Marketing Strategy for Restaurants: 1 Tip No One Mentions

April 18, 2023 | By Sam Pelton
People eating at a restaurant

Running a business in the restaurant industry is difficult.

According to CNBC, “Around 60 percent of new restaurants fail within the first year. And nearly 80 percent shutter before their fifth anniversary.”

Between competition, difficulty with finding the right location, and concerns with getting the right online presence, restaurant owners and marketers need every edge they can get in order to make it.

That all being said, finding the right marketing strategy for restaurants can make or break your business.

But while there are plenty of resources out there to give you some great ideas for your marketing strategy, there’s one simple tool that no one seems to talk about but that can have a hugely significant impact for your business: SMS.

So we’ll go over some broad tips regarding marketing for restaurants, and then we’ll walk through that 1 significant marketing tool.

5 General Marketing Strategy Tips for Restaurants

1. Focus on Digital

We live in a digital age. People are constantly glued to their phones—on social media and Googling everything they want to know.

To help illustrate, there are 311.3 million internet users in the United States alone and 287.5 million people who access the internet via a mobile device.

Invest in this side of your marketing before you worry as much about traditional marketing through avenues such as billboards and mailings because the digital world is where your biggest audience is.

Below are a few ways to invest in your digital marketing.

Make sure your online presence is updated regularly and is accurate.

You should have a Google listing, and your Google listing should have correct information about your business, such as hours of operation.

Pursue campaigns to get more online reviews.

Online reviews are extremely important for restaurants, particularly if your restaurant isn’t a part of a well-known chain. Make a push to get a lot of good online reviews in whatever review profile you think your audience is most likely to read—and then you can repurpose the review content and results for other marketing initiatives.

3 of the best review sites for restaurants to focus on include Google My Business, Yelp, and Facebook.

Try to develop a strong social media presence.

This is easier said than done, but the more popular you are on social media, the more business you will get. Create or share content that is engaging and shareable to help hype up your brand.

Think about SEO.

Although SEO isn’t perhaps as important for a brick-and-mortar restaurant as it would be for a business that’s entirely online, it’s still important and is something you should consider. You want to be ranked in Google and to gain more exposure to your website—particularly for terms that people in your local area will be searching.

Try your hand at Google Ads and social media ads.

Use the power of the dollar to create ads for Google and social media. You can target and customize these ads to help you reach the people who are most likely to frequent your business.

Don’t forget about other marketing communications as well.

We’ll expand on some of this in a separate point, but SMS, push notifications, and email can be powerful marketing tools to get repeat business and keep your brand top of mind for your customers.

Person at a restaurant on phone

2. Don’t Neglect Traditional Marketing

While it’s good to focus on digital marketing in the current climate, you don’t want to neglect the power of traditional marketing as well.

Billboards, mailings, fliers—these types of marketing tactics still have their place and can still help you drive revenue.

For example, by some reports direct mail can have open rates of up to 90% (as a comparison, this is much higher than average email marketing open rates which are around 20–25%).

You’ll need to do a cost-benefit analysis to determine which avenues of traditional marketing are worth pursuing for your specific situation.

Depending on the type of restaurant you operate, one common strategy is mailing out coupons. Many people make their decisions about where to eat based on the coupons that they have. So this is a potentially powerful marketing tool, if it’s appropriate for your business.

3. Email, Email, Email!

Build your email list.

And then email the heck out of it!

OK, don’t go overboard. But don’t worry too much about sending too many emails.

To put it in perspective, Pizza Ranch sends about 3–4 emails per week. Old Chicago sends 2–3 emails per week. Olive Garden sends 2 emails per week.

(GrubHub recommends sending no more than one email per week.)

All of that may sound like a lot—and maybe it would be too much for your particular audience—but people are generally tolerant of receiving emails, because they’re used to it.

And if you give them something valuable in those emails, you’ll make opening your emails worth their while.

How do you build your email list? You need some kind of incentive—some common ones are a “birthday club” or a free or discounted item on the next visit.

