Restaurants are typically atrocious at marketing themselves.
Of course, there are a few exceptions. Some have the word-of-mouth part down, while others emphasize customer service. But I’ve never seen a restaurant that puts a lot of effort into building a permission asset.
So here’s what they should do: Offer every new customer a free meal (including appetizer, entree, and beverages — everything free) if they give the restaurant their name, email address, and date of birth. After the information is entered into the list, send the customer a coupon for their free meal.
Then, once each week, send them a different offer. “One free beer and a great spot at the bar to watch a Sweet Sixteen game.” Tell them about new items on the menu, or how there’s going to be a live band next Friday. Also, send them a short poll after each visit so they can rate their experience.
Here’s another idea: Abandon those pagers your restaurant uses to call people to their table and implement a system that sends a text message to the customer’s cell phone when they’re ready to be seated. Then say the entire party gets free dessert if they give the restaurant permission to send them no more than one text message per week. [Note: The restaurant does NOT have the right to send unsolicited texts, even though they have a list of cell numbers. They must get permission first.]
Sending texts can be even better than emails. Having a slow night? Offer free drinks to the first 10 people who show up within the next half hour. Or send each person a “Happy birthday! We made you a cake” text once each year.
These ideas are both profitable and relatively easy to implement, but how many restaurants actually do them? Not enough.