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The Do’s and Don’ts of SMS Marketing for Restaurants

by | Nov 3, 2021

Short message service marketing — or SMS marketing — can be an outstanding advertising tool for restaurants. But it needs to be well done (see what we did there?). Otherwise, you end up boring your customers — or worse, turning them away from your restaurant entirely. Today, we’re here to explore the “do’s and don’ts” of SMS marketing for restaurants. We’ll cover topics like:

  • The importance of opt-in/opt-out options
  • Personalization examples
  • How often you should send marketing texts to your customers
  • What types of messages get the best response

But first, let’s cover some light statistics and definitions to help you understand the value of SMS marketing for your business.

What Is SMS Marketing for Restaurants?

SMS is text message marketing. To put a finer point on that, SMS refers to short communications with customers about promotions, news about your restaurant, menu changes, and the like. But there’s a fine line between effective marketing and annoying spam texts, so use this powerful tool thoughtfully.

What Makes SMS Marketing Effective?

You already know that we Americans love our cell phones. According to Pew Research, 97% of US adults own a cell phone, and 85% of us have a smartphone.

That means nearly everyone can receive a text message. The reach of a specific media or publication doesn’t restrict advertisers. For instance, a commercial on cable TV will only reach cable subscribers, and a print ad in a local daily paper will only reach subscribers. But SMS messages can reach everyone (once they opt in).

  • Sources like OptinMonster.com say SMS texts have a 98% open rate — that’s an astounding amount.
  • That means 98% of recipients will actively open and view a marketing text message.

Compare that to the open rate of direct mail, for instance, which is around 42%. And the open rate for email marketing — even when a customer opts into it — is below 20%.

Furthermore, 90% of SMS messages are viewed almost immediately, within the first three minutes of receipt, so SMS marketing can get you measurable results fast.

Now that we’ve covered why SMS marketing is great for restaurants, let’s get into the best practices.


DO Make It Easy for Customers to Opt In (and Out)

The Golden Rule of SMS marketing for restaurants is this: Only market to customers that have opted in and agreed to receive your texts. Otherwise, you risk annoying people who’ve never been to your restaurant, and that would be like anti-marketing.

Give your customers several opt-in opportunities, and make it easy.

You can invite them via:

  • Emails (that they’ve already opted in to receive)
  • Direct mail, if you’re sending coupons
  • Customer service surveys at the restaurant or online
  • At checkout depending on your POS or ordering system

Also, don’t forget the value of face-to-face discussion. Ask your servers, bartenders, and cashiers to encourage it verbally to your customers. Maybe you could host a contest and offer a cash bonus to the employee who signs up the most customers in a week. After all, everyone could use an extra $100!

Remember, opting in must be easy for the customer to accomplish — that means no long forms or personal questions.

DON’T Send SMS Marketing Message to People Who Haven’t Opted In

We realize we’re repeating ourselves. But we cannot say it enough. Buying lists of cell phone leads is a waste of money for this particular purpose. You want to target known customers who are happy to receive your texts.

Once a customer chooses to opt out of your SMS marketing, honor their decision. Otherwise, you’ll breed a special kind of dislike in them.

Now, let’s talk about the types of SMS messages that get the best response in SMS marketing for restaurants.

DO Send Timely, Relevant Messages

Weekend promotions, special events, and holidays are all great starting points. Just be sure to send them early enough to get a response.

Examples of Relevant SMS Marketing

If you’re hoping to boost corporate holiday parties, for instance, send those texts in October or early November. This gives people plenty of time to make the call and get the reservation. If you’re pushing the new Friday night prime rib special, send those out on Thursday evening or early Friday morning — before people have made dinner plans.

If you have control over your customer data, you will be able to see your online ordering customers’ order histories. This will enable you to send timely messaged that are triggered based on how long it’s been since they last ordered, which can help encourage repeat ordering habits from your most loyal customers.

DON’T Send Messages Too Frequently

While you want to boost brand loyalty and achieve “top of mind awareness” (TOMA) with your customers, don’t pester them with text messages. Some research suggests that one text per week is enough — as long as you have something fresh to say. Other studies claim 10-12 messages in a month are enough. Any more than that can lead to annoyance and alienation.

Daily messages are — in the words of Monty Python — right out. Don’t send too many texts!

Great Topics for SMS Messages for Restaurants

SMS texts should be exciting and valuable to the reader, and they should always include a call to action.

Try these if you’re stumped for ideas:

  • NAME, you know our holiday parties are a blast! Give your employees a treat at Stan’s BBQ. Call 800-123-4567 to make your reservation. Text STOP to opt out of messages.
  • Hello NAME, Valentine’s Day is around the corner. Make your sweet reservation at Stan’s BBQ now. Call 800-123-4567. Text STOP to opt out of messages.
  • Hey NAME, Stan’s BBQ has Prime Rib tonight! We hope to see you after work — text STOP to opt out of messages.
  • We’ve opened a new location, NAME. Find us at 1234 Main Street this weekend for our big grand opening.

This brings up our next point: personalize your SMS messages.

DO Personalize Whenever Possible

Whether you personalize texts with the customers’ names, their birthdays, or the time since they last ordered, try to make the message unique. Also, always give the audience something to do with that information. Humans are very visual creatures, so leverage some images in your messages, too. A photo of a gorgeous prime rib or great beverage will do a lot to boost response.

DON’T Send Messages Without a CTA

The call to action is a key point of your SMS marketing effort. You can share great prices, encourage holiday plans, or push exotic drinks ’til the cows come home. But you won’t get any response if you don’t push a logical next step, i.e. what you want the customer to actually do with the information.

Restaurant CTAs could be:

  • Order online today
  • Call now for a reservation
  • Stop by tonight for a great steak
  • Come try our new beverages today

Without a CTA, your essential marketing message will soon be forgotten, and you won’t get much response from your SMS campaign.

And Finally, DON’T Make It Weird!

Make sure your SMS texts are sent during standard business hours. No one wants to be woken up in the middle of the night because you just had an excellent idea for a weekend special. Save it for the morning. You can avoid this by leveraging an automated marketing system that lets you schedule SMS campaigns ahead of time.

If you’re scheduling SMS messages for the future, take a look at the calendar. Don’t send them on major holidays or dates that might be awkward or somehow inappropriate, like 9/11.

And while a human connection — like photos of servers or customers — might seem like a good idea, be very cautious about using them in your marketing messages. You’d never want to accidentally disrespect your staff or clientele.

How to Get Started With SMS Marketing for Restaurants

Technology makes SMS advertising easy for restaurants. You’ll need to gather the data first, of course, including a customer’s first name and cell phone number. Then use an app to create messages and broadcast them to your audience. Loyalty programs are a great tool to incorporate, especially if they’re “gamified” and fun.

At 9Fold, our mission is to provide restaurant owners with tools to help boost their business. Whether you need a restaurant loyalty program, an online ordering system, or other ways to increase your ROI, we’re ready to help. Our white-glove marketing services include MMS or SMS messages designed for you and deployed to your customer base at the perfect time.

Book a demo today to learn more about outstanding SMS marketing for restaurants.

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