5 Email Marketing Mistakes Your Restaurant Should Avoid

May 27, 2024 11:30:38 AM

We all know that email marketing can be a powerful tool for restaurants, but let's be honest—it's easy to make mistakes that can seriously undermine your efforts. 

Sending poorly crafted emails that miss the mark is not only a waste of time, but it can also harm your brand image.

Maybe you've seen your open rates plummet or noticed an uptick in unsubscribes. 

Or maybe you're wondering why your click-through rates are less than stellar.

If your email campaigns aren't delivering results, there's likely something you're overlooking.

Fortunately, even the biggest email marketing mistakes are often easy to fix. 

In this article, we'll cover five common missteps restaurants make and show you exactly how to course-correct.

Let's get started.

Sending Unsolicited Emails

When you're first starting out with email marketing, it's tempting to blast messages to as many people as possible. 

More eyes on your promotions means more potential customers, right? 


One of the biggest mistakes you can make is sending emails to people who simply don't want them.

Imagine opening your inbox and finding it stuffed with unsolicited emails from restaurants you've never interacted with. 

Not only is it annoying, but it erodes trust, especially among younger generations who already feel frustrated by marketing communications.

statistic showing that 74% of millennials are frustrated with too many marketing communications

Illustration: Tablein / Data: SmarterHQ

Two common scenarios are restaurant owners buying email lists or simply deciding to send emails to each guest they have an address for, even if they never actively signed up for a newsletter.

So, how do you avoid this pitfall? 

First, never buy email lists. That's a quick way to land in spam folders. 

Second, always get explicit permission from your guests. 

Ask them if they'd like to receive your emails, and specify what type of content they're interested in (newsletters, specials, etc.).

Once you have that precious permission, you MUST honor it. 

That means making it easy for people to unsubscribe whenever they want. 

This isn't just a nice thing to do. In some places, it’s the law, as outlined in the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003.

explanation of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003

Illustration: Tablein / Data: FCC

You can craft beautiful emails with perfect timing, but, unfortunately, if someone wants out, you need to respect their choice.

In fact, it's even better to be proactive. 

If you notice certain guests aren't opening your emails or haven’t interacted with them, why not reach out and check in? 

A simple email, like the one from Patina Restaurant Group shown below, can work wonders.

example of an email asking whether a subscriber wants to remain subscribed

Source: Patina

It shows you're not just pushing marketing, you actually care about their experience. 

Offering them the chance to unsubscribe or change their email preferences might feel counterintuitive, but remember: a smaller list of engaged subscribers is far more valuable than a large list of people who ignore you.

The bottom line is to build your email list organically, with genuine interest. 

And always give people a clear way to opt out if they change their minds.

Not Personalizing Your Emails

Imagine opening your email inbox to find yet another generic message from a restaurant. 

It's filled with stock phrases, urging you to book immediately, and it feels like it was sent to a million other people. 

Doesn't exactly spark excitement, does it? 

In fact, this kind of impersonal, cookie-cutter approach is a fast track to the unsubscribe button.

Generic emails are forgettable and can make your guests feel like just another number. 

Guests crave a personal touch—something that makes them feel valued and understood, with stats backing this up.

statistics showing that 33% of guests want brands to deliver more personalization

Illustration: Tablein / Data: Bounteous

See how something as simple as using a guest's name makes a difference? 

When nearly 60% of diners say this makes them feel more appreciated, it's a no-brainer to do it! 

And, thankfully, most reservation systems (or even simple newsletter sign-up forms) collect basic contact info during the booking or sign-up process.

tablein tool screenshot

Source: Tablein

But true personalization goes beyond just using names and writing "Hi John!" in the email subject line.

Consider something as simple as guest notes and preferences. 

Do you have regular diners who are vegan or gluten-free? 

You can put them into a separate list and send them targeted emails showcasing your plant-based or gluten-free options.

Or, think about feedback comments and ratings, total number of visits, and cancellation info. 

All of this guest data is here to help you create special offers and personalize your communication.

an illustration listing types of guest data collected by a restaurant reservation system

Source: Tablein

By tapping into this wealth of information, you transform your email marketing into a tailored experience. 

It's about recognizing guest preferences, anticipating their needs, and showing them that you truly value their patronage.

If managing all this data feels daunting, look for a reservation system with robust guest database features. 

Tablein, for example, allows you to easily download guest data into a usable format with all the guest details we already discussed neatly organized. 

Plus, our integrations with tools like Mailchimp and MailerLite make the process even smoother.

In a nutshell, ditch the generic blast emails and embrace personalization. 

Your guests will appreciate it, and your bottom line will thank you.

Having an Inconsistent Sending Schedule

Let's move on to a mistake that often flies under the radar: an inconsistent email sending schedule.

What often happens is that restaurants neglect to create a solid schedule and end up sending emails sporadically, usually only when someone remembers to do it. 

But this approach can be detrimental to your goals.

Think about it—if you send emails too infrequently, your restaurant risks fading from your guests' memories. 

On the other hand, bombarding their inboxes with multiple messages a day will quickly become annoying (and lead to a surge of unsubscribes). 

So, how do you find that perfect balance?

It all starts with a simple content calendar.

an illustration of a restaurant email content calendar

Source: Tablein

This doesn't have to be anything fancy. 

A spreadsheet or table can do wonders. 

Just map out the dates and times you plan to send emails, jot down some potential subject lines, define who you're targeting, and note the type of content you’re sending. 

