email example

In this email, Panna uses their newsletter to grow their community on social media, which gives them even more ways to reach their customers.

restaurant newsletters - Panna Newsletter example

If this is not enough, you can visit our food-related newsletter example gallery for more great ideas!


Implement email automation to save you time

Once you start growing your email list, it becomes harder to manually send email content. In this case, you'll get a lot of value from email automation. For example, at sign up you can automatically send a welcome email that tells a new subscriber what your restaurant is about and/or set triggers to send customers a discount coupon on their birthday.

Personalize your emails

Remember that you want email communication with your customers to be like you're speaking to them as individuals. Personalization helps you do just that. You can use everything from the receiver’s first name, date of birth and even the kind of dish they like to make sure that every email you send them is about something they're interested in.

Incorporate your branding

Make sure your customers always know the email is from your restaurant. Include your restaurant name in the email sender name. Also include your logo, brand colors and imagery in the email.

Optimize with A/B testing

The more email experiments you can run, the better the return you'll get from email marketing. With A/B testing you can find out which subject lines increase open rates, the best time to send an email to your subscribers and even what offers they're more interested in.

Boost your social reach

Combining email marketing and social media can help you grow your audience. Add links to your social media channels at the bottom of your emails, and if you're running promotions, always encourage email subscribers to share on social media.

Email marketing is something all restaurants should be taking advantage of, as it delivers the greatest return on investment of any marketing channel.

It’s not molecular gastronomy. 

restaurant email marketing - Top Chef gif

Your recipe for success:  

  • Gather subscribers for your email list using both offline and online tactics.
  • Always create compelling subject lines. A single opened email could lead to lifelong patronage at your restaurant or cafe.
  • Engage with your customers often, sharing stories, promotions, coupons, surveys, employee profiles, recipes and more.
  • Employ email marketing best practices such as email automation, responsive email design, personalization, branding, and A/B testing to improve your messaging and your reach.

With email marketing, remember to treat your subscribers as you would your dine-in customers. Listen, give them exactly what they want and create a positive experience that they want to repeat. Make your customers hungry for more and watch them come through the door.