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SMS Marketing for Restaurants: How to Get Started

Zainab Zaki, Senior Product Manager

As the SMS marketing battleground expands to restaurants, marketers need a playbook to guide them as they build their strategy.

The opportunity for restaurants is significant: the data demonstrates that mobile guests – who must opt-in to receive your text messages – are super fans, highly engaged, and steady:

  • 98% of text messages are opened with in three minutes of receipt. 1
  • 44% of Americans have opted in to an SMS campaign. 2
  • Mobile coupons are redeemed 10 times more than paper coupons. 3
  • The opt-out rate for SMS restaurant campaigns is just 2.69%. 4

But where does mobile fit in terms of the customer journey? How do you integrate mobile with the rest of your marketing initiatives? Is it a separate channel or an umbrella channel that impacts email, direct mail, etc.? These are key questions that deserve a closer look. But first, there are some basic building blocks that marketers need to understand as they get started:

1. Build your mobile database.
Because guests must give you explicit permission to send them text messages, you have to build a database from scratch. The best way to do this is to promote an SMS campaign in your existing channels, with an explicit call-to-action (CTA) and possibly an incentive, such as a discount coupon or reward, to sign up. Here are two examples of how different restaurants have cross promoted mobile sign ups in existing channels:


2. Use your mobile channel effectively — for the right campaigns.
Certain types of campaigns are more appropriate for SMS marketing than others. Experienced mobile marketers use SMS frequently for the following campaigns:

  • Drive traffic during off-peak hours or slow days with well-timed coupons or messages.
  • Alert guests of availability of reservations for upcoming holidays or events to fill tables that are unexpectedly free.
  • Target customers within specific zip codes for special offers or announcements.
  • Make product announcements and ask for comments.
  • Promote new menu items or events.
  • Announce weekly specials.
  • Conduct a survey or poll to get instant feedback.
  • Manage inventory.
  • Send triggered messages with welcome, birthday, and anniversary offers that strengthen the 1:1 guest relationship.
  • Drive engagement and sales with weather related specials, games, or sweepstakes around an event.
  • Send alerts about changes in open hours or unexpected closures.


3. Build loyalty.
Segment and customize offers to new guests, regulars, or “VIPs.” Keep track of the performance of each segment and nurture them for repeat visits.

4. Grow your email list.
Just as you can cross-promote SMS Marketing in your existing channels to obtain opt-in guests, you can use your mobile database to increase the size of your email list. Ask guests for their email addresses in a Text to Join (eclub) campaign.

SMS Marketing will play an increasingly important role in the restaurant marketing mix. The key for marketers is to get started and to monitor the performance of their mobile channel carefully. Over time, you will need to understand the interplay between your SMS Marketing and other channels to maximize sales.