It's straightforward and keeps you organized and on track.

While creating your calendar, consider the optimal timing for your emails. 

According to HubSpot, Tuesday mornings are a good starting point.

illustration showing that the best day to send emails is on tuesday between 9 and 12 am

Illustration: Tablein / Data: HubSpot

That's not to say every email needs to be sent at that exact time, but if you have a big announcement or a juicy promotion, Tuesday mornings might give you the best chance of it being seen.

Finally, don't forget to account for events!

Mark those major holidays, local festivals, or even your restaurant's anniversary in your content calendar.

screenshot of a calendar with us holidays

Source: Calendarpedia

Each of these events provides a prime opportunity to send out special promotions, tailored to the occasion. 

Think of a Thanksgiving feast discount promotion or a special menu to celebrate your restaurant's milestone birthday. The possibilities are endless.

By being strategic with your email schedule and aligning it with events, you'll ensure your messaging feels timely and relevant to your audience.

Crafting Poor Subject Lines

Okay, let's say you've followed our advice so far. 

You've got your opt-ins in order, you're sending emails at optimal times... but your open rates are dismal and the unsubscribe button is getting a workout. 

What's going on? 

Well, say your subject lines look something like the one shown in the next image.

illustration of an email example with a bad subject line

Source: Tablein

Does this feel like a friendly invitation to a delicious meal? Or does it scream "spam alert!"? 

Subject lines are the first impression your email makes, and a bad one can stop a potential guest before they even open it.

Think about it. We're all receiving tons of emails these days and we either just quickly scan through the subject lines or let email filters do that for us. 

A poorly written subject line might trigger spam filters, get buried under a pile of more interesting messages, or simply make your email look untrustworthy.

So, how do you avoid these pitfalls?

Let's look at some common mistakes.

email subject line mistakes

Source: Tablein

First and foremost, avoid spam trigger words like "FREE," "GUARANTEED," or excessive punctuation (!!!!). 

Typos and grammatical errors also send red flags, and they can land your carefully crafted email right in the spam folder.

Even if you avoid spam triggers, clickbait-y subject lines are a recipe for disappointment. 

Using misleading tactics like "You won't believe this incredible offer!" only to deliver a mediocre discount leaves guests feeling tricked and less likely to trust your future emails.

Finally, let's talk about those extra flourishes: emojis and all caps. 

A well-placed emoji can add personality and grab attention, but too many can make your email look unprofessional. 

Similarly, all caps might highlight an important word, but using them for the entire subject line just feels like you're shouting.

To up your subject line game, take inspiration from your favorite emails

What makes you want to open them? 

You can even read articles or tutorials on writing great subject lines, as there are plenty out there.

Finally, you can even use some interesting online tools like this Mailmeteor subject line tester shown below.

Mailmeteor subject line tester screenshot

Source: Mailmeteor

See how that spammy email subject line we tested out scored a measly 35/100? 

The checker correctly pointed out the many spam words used and even provided an AI-generated alternative with a better score. 

Ultimately, a powerful subject line is clear, concise, and honest, inviting guests to open your email and discover the delicious content within.

Failing to Include Calls to Action

Let's wrap up with a crucial email marketing misstep—failing to include compelling calls to action (CTAs). 

In a nutshell, a CTA is your invitation to the guest. It's what you want them to do after reading your email. 

After all, you've poured time and effort into crafting an engaging message, so don't forget to give readers that nudge to take action. 

Whether it's booking a table, claiming a limited-time offer, or even following you on social media, every email should have a clear goal.

CTAs can take many forms, as you can see below.

screenshot of a restaurant email with different ctas

Source: Primavera Kitchen

From a "View Recipe" prompt to increase guest engagement and make them visit your website, a "Visit Our Store" CTA if you sell merchandise or food products online, to the classic "Book Now" button to drive reservations, you have a lot of options to work with. 

And harnessing the full potential of these CTAs is essential for achieving your email marketing goals. 

But be careful as even with CTAs, mistakes can happen. 

Let's look at some things to avoid.

restaurant email cta don'ts

Source: Tablein

Have you ever opened an email and felt overwhelmed by too many buttons? 

It's a common mistake, leaving the guest unsure of what to do. Without a clear focus, your email loses its power to drive specific actions.

Other problems lie in how CTAs are designed.

If your button blends into the background or uses bland, generic words like "Click Here," it's easily overlooked. 

Even worse, "clickbait" language like "Don't miss out on this secret offer!" can come across as spammy and damage your credibility.

So, what's the solution? 

Stick to one or two CTAs per email, and make them pop by focusing on these design elements:

  • Size: Make a big and bold button so it commands attention.
  • Design: Use visual elements like shadows and gradients to make it stand out.
  • Color: Choose a color that contrasts with your background and text.
  • Whitespace: Give your button some breathing room, so it doesn't get lost in the shuffle.

By crafting irresistible CTAs, you'll turn your emails into interactive tools that drive engagement and get results.


And that wraps up our article on email marketing mistakes. 

We've covered everything from the spammy pitfalls of sending unwanted emails to the importance of a consistent schedule, compelling subject lines, and clear calls to action. 

We've also discussed the vital role personalization plays in making your emails truly effective.

By recognizing these mistakes and taking proactive steps to avoid them, you can revitalize your email campaigns and build stronger connections with your guests. 

As a final note, remember that your goal shouldn’t be just to avoid annoying your subscribers. 

Instead, try to craft an email experience that gets guests excited to hear from your restaurant!