How to Build Your Restaurant’s Email List

August 31, 2015   /   by  Diane Callihan

Amy Blogs While Hungry

A series of informational posts about restaurant marketing.

I’d give you my resume of qualifications for writing about restaurant leads, my 20 years of restaurant history, my years spent as a Marketing Director, my multi-million-dollar restaurant lead accounts, management of affiliate lead programs, search programs and Facebook programs and countless optimizations on restaurant websites and lead forms, but all of that pales in comparison to the amount of wings, guacamole and draft beer I’ve consumed in my life.

This makes me extremely qualified to tell you about all things restaurant.

What do you want to know? Yes. Guac is extra. Yes I have a super-secret beer/peanuts recipe. Yes, Bidwell Tavern in Coventry, CT has the best wings. Don’t you want to know anything about MARKETING? This *is* a marketing blog after all.

Lead Generations for Restaurants

Let’s start this series off by talking about how to build your restaurant's email list. How can you get leads to your restaurant email list? There are lots of ways, but the results can pretty much be summarized into two buckets:

  1. Velocity
  2. Quality

There are some pros and cons to both. Only you, as the business leader, can determine which is right for your brand.

So, the first thing you have to do is define a clear business goal.

Do you want to build a robust email list, quickly? Do you need a lot of names to begin a database and build out an email platform to begin sending, testing and benchmarking your email database?


Do you want to generate is highly qualified leads, and achieve high open rates and high redemption rates?

Depending on your answer, you will need to choose from one of two very different lead generation strategies.

Strategy #1 – Build a Big List, Fast!

If you want leads fast, then you’ve got to be willing to sacrifice quality.

If you’re okay with that, then proceed. If not, skip down to Strategy #2.

You can send a TON of leads to your database, for a relatively low CPL (Cost Per Lead), and the easiest way to do this is with a widespread affiliate program.

An affiliate network (do your research on the network you choose) will work with a system of affiliate partners that each have their own list of users. Think of it similar to television and viewers – each affiliate network is like a cable network (Verizon, BrightHouse, Comcast, etc.) and the affiliate networks are the channels underneath (NBC, ABC, FOX).

Like channels, affiliate networks have their own unique demographic. You know, the Duck Dynasty audience might not be the same as the Grandma’s Quilting Corner audience.

So, to build a large network quickly, the affiliates flood their users with lots of different offers, often using a co-registration path allowing users to opt-in to many potential offers simultaneously. The good thing about this is lots of leads are sent to you, but the users may not interact with the offer.

In other words, these people aren’t tuning into shows, but they are keeping the TV on as background noise.

Strategy #2 – Build Slow, Focus on Quality

Alternately, if your business goal is to generate highly qualified leads to achieve high open rates and high redemption rates, then you want to have a very targeted audience. This inevitably lowers the velocity of leads significantly, but it improves the quality of the leads coming into your database.

There are a few ways to do this, but the best way is to engage the regulars at your restaurant with a promotion or restaurant marketing campaign – which you’ve probably already done. No-brainer, right? They love you! They love your food. You’ll never get more qualified names than your biggest fans.

You can also drive sign-ups through paid search. Google will provide you with the most searched terms for your brand.

If you don’t have Google Analytics on your site, stop what you’re doing RIGHT NOW…I’ll wait…and go install Google Analytics. Go. Seriously!!

Paid Search can be expensive depending on how well you optimize and manage your campaign. If you have an amazing marketing team , then they should ensure that you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck. As long as you are bidding on your branded key terms, a good combination of non-branded terms and the occasional “discount” and/or “coupon” thrown in there, then you should be able to set up a relatively solid test at a low CPC.

Another way to generate qualified leads is through very targeted affiliates. Remember our analogy above for Strategy #1? Well, imagine if you owned a fabric store and only aired your commercials on the Grandma’s Quilting Corner TV show. Yatzee! Right?! You’re reaching out to an affiliate network and having them use their partners to hone in on a niche market that matches the profile of your audience.

They may do this by conducting an initial velocity test, and then analyzing lead performance to target only the best performers. This narrows the audience quite a bit, which drives up your CPL. The advantage to this, however, is that the performance and LTV (Life Time Value) of your lead will be significantly higher than a generic lead.

How Are You Going Build Your Restaurant Email List?

So now you’ve got to decide what is more important for building your restaurant email list? Are you okay sacrificing a little bit of quality in order to build a big list, fast? Or would you prefer to spend a little more time and money to build a list of engaged audience members?

While you think about that, I’m headed out to happy hour. Writing this post has made me crave fried foods.

Stay tuned for the next restaurant marketing post about Open Rates and Redemption Rates. Until then, download this free ebook with more tips on building and maximizing the results from your email list.

Diane Callihan

Diane Callihan

With more than 20 years of experience writing for some of the country’s top brands, Diane helped to shape Roger West’s content strategy, lead generation, and PR efforts as Director of Marketing. She currently serves as President of Callihan Content Creation.