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Many of you will shake your heads when reading the title of this article. After all, you are in the restaurant business not in the email marketing business, right?

However, let me tell you something that may shock you: you are in the sales business. If you don't sell your food and beverages, nothing else counts, so you need to apply the same marketing and sales techniques that the rest of commercial businesses use.

Email marketing is one of the most effective communication and promotion vehicles on the Internet. 90% of Internet users and 56% of all clients use email on a regular basis (source: E-marketeer. August 2006). Restaurants can benefit from email marketing because it's fast, direct, cost-effective, and builds loyal relationships with your clients. Restaurant email marketing is perhaps one of the lowest cost marketing vehicles available to the restaurant industry to book tables and to build customer relationships. High quality email campaigns can deliver effective messages that drive action - and clients to your restaurant.

Email marketing can be a tricky proposition. People hate email spam, and often they delete email messages that they don't think are useful or interesting to them. For your email campaigns to be truly effective, they have to be managed properly and conducted in a professional manner. This article provides restaurateurs with some practical tips for conducting effective email marketing campaigns that maximize their return on investment.

If you want your restaurant email marketing to be effective, it's important for you to develop a targeted, permission-based database. Email addresses can be collected either on your restaurant's website or at your place when your clients are visiting. Let's look at both:

1. Collecting Emails on Your Restaurant Website:
Create an opt-in form on your website so that visitors can sign up for specials and promotional offers. (If you don't know how to do this, ask your website designer to do it for you.)
Once your visitors hit "send" on the opt-in form, they receive an email confirmation stating that they have been added to your mailing list. If they are not interested in getting your emails, they can simply "unsubscribe." You need to give your clients always the ability to easily unsubscribe from your emailing list if they see that your emails don't give them enough value.

2. Collecting Emails at Your Restaurant:
In addition to collecting addresses on your website, you can also collect email addresses at your restaurant. Approach satisfied clients at the end of their meals and ask them for permission (on an opt-in card) to get their email addresses so that you can send them information, discounts, coupons, etc. via email.

If you have done your homework and have provided your clients with a memorable dining experience, they will most likely willing to share their email address with you.

This is very important now: Enter the client's information directly on your website form (or ask somebody from your staff to do it for you). By following this process, you assure that all the information is collected in the central database, and that they are legitimate email addresses following the opt-in process.

Now what are you supposed to do with all these addresses ?

When you send emails, please try not to make them an obvious sales pitch. People hate to be told what to buy or where to go for a dinner. Instead, use email to communicate with your clients as follows:

1. To promote one specific special event or item in your restaurant.
Please don't abuse the frequency of the announcements or people will soon ignore your emails, even when you really have something important to say. I would recommend sending out one message a month or less. Sending more often than that could alienate many people in your list.

Some examples could be a special event or gala hosted to raise money for charity, a special wine dinner, etc. You can also announce holiday specials such as Mother's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.

2. To send a birthday present to some clients.
What better way to touch your best clients' hearts than opening an email with your best wishes and an electronic coupon valid for a free meal?

Not only will they appreciate your thoughtfulness but they will also probably redeem the coupon, and bring along lots of family and/or friends to celebrate at your place!

Please notice that if you have the mailing address of your clients, it is better (and classier) to send them a printed coupon with a personal Happy B-day letter or card. You can have these cards pre-printed and just add a personalized note with the name of your client. Use email only when this is the only contact information that you have about your clients.

3. To send interesting information about your restaurant.
Perhaps you have a new chef or you've introduced a new line of dishes or desserts, etc. Again, don't abuse the connection by sending trivial information that nobody but you cares about. Always think from the client's perspective: would this news be interesting for them?

4. To send discount coupons to a group of clients on some special occasion.
Perhaps you've captured information about some of your clients' anniversaries. This is a great occasion to email them, congratulating them and offering a discount if they celebrate it at your place. Other special occasions may be new jobs, promotions, name-days (very popular in some countries. You can check a traditional calendar to see the name dates and associate them with some of your best clients), professional "mixer" days (attract clients from the same professions so that they can mingle and network), etc.

5. To ask for feedback. Ask clients about a new dish that you've just introduced, perhaps new decor or some event that you are thinking of. Faithful clients will appreciate the opportunity to give you feedback and participate in the improvement of their favorite restaurant: yours!

As you can see, restaurant email marketing can be used very effectively to bring clients back to your restaurant and keep your place fresh in their minds, so that they will book your place instead of somebody else's when they think about their next meal out, especially if you give them the motivation via discounts or gift certificates.

With your email campaigns, you will also build stronger relationships with your clients and they will have an opportunity to give you feedback that you can act on and improve your restaurant. It is a win/win situation for both of you!

Good luck and happy emailing!

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