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SMS marketing for restaurants: The ingredients for success

Alia Paavola
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There are nearly 750,000 restaurants in the U.S. alone, making competition fierce for customers' attention and dollars. So, how can restaurants effectively cut through the noise to market to new customers and foster more regulars?

In this article, we’ll describe how SMS marketing for restaurants can help break through the noise to better connect with customers and drive results.

Jump right to:

<h2 id="Benefits">Benefits of SMS marketing for restaurants</h2>

There are numerous benefits to adopting SMS marketing for your restaurant. Let’s take a look at eight top benefits: 

  • Get your message read. For any marketing message to work, people need to see it. That’s one significant benefit of text message marketing for restaurants. SMS messages have a 98 percent open rate, ensuring customers read your message.

  • Timely message delivery. Text messages are delivered and seen quickly; most texts are read within three minutes of receipt. This means you can send precisely timed messages.

  • Boost customer engagement. The reality is SMS marketing is highly engaging. In fact, SMS messages have a higher click-through rate and response rate than email.

  • Reduce no-shows. Reservation reminders and confirmations can help your restaurant reduce your no-show rate.

  • Improve customer loyalty. SMS can be highly personalized and keep customers informed, which can help build brand loyalty. Plus, with two-way texting, you can create dialogue with customers to build relationships.

  • Easy to integrate. SMS is easy to integrate into existing marketing channels or restaurant booking software. Most SMS platforms offer built-in integrations that allow you to effectively add SMS or an API to help you connect the software you use every day.

  • Cost-effective marketing. It costs just pennies to send and receive business texts. This makes SMS a cost-effective solution compared to traditional marketing channels like social media or Google Search.
  • Less competitive marketing channel. The SMS marketing landscape is much less crowded than email or social media marketing. You’re more likely to capture the attention of your target audience with a text message than an email. This can help you stand out from competitors. 

Plus, it’s an advantage to start with mobile text marketing now, as it’s expected to grow 18 percent yearly.

Want to learn more? Take a deeper dive into the advantages and stats backing SMS marketing.

<h2 id="Ideas">32 restaurant SMS marketing ideas</h2>

Restaurants both small and large can take advantage of SMS marketing. Let’s look at several SMS marketing ideas that can help you fill more tables, improve customer satisfaction, and overcome some top food service industry challenges.

Promotional campaigns

Avoid empty restaurants, 86’d items, and wasted food with promotional text messages. These campaigns can help you bring in more hungry customers, sell food before it expires, and better manage stockouts. Here are some promotional campaigns to consider:

  • Offer discounts and offers. Use SMS marketing to offer subscribers a special discount or free item when they spend a particular amount. This can help you bring in more customers and revenue.

  • Run a limited-time deal. Encourage customers to dine in or order takeout in a condensed timeframe with a limited-time discount.

  • Plug your specials. Do you have an ingredient you need to use before it expires? Use a promotional marketing text to plug a special dish with that ingredient.

  • Text an updated menu. Are you running low or out of a particular dish? Send an updated menu preview to guests via text to avoid disappointments at the dinner table.
  • Promote a new menu. Bring in more customers by sharing details about your new menu. Sharing a link to your seasonal or revamped menu can create excitement and increase business.

  • Promote a new item. If you’re adding a new dish to your menu or only offering it for a short stint, get customers excited about it by sending a marketing text message.

  • Promote a loyalty program. Encourage customers to sign up for a VIP or loyalty text message program. This can encourage them to make repeat purchases.

  • Promote new hours. Are you staying open later during the summer? Let customers know about your hour changes through an SMS text.

Event announcements

Don’t let any day of the week be a slow night for your restaurant. Instead, plug your events like trivia night, fight night, happy hours, karaoke, and more. You can also use event text messages to build stronger relationships with your regulars.

  • Share your happy hour. If you have happy hour discounts, tell customers about them by text.  

  • Plug your standing events. Do you run a weekly trivia night or club meetup? Use text message marketing to bring more people to your fixed events.

  • Special event invites. Are you hosting a special event like a World Cup watch party at your restaurant? Use text messaging to invite customers to this event.

  • Invite regulars to a special event. Invite your regulars to an exclusive event to improve your relationship with them. For example, you could have them come to a special tasting event, a wine-pairing dinner, or a party.

  • Share event reminders. Send a reminder text to remind customers about events they’ve RSVP’d to.

  • Celebrate with a holiday-themed event. Invite SMS subscribers to a special holiday event at your restaurant. For example, offer customers a discounted cookie baking class before Christmas or have a Red, White, and Blue themed menu for July 4th.

