Restaurant Marketing

How to Create (and Use) a Restaurant Email List

Do you need a restaurant email list? Yes! Here’s why, and how to start building a high-quality email list from scratch.

When restaurant owners think of ways they can reach and connect with their guests, many overlook email. It feels dated. It could be misconstrued as spam. How do you even collect email addresses for your guests? The secret: A restaurant email list.

There are actually many reasons why email is one of the best ways restaurants can engage with their guests. We’ll get into those below, as well as some tactics that make collecting guest emails a breeze. A restaurant email list is an important, useful marketing tool—and it’s not as hard as you think to build it from scratch.

Ready to connect with your guests via email? Read on for all you need to know.

Why Do You Need a Restaurant Email List?

When restaurants consider their marketing options, email isn’t always their first choice. Here’s why it should be.

Email Helps Build Personal Relationships with Guests

Email is a great way to reach guests in a way that feels personal to them. It’s easy to customize emails to address recipients by name, for example, and to automate sending emails to mark important dates in their lives, like birthday or anniversary offers.

But there’s another important reason: Customers say they like getting emails from businesses. A survey by Marketingsherpa showed that 72 percent of adults say email is their preferred way of hearing from a business. Surprisingly, only 17 percent said social media.

Email Encourages Loyalty

Another big benefit to email is that generally, your restaurant’s email list will be made up of guests with whom you’ve had some sort of contact before. That means email is a great way to remind guests about your restaurant and encourage them to make repeat visits. Harvard research has shown that increasing repeat visits to your restaurant by just 5 percent can, in turn, boost profits by up to 125 percent.

Email Has Fantastic ROI

If you’re looking for marketing on a budget (like many restaurants are), email is a great option. Studies have shown that for the restaurant industry, you can expect to see $44 in returns for every $1 spent on email marketing. 

As far as marketing plans go, email is also pretty easy to keep track of. Even most free email newsletter platforms will allow you to track metrics like open rates and click through rates, so you’ll be able to gain a clear picture of what’s working—and what isn’t—with your email marketing campaigns.

Email Integrates Well with Other Marketing Efforts

You can use email as a standalone marketing strategy, but it also integrates easily with any other marketing your restaurant might be doing. For example, you can cross promote between email newsletters and your social media accounts. You can also use email to highlight promotions or events your restaurant is using to draw in more guests.

How to Build a Restaurant Email List

When you first start out building your restaurant’s email list, there’s one big rule to keep in mind: Do not purchase it.

In order for your email business list to be effective, you need real email addresses from people who are likely to actually visit your restaurant and engage with your brand online. 

There are third parties that will sell you what they say is a comprehensive database with thousands of email addresses already on it. But you should avoid that strategy. Those aren’t likely to be quality email addresses for your restaurant, and mass messaging them could get you flagged for sending spam email.

It’s more work and it takes more time, but you’re better off building your restaurant email list from the ground up. Here are 12 ways to start gathering email addresses from your guests and building an email database you can use to market your restaurant.

12 Ways to Get More People on Your Restaurant Email List

Offer free wifi

An easy way to collect email addresses from guests who visit your restaurant is to offer free wifi. Then, gate your network with a landing page that either requires an email address to use the wifi, or asks guests to sign up to receive exclusive offers and promotions.

Run a contest

For decades, restaurants have run contests to collect business cards from guests. In 2021, you can do the same to collect emails. Offer a prize like a gift card, a party, or a special dinner event. Then, ask guests at your restaurant to sign up using their email for a chance to win.

Create a contact form for your website

On your website’s contact page, rather than just listing your phone number and email address, add a contact form with a required field for email addresses—as well as other useful guest contact data. That way, any guest who reaches out via that form can be added to your restaurant email list.

Promote your email list with a pop-up

When guests visit your website, greet them with a pop-up that lets them know about your email outreach. Ask them to sign up, and consider sweetening the deal with a welcome offer, like 15 percent off on their next order if they join your contact list.

Take online reservations

Creating a reservation form (or using a reservation platform) can be another easy way to collect guests’ email addresses. When they request a reservation, ask for their contact information—including their email to confirm the reservation—and then give them the option to opt in to joining your mailing list.

Take direct online orders

Similar to online reservations, online orders can help you gather guests’ email addresses, too. One thing to keep in mind is that this will only work if you take online orders directly from your website. If you use a third-party delivery app, like UberEats or Postmates, the app collects the guest’s email address—not you.

Advertise your email list all over your restaurant

Guests who visit your restaurant will be reading several times during their visit—so take advantage of that by advertising your email list on menus and table tents. You can add a QR code that takes them to a signup page to make it easy for guests to join your restaurant email list right from their table.

Add email information to your receipts

Another place you can advertise your email list is on guests’ receipts. You’ve probably noticed restaurants who offer a discount to guests who complete a survey shown on their receipt. This is a great tactic for collecting email addresses.

Ask guests in person for their email addresses

Particularly when you’re just getting started building your restaurant email list, you can also just ask guests in person if they’d like to join. This will likely be especially effective if you have regulars with whom you’ve formed a relationship—let them know about your new email efforts, and they’ll likely be happy to help you out.

Create email-only offers

Of course, guests are more likely to sign up for emails from your restaurant if they know there’s something in it for them. Encourage sign-ups by creating email-only offers for subscribers. Then, when you use any of the other tips on this list, mention to your guests that signing up will get them a gift card, a discount, or another perk.

