Restaurant Marketing: The Quickstart Guide to Text Messaging

With the economy's recent upturn, the restaurant industry is seeing across-the-board gains. Restaurants are investing more in marketing. With more money in the bank, restaurants are looking to capitalize on the economic surge by reaching more diners.


Summer Menu Preview Text Message

As more restaurants ramp up their marketing initiatives, those who don’t are likely to get left behind. Eating establishments which have held a large market share may lose ground if they don’t keep pace with upstarts that are investing wisely in brand promotion and customer engagement.

Which restaurant will yours be in this shifting landscape? If you’re considering an investment in restaurant marketing, the question becomes, “Where should I put my resources?” One obvious answer to that question is to promote your restaurant in the channels that your patrons are using. And an undeniable trend over the last few years is the growth of mobile usage by restaurant diners. Increasingly consumers are interested in leveraging technology to streamline or improve their overall eating experience.

"Three-quarters of consumers surveyed will at least view menus on their smartphone before trying a new location, and almost 40% indicate they will pay with their phone when they can." - Franchise Help

If more diners are using mobile in their eating experiences, it makes sense to invest in that channel and reach them where they are. And more consumers are open to mobile marketing. Franchise Help goes on to say: Almost a third of consumers indicated that they are receptive to text message marketing.

While these trends indicate some of the reasons text messaging for restaurant marketing is surging, there are other factors which help match bulk text messaging with restaurant promotion perfectly.

We’ll show you those reasons below and how to take advantage of this marketing channel now, as your market changes.

Mouth-Watering Text Message Strategies

Free Dessert Text Message

We’ll show you what text marketing is, how it works, why it works well for restaurants, where to advertise your list, and some examples of restaurants which have excelled with mass text marketing.

And in The Restaurant Text Messaging Playbook, we’ll give you 18 types of messages you can copy and use as you build your brand.

What is Text Message Marketing?

Dairy Farm Text Message

Text message marketing is known by a few different names. Short Message Service (SMS) marketingMultimedia Messaging Service (MMS) marketingbulk text marketing, and mass texting, to name a few. SMS texts are 160 characters or less, and MMS messages can contain more than 160 characters as well as video or images.

Text message marketing is when an organization sends a single message to a large number of people at once. This is called 1-to-many texting. Mobile carriers monitor texting activity to regulate text marketing, as opposed to 1-to-1 texting between individuals.

So, you can’t use a regular cell number and plan to do text marketing. Text message marketing has to be done through an approved service provider (like us).

How Text Marketing Works

Create a New Message Screenshot

Marketing text messages are delivered through short codes, 5 or 6 digit numbers. These short codes can be shared by many organizations or dedicated to a single company. Because of the high yearly lease payments for these codes, most companies opt to use a shared short code through a service provider.

Keywords are often used in conjunction with short codes as a means of opting into an organization’s text marketing communications. For instance, an Italian restaurant might advertise an incentive to join their text list using a keyword and short code:

Text ‘SPAGHETTI’ to 474747 to get 30% off your bill today!

In that example, SPAGHETTI is the Keyword, and 474747 is the short code. When someone sends that text, they receive an autoresponse and are automatically added to the restaurant’s text marketing list for future communications (You’ll be automatically assigned a shared short code by the service provider.)

When you sign up with a text marketing platform, one of the first things you’ll do is reserve Keywords for your restaurant. Our sign-up tutorial tour makes this step super-simple. Brainstorm a few ideas, enter them, and the platform lets you know which are available. It’s a best practice to reserve single-word Keywords because they won’t get changed by the person’s mobile autocorrect feature.

Once you get your short code and selecting a Keyword, text message marketing is surprisingly versatile, quick, and simple. You just write a 160-character message (or use one of our templates) and send.

You don’t have to come up with a clever subject line to get people to open your message as you do with email. You don’t have to optimize your content for some mysterious algorithm as you do with Facebook and Google. And you don’t have to spend hours or days drafting and editing content as you do with blogging. You just select the right group of contacts, write a short message, send, and get back to managing your restaurant.

Where to Advertise Your Text List

Growing Your SMS Campaigns Guide

Text message marketing is a permission-based activity. It is against the law to send marketing texts without getting permission from the contact. So, building a strong text contact list is one of the keys to successful bulk SMS marketing for restaurants. We show you how to grow your list in our free Guide to Growing SMS marketing.

As we mentioned above, restaurants have found great success by offering incentives to join their text marketing lists. They offer free appetizers or desserts, discounts on tickets, or even branded merchandise.

Once you’ve decided on an incentive, it’s time to promote the offer everywhere you can. Here are some of the places restaurants have advertised their text offer:

  • Menus
  • Receipts
  • Table
  • Tents
  • Placemats
  • Window Signs
  • Cash Register
  • Website (you can use our web widget to make this easy)
  • Social Channels
  • Email

Cross-channel promotion is sometimes overlooked as a tactic even by experienced marketers. The customers who have already opted-in to communications on social, email, or direct mail are likely to be excited to receive messages by text. So make sure to include these channels as you build your new text marketing contact list.