Engagement campaigns

Build loyalty and have your restaurant top-of-mind for customers by running a campaign that aims to engage.

  • Trivia contest. Run a trivia contest via SMS. This can engage customers and have them thinking about your restaurant throughout the week.

  • Baking contest. Ask customers to send a picture of their best-designed baked goods for a chance to win a special prize.

Customer feedback and surveys

Online reviews help restaurants build trust and bring in new business. In fact, 64 percent of customers read Google reviews before visiting a business. Help your restaurant get more reviews and understand customer satisfaction by running a feedback request campaign.

  • Request a review. Improve your online reputation by asking customers to leave a review of their recent experience at your restaurant.

  • Gauge satisfaction. Ask customers to take a CSAT or NPS survey via text about their online ordering or dine-in experience. Text surveys have a higher response rate than those sent via email.

  • Run a custom survey. Send a survey via SMS to understand what menu items customers like or dislike. This can help you make informed decisions when revamping your menu. 

Reservation management

Fight reservation no-shows and cancellations with text marketing campaigns. Let’s take a look at some reservation management text campaigns to adopt. Some of these campaigns can even help you lower call volume.

  • Reservation confirmations. Ask customers 24 hours in advance to confirm their reservation by replying to a text with YES, CONFIRM, or CANCEL.

  • Reservation reminders. Remind customers about their upcoming reservation with a short text.

  • Text reservation booking. Let customers text your phone number to make a reservation. You could promote a keyword on your website encouraging customers to text RESERVE to your phone number to book a table.

  • Fill in the cancellation. If you have a cancellation, send a text message blast to your customer list letting them know about the open reservation time. 

Pro tip: Create a reservation waitlist for your busy nights and let those customers know about cancellations first.

Order or table updates

One of the best things you can do to improve customer satisfaction when fulfilling takeout orders or managing a waitlist is to keep them in the know.

  • Waitlist alert. Tell customers they’ve been added to the waitlist to get a table via SMS.

  • The table is ready alert. Let customers know when their table is ready. It’s a modern way to keep customers informed instead of using pagers.

  • Order confirmations. Share a text message with customers when an order is placed. This helps customers know that their order is in the works.

  • Pick-up times. Use SMS to keep customers informed about their estimated pick-up time. This ensures that they arrive at the right time and aren’t waiting for their food for a long time. 

Staff and operational updates

Another top challenge for restaurants is proper staffing and supplier management. Text messaging can be used to help improve communication and scheduling.

  • Send schedules via SMS. Ensure all your staff get the weekly schedule by sharing it as a PDF in a text message blast.

  • Fill shift openings. The reality is that call-outs happen. Use SMS to fill these open shifts.

  • Recruit new staff members. SMS is commonly used for recruiting efforts. Use SMS to schedule interviews, pre-screen candidates, and promote open jobs.

  • Improve supplier communication. SMS can be used to keep in touch with your suppliers quickly. 

<h2 id="Examples">Examples of restaurant SMS marketing campaigns</h2>

Here are several examples of restaurant SMS marketing messages.

Promote a new seasonal menu 

In this example, Cuban bakery Azucar promotes its new fall menu. This is a great way to get customers interested in your new offerings and encourage them to stop by your bakery. 

A new menu promotional text message.

Bring a popular item back

Use text marketing to share you’re bringing back a popular menu item. In this example, Buffalo Wild Wings shares that brought back a fan-favorite: Hot BBQ sauce. It also encourages customers to order delivery or pick up from their device.

An example of a restock SMS marketing text.

A loyalty reward program

In this restaurant SMS marketing example, Poke Vida welcomes a customer to its loyalty program. The customer can view their loyalty account and see what coupons are available.

An example of a loyalty SMS marketing campaign.

Promoting an event

In this text message example, Quartyard promotes its Wednesday trivia night. You can use SMS marketing to get more customers through the door on your less-popular nights. 

A restaurant event promotion text.

A review request

In this SMS marketing text, Louisiana Purchased restaurant asks a customer to leave a review about a recent dine-in experience. Your restaurant should ask for reviews to help boost its reputation and increase business. 

A restaurant asking for reviews via text.

Order updates

Use restaurant text messaging to keep customers informed about their orders. For example, in the following text thread, the Mission lets a customer know their takeout order was received and when they can pick it up.

An order confirmation text from a restaurant.