Start a referral campaign

Once your email list starts getting off the ground, you can ask guests who are already on it to refer their friends and family. Offer another perk, like a discount, free appetizer, or gift card, to guests who get others to sign up for emails.

Promote your email newsletter on social media

And finally, if your restaurant business already has social media accounts, you can promote your email list there. Make posts that encourage guests to join and link to a page where they can sign up.

How to Use Your Restaurant Email List

Building your restaurant email list is just the first step. Next, you have to use it. Keep in mind these best practices as you start creating restaurant email marketing campaigns.

Make your emails look great

It’s important for your emails to look good to readers, with colors, fonts, and branding that match your restaurant’s in-person branding. Newsletters will also be more effective if they make use of images, not just text. Many email newsletter services offer templates you can use to make a great-looking marketing email, but you can also create your own template to use for all your emails.

Write catchy subject lines

How your email looks won’t matter if no one reads it, and the best way to encourage guests to open your emails is with a subject line that catches their attention. Use your subject to highlight promotions, events, or discounts for higher open rates.

Make your emails mobile friendly

More and more web traffic comes from smartphones rather than desktop computers. It’s very likely that your guests will open your emails from a mobile device, which means you need mobile-responsive design that won’t force them to pinch and zoom to read too-small text.

Test your emails before sending them

Before sending emails to your entire email marketing list, send them to yourself and some other restaurant employees to test them out. This will check their deliverability, as well as giving you a chance to see how they look on multiple devices before sending them out to guests.

Settle into an email rhythm

As you start sending out regular emails, try to develop a cadence to your timing. Sending a daily email will likely overwhelm guests. Once every few months might give them enough time to forget about your restaurant in between emails. Start out sending a marketing email every few weeks to once a month. Monitor your KPIs like open and click-through rates, and experiment to see what helps them improve. Collect guest feedback if you can, and adjust as needed.

Mind the CAN-SPAM Act

The CAN-SPAM Act helps protect Americans from unwanted spam emails from businesses. Violating it could cost your restaurant serious fines. To stay in compliance:

  • Never use any false, misleading, or deceptive information in your headers, subject lines, or email copy.
  • Use your company name. Identify yourself as a business and your email as an ad.
  • Include your physical location in every email.
  • Be clear about how guests can opt out of receiving future emails from you. Promptly honor all opt-out requests.

Types of Email Marketing for Restaurants

Most restaurant owners aren’t marketers. When they think of marketing, they often think of traditional ads, like those on TV or in print. In the digital age, marketing encompasses so much more than that. Below are some creative email marketing ideas that will help promote your restaurant, but will likely feel much more natural than a traditional ad.

Welcome offers

When guests first sign up for your mailing list, send them a welcome offer, like a discount on their next purchase, that encourages them to make a visit to your restaurant right away.

Special days of the week

Claim a day of the week to be a special day at your restaurant. For example, offer #TiramisuTuesday at an Italian restaurant, or #WineWednesday at a bar or happy hour spot. Then, send emails on or right before that day to highlight any specials you’re offering for the day.

Flash sales

Studies show that consumers are more likely to act on a deal if they know they have limited time to do so. Use emails to send out flash sales—very limited-time offers. For example, send an email in the mid-morning promoting a lunch special that’s only available that day.

Holiday offers

Holidays provide many opportunities for restaurants to promote themselves and their offerings. Send out holiday deals. Email a reminder to make Valentine’s reservations. If you have a special menu or a holiday event, use your restaurant mailing lists to promote it.

Birthday offers

When guests sign up for your email list, ask them for their birthday. Then, before the big day, send them a special birthday offer. A free drink or dessert is a great option.

Behind-the-scenes glimpses

Your restaurant emails are a great way to help share your restaurant’s story. Tell guests how you got your start. Invite them behind-the-scenes for a profile of your chef, or a photo tour of the kitchen.


If you have a dish your guests love and you don’t mind divulging some secrets, use your email list to share exclusive recipes. This can also help encourage sign-ups.

Highlight your menu

If you want to promote any specific menu options, an email is a great way to do so. You can also send out emails to let guests know if you’ve made changes to your menu, like if you add new chef’s specials or seasonal dishes they might want to try.

Promote other restaurants

Reach out to other restaurants in your area, and start building a list of restaurants who want to work together to promote one another. Then, give them a shout-out in your emails, in exchange for them talking up your restaurant in an email to their guests.

Do You Need Email Marketing Software?

To get the most out of your restaurant email list, email marketing software is a must.

It will allow you to store, organize, and segment your email list. It will allow you to automate messages like birthday offers and welcome emails. It will allow you to track important metrics about your email marketing, to see what’s working and how you can better reach guests.

But you don’t have to invest in a platform that only offers email marketing. Instead, put your resources into a platform that can help your restaurant craft a comprehensive marketing plan, build an engaging online menu, offer direct online ordering, and so much more.

That platform is Popmenu. It was designed to help modern restaurants own their entire online presence.

Popmenu has all the email marketing tools you need, and will help you combine your email list efforts with SMS marketing, social media, Google My Business integration, promotions, and more. 

But Popmenu is also an all-in-one digital toolkit. It truly offers everything restaurants need to do it all in a digital world.

Learn how Popmenu can help you build and use your restaurant email list, craft a bigger-picture marketing strategy, perfect your website, and more—Schedule a free demo today.