Once you have an incentive figured out, you can advertise your incentive in-store (for example, through QR codes), on social media (for example, through an engaging video or post), on your website (for example, through an exit pop-up), or in your mobile app (if you have one).

4. Test Your Audience

A key tenet of any marketing strategy is to test your audience.

Your audience is unique and may not respond to what you think they’ll respond to.

You can (and should) get to know your audience by performing market research—surveys, interviews, and the like. But when it comes down to it, you just have to test things and see what works.

Don’t be frustrated if something doesn’t work. That’s just a part of marketing! It’s a constant learning process, and it never stops because there’s always more to test. (Plus, both you and your audience are constantly evolving, so marketing tactics that worked at one time may not work at another.)

Be patient with the process, and make decisions based on the data you collect rather than based on what you feel should work. (Although there is something to be said for “going with your gut” at times too, since data can be flawed, inconclusive, or misunderstood.)

5. Use SMS

It’s surprising that no one seems to talk about this, but don’t forget about the power of SMS.

It’s a tool that is widely used among restaurants, and with good reason. We’ll go over some of the specific benefits of using SMS below—as well as some tips on how exactly you should use it.

Enjoy a FREE taco when you visit Taco Emporium for Cinco de Mayo!

The Marketing Strategy for Restaurants No One Talks About: SMS

SMS marketing has many benefits for restaurants. Here are some of the key advantages:

High Open and Response Rates

SMS messages have a high open rate of 98%, which is outstanding. This is significantly higher than email marketing, which as we mentioned previously, typically has an open rate of around 20–25%.

And since SMS are seen at a much higher rate than emails or other marketing avenues, you can also be confident that you’ll see higher response rates as well.

Instant Delivery

SMS messages are delivered instantly, and typically seen within minutes, which means that restaurants can quickly communicate with their customers and respond to their needs in near real-time.

So, for example, you can catch customers just before dinnertime, before they’ve decided where to go to eat.

Hungry? I’m thinking Italian! Stop by Vincenzo’s - No reservation needed tonight and wait times are less than 10 minutes!


SMS marketing is a cost-effective way to promote your restaurant. Sending SMS messages is much less expensive than some traditional advertising methods, such as print ads and billboards.

Although SMS costs more than email on a per-message basis, SMS has much higher open and response rates than email, so you don’t need to send as many messages in order to make an impact - and the ROI can be significant.


SMS marketing allows you to send personalized messages to customers, which can help to build stronger relationships and increase customer loyalty.

You can parse your text messages with customers’ first names, making the message feel more personal.

From: Hacienda Hernadez - Happy birthday, Mary! Get a free dessert with any purchase this month. Just show this text when you come in!


SMS marketing platforms like Mobile Text Alerts provide multiple different opt-in methods for your customers to sign up to receive your texts.

Allowing customers to opt in means that restaurants can be sure that their messages are being sent to customers who are actually interested in hearing from them.

Best Practices for Using SMS Marketing for Restaurants

While SMS marketing can be an effective tool for restaurants, there are some best practices that you should follow to help ensure success. Here are some tips for using SMS marketing.

Get Permission

Before sending any SMS messages, restaurants should get permission from customers. This can be done through a sign-up form on your website, in-person at the store, or via methods such as text-to-join or QR codes (these options are built into the Mobile Text Alerts platform).

Note that your subscribers can opt out anytime simply by replying back to any of your messages with the word STOP—since the "unsubscribe" process is handled automatically by the SMS platform, you don’t have to worry about keeping track of those who have unsubscribed.

Segment Your Audience

Segmenting your audience allows you to send targeted messages to specific groups of customers. For example, you could send a special offer to customers who haven't visited your restaurant in a while, or who belong to a particular demographic, or who typically visit a specific location (if you have multiple locations).

Sending these more relevant messages means your customers are more likely to engage positively with what you want them to do.