Holiday engagement campaign

You can use SMS to engage customers. In the following example, Working Class engages customers who frequent its trivia nights by sharing a holiday trivia question. You also see that the restaurant plugs its trivia event at the end of the SMS message.

A restaurant SMS marketing engagement campaign.

Table is ready alert

In the following example, Callie Restaurant lets customers know their table is ready for them. It asks them to meet their hosts at the host stand to claim the table. 

A table-is-ready alert from Callie Restaurant.

Waitlist alert

In this example, Dunedin New Zealand Eats lets guests know they’ve been added to the waitlist. This informs customers about their place in line and when their table is ready.

A waitlist alert example from Dunedin New Zealand Eats restaurant.

<h2 id="Tips">10 restaurant SMS marketing best practices and tips</h2>

Set your restaurant up for success with these SMS marketing best practices.

  • Get consent to text. One of the most essential rules you must follow is to collect SMS opt-ins from your customers. This opt-in, required by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, is known as obtaining customer consent to text. There are many ways to collect this opt-in. Take a look at 12 ways to get more SMS opt-ins for inspiration.
  • Provide a simple opt-out mechanism. Additionally, you must provide an easy way for customers to unsubscribe from your text marketing list. For example, allow them to reply with words like STOP or END and automatically remove them from your list. Many SMS marketing platforms will help you automatically unsubscribe contacts.
  • Be concise. A standard SMS message is capped at 160 characters. As a result, keep your text messages short and to the point. Your customers are more likely to read a message in full if it’s short.

  • Use a call-to-action. To craft effective marketing texts, use a clear CTA. This helps customers know what step to take next. For example, you could use CTAs like “Book a table now” or “Browse our new menu.”

  • Share visuals. Share mouthwatering food images to hook your audience and share promotional messages. Research suggests MMS messages are even more engaging than plain text. Use this to your advantage by sharing images around mealtimes.

  • Pay attention to timing. Text message timing and frequency matter. The right timing of your message will depend on your use case, business hours, and audience. But a good rule of thumb for restaurants is to send promotional discounts to customers around standard mealtimes.

  • Automate texting. Reduce some manual texting by automating some messages. For example, you could set up automatic reservation reminders and table is ready messages. You could also have an auto-reply trigger when customers text your restaurant when it’s closed.
  • Don’t send too many messages. Don’t overwhelm your customers by sending too many marketing messages per month. You don’t want to lose SMS subscribers or create SMS fatigue.

  • Personalize messages. Whenever possible, personalize your marketing messages to improve engagement. You could include a customer’s first name or share a menu item they’ve purchased.

  • Track performance and goals. Make sure you set goals for your SMS campaigns and measure those results. Tracking this performance will help you make data-informed improvements over time.

Get more: 17 SMS marketing tips to set you up for success

<h2 id="HowTo">How to get started with restaurant SMS marketing</h2>

It’s easy to get started with restaurant SMS marketing. Here are the key steps to follow.

1. Establish an SMS marketing strategy. The first step is to establish your SMS marketing strategy. This includes determining your use cases, audience, and goals.

Get our complete 12-step guide to creating an effective SMS marketing strategy.  

Textline's 12-step SMS marketing guide.

2. Pick a text marketing platform. A critical step is choosing an SMS marketing platform that fits your restaurant’s needs. To help you pick, decide what texting features and integrations you need. You should also look at the SMS provider’s reputation, pricing structure, and customer support options. 

With features like two-way texting, scheduled texts, and automations, Textline is a top-rated SMS marketing software for restaurants

3. Build an SMS subscriber list. As the law requires, you must collect consent to text your customers. This is known as building an SMS contact list. Before you can send marketing texts to anyone, you must get explicit opt-in from them. 

4. Write your messages. The next step is to craft your SMS message. For best results, proofread and include a call-to-action like “Make a reservation.”

5. Click send. Now, it’s time to send your restaurant marketing text to your customers. Be sure to measure results and optimize your content. 

Add flavor to your restaurant marketing strategy with SMS

Ready to spice up your restaurant marketing strategy? SMS marketing is the key to success in today's competitive dining industry. By harnessing the power of text messages, you can connect with your customers, fill more tables, and boost your revenue.

Textline is a top-rated SMS platform designed to meet the unique needs of restaurants. You can even text-enable your existing business phone number and seamlessly integrate SMS with some of the most popular software.

Try Textline free for 14 days and see how SMS marketing can transform your restaurant's success. It's time to add flavor to your marketing strategy with SMS – your customers will thank you for it!

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