Related Reading: 5 Ways to Make Text Message Marketing for Restaurants Sizzle

Why Text Message Marketing Works for Restaurants

Text Messaging Playbook for Restaurants

One of the keys to success is getting to customers at the right time with the right message. Text messaging is the tool of choice when you need to reach people while they're making meal plans.

Marketing text messages have a higher read rate than other marketing channels by an order of magnitude. Our internal studies have shown that 98% of text messages are read by recipients. Compare that with the average open rate of email at 21%.

Not only are nearly all text messages read, but they’re also read quickly. A recent study found that 90% of text messages are read within the first three minutes of receipt.

So, if you want to make sure people get the message at the right time (while they’re making lunch or dinner plans), text marketing is the perfect channel to use.

Many restaurant managers have found that their best customers enjoy being part of an exclusive group. They promote their text list as a VIP list and offer these contacts specials that they can’t get any other way.

Another reason restaurant marketers are finding success with mass text is that they can deliver sumptuous pics of their best dishes. Through MMS messaging, restaurants can include professional images of their specials along with a description, the offer, and a Call-to-Action to take advantage of the deal.

Fine dining establishments also use MMS messages with a portrait image to introduce new chefs or team members.

Related Reading: Why MMS Marketing is Perfect for Restaurants

We’ll show you many other types of messages to send (18 to be exact!) in our free resource: The Restaurant Text Messaging Playbook.

Examples: Restaurant Marketing with Text Messages

While text message marketing for restaurants is simple and easy to manage, that doesn’t mean you should learn by trial and error. Take a look at the following summaries of our restaurant case studies and keep in mind that our team of restaurant text marketing experts are happy to help you get started on the right foot.

Free Pizza Text Message

Domino's: Cross-Channel Promotion

A Domino’s Pizza franchise in Charlotte, NC, which serves a predominantly college market, found that text message marketing was the perfect cross-channel partner to build their Facebook group.

To get a free pizza, people had to join the text list and like the Facebook page. Here’s how it worked.

Franchise owner Ryan Swanson found that UNC-Charlotte’s basketball games were a great place to reach a lot of his market at once. To kick things off, he created a new ad for the arena displays offering a free pizza to anyone who texted ‘49ER’ to 858585.

People who texted got the following auto-reply:

To get FREE pizza join our facebook group at once you join post a message (I GOT A TEXT) & you will get FREE pizza code Reply STOP 49ER 2 Optout

With this innovative approach, Swanson instantly grew his text marketing list to 600 and the Facebook page increased by 350 fans.

Read the full case study here >

5 off Coupon Text Message

Brian's Place: Multi-Campaign Approach

Brian Alvarez, of Brian’s Place Restaurant in Hernando Beach, FL, has successfully leveraged a varied text campaign approach to build his business.

To increase traffic at slow times, Brian offers a $5 off coupon for guests who come in midweek or during the off-season. A minimum order is required, so he’s sure not to lose money on the offer. These offers are only available to his text VIP member list. An astonishing 40-70 people take him up on the offer each time he sends the text.

Since he’s on the coast of Florida and has access to fresh seafood, Brian offers an occasional Catch of the Week. This special has been a hit with customers. He sends out a great-looking picture to accompany the announcement through MMS messaging.

Brian also gets traction by marketing special events through his text VIP program. “Come out to Brian’s Place this Saturday from 6pm to 9pm for live music!” He sends an announcement the week of the event to build anticipation as well as a text the day of the event as a reminder.

Read the full case study here >

Special Offer Text Message

The Couch Tomato Cafe: Free Add-On

The Couch Tomato Cafe is a family-style restaurant in Philadelphia. Owner Craig Mosmen struggled to find an advertising channel which provided the traction to get customers in the door and the trackability to evaluate the return on his investment.

He found text message marketing to be the perfect solution.

The Couch Tomato Cafe spent an entire year collecting text message opt-ins and grew his list to over 5,000. He then got extraordinary results by texting the following special to his contacts:

*Special Offer* til March 31st; mention text - FREE QUESADILLAS with purchase of any Pizza AND Salad!!

Since he was able to easily track the response to this campaign, he knew he’d hit a home run. Mosmen calculated that he brought in an additional $1,050 with 70 extra orders.

Read the full case study here >

Text Message Playbook to Win at Restaurant Marketing

Restaurant MMS Message

With over 50,000 customers and a decade in business, we’ve seen what works and doesn’t work in text marketing for restaurants. We can offer assistance as you start out on your text messaging journey to grow your business. When you win, we win.

As you evaluate the possibilities of text message marketing, you’ll want to plan out some campaigns and build your own SMS playbook. You’ve seen some fantastic campaign ideas above, but there are a lot more free resources available to give you ideas.

With you in mind, we’ve developed The Restaurant Text Messaging Playbook, which has 18 campaign templates which you can copy and use in your own marketing. These templates include:

  • Weekly Specials
  • Special Events (holiday parties, wine tastings, etc.)
  • Your Table is Ready
  • Birthdays Contests (send dish photos to enter)
  • Reservation Reminders
  • Staff Communications
  • And More!