Manage Groups

Get a Free 14-Day Trial with Mobile Text Alerts

set password visible

Keep Messages Short and Sweet

SMS messages should typically be short and to the point. Customers are more likely to read and respond to messages that are concise and easy to understand.

SMS messages have a limit of 160 characters (although you can send more than that if you’re willing to be charged more messaging credits), so it’s best to keep your messages under that threshold if possible.

If you need to send a longer message, consider attaching an image to make it an MMS instead. Also, consider adding paragraph spaces to make the message easier to read (rather than one big chunk of text).

Provide Value

SMS messages should provide continued value to customers. With restaurants, this often comes in the form of exclusive offers or discounts.

Providing value will encourage customers to pay attention to your messages, and will help keep them from wanting to opt out.

Don’t Over-Send

Unlike email, in which it’s typical to receive multiple per month, SMS is a more personal communication avenue.

Since it’s more personal, and since people are more prone to actually read all of their messages, your audience won’t be as patient with receiving a lot of messages. And, as we mentioned previously, you don’t need to send as many messages in order to make an impact.

You should get to know your audience and figure out what kind of cadence they best respond to. We’d recommend starting with 2 SMS campaigns per month and tracking the results to determine whether you should try ramping up or pulling back.

Use a Strong Call-to-Action

Your message should include a strong call-to-action that encourages the customer to do something.

This call-to-action could be to visit the restaurant, order online, or make a reservation.

Free delivery TODAY ONLY when you order online! Order now:

Personalize with the Customer’s Name and Other Info

Personalization can make your message more effective.

When possible, use the customer's name in the message or reference their past orders or preferences. (The SMS platform will give you a tool to automatically parse in the customer’s name.)

How to Create an SMS Marketing Campaign for Restaurants

To create a successful SMS marketing campaign for your restaurant, follow these steps.

Step 1: Select an SMS Platform

An SMS platform will allow you to manage your SMS contacts, send one-off texts, set up automated campaigns, manage opt-in methods, and monitor your message results all in one place.

We, of course, would recommend Mobile Text Alerts as your platform of choice. You can get a free consultation to see how an SMS platform works and to get any questions answered about SMS marketing for your situation in particular.

Step 2: Define Your Goals

Before you start actually sending messages, you’ll want to define your goals.

What do you want to achieve with your campaign? Do you want to increase sales, promote a new menu item, or encourage customers to visit during a specific time of day that’s typically lower-traffic?

Once you have defined your goals, you’ll be able to create campaigns that are tailored to meet those objectives.

Step 3: Plan and Set Up Your Campaigns

Once you have your goals nailed down, you can start creating message campaigns. You can set up a whole workflow of messages, schedule one-off messages, and/or set up auto-response messages to be sent under certain conditions.

For example, say you want to create an onboarding flow for new people who join your text club. You could set up an initial welcome response they’ll receive as soon as they sign up, then they could receive a follow-up message a week later with another offer, then another message a week after that with a third offer.

Send message page

Step 4: Measure and Adjust

The final step in creating a successful SMS marketing campaign is to measure its effectiveness and adjust as necessary.

Use analytics tools to track the success of your campaign and make adjustments based on the results. For example, if you notice that certain messages are not getting a good response, you may need to adjust something about your approach.

You can test different elements of your SMS campaigns (just like you probably do for your email campaigns), including:

  • Your offer
  • Your message copy
  • Your timing
  • Your frequency

Try SMS Marketing for Your Restaurant

SMS marketing can be a highly effective tool for restaurants looking to improve their marketing strategy. With its high open rates, instant delivery, and high engagement, SMS marketing can help restaurants to communicate with their customers in a powerful way that brings results.

By following best practices and creating a successful SMS marketing campaign, restaurants can attract more customers, increase sales, and build stronger relationships with their customer base.

So if you're a restaurant owner or marketer looking to improve your marketing strategy, consider adding SMS marketing to your arsenal of digital marketing tools.

Get a Free 14-Day Trial Account

Start sending mass text alerts to your entire list today!