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Think Ink: Direct Mail Marketing For Restaurants

Though the common belief is that today’s younger consumers are digital natives, glued to their smartphones, and only reachable through social media, the truth is, this age group responds to a marketing channel that’s been around for centuries and is now more dynamic than ever: direct mail.

If you think direct mail is an outdated way to attract customers to your restaurant, think again. In a time when customers are shying away from food delivery due to boosted menu prices, outlandish fees, and surcharges out the wazoo (let’s face it – customers are noticing!), an irresistible incentive sent straight to customers' mailboxes the old-fashioned way could be one of the most influential marketing strategies of the day.

Direct, to the point, and tangible, there's just nothing that has proven itself to sell takeout and delivery than good old school paper in the mailbox.

One way to see how effective direct mail marketing can be is to examine today’s restaurant consumer mindset. Here are the facts.

  • Rising prices have made restaurant dining and delivery more expensive.

  • Coupons, discounts, and deals can influence consumers to visit restaurants in person or order takeout and delivery.

  • Restaurants need to take an omnichannel approach to promote their deals.

  • Direct mail is one of the most overlooked, straightforward, and cost-effective marketing channels of all.

  • Direct mail makes collecting customer data easy by using coupons and discount codes to track sales.

Let’s dive deeper.

Due to record-high inflation, restaurant prices are rising, and as a result, consumers are visiting restaurants less frequently, ordering fewer items, and cooking at home more often. A byproduct of the days of lockdown, consumers have gotten extremely savvy around the kitchen and even savvier around the marketplace.

All of this boils down to this: it is still a difficult time for the restaurant industry. After over two years of ever-changing restrictions, soaring prices, food chain shortages, and a labor crisis, restaurant operators are rattled. Couple this with rampant inflation, and restaurants are experiencing depressed demand.

For all these reasons and more, there has never been a more critical time for restaurants to get their marketing strategy right.

Despite the ongoing challenges faced by restaurants, there is some light at the end of the tunnel—people have not lost their appetite for dining out and ordering in. And if there was one thing that could tip the decision-making scales in the food service industry’s favor, it’s great deals.

According to a recent study, researchers have discovered that deals in the way of directly mailed physical coupons are often the defining factors of whether people choose to eat out or order in or simply prepare a meal at home.

61% of people agree that rising prices make restaurant dining too expensive and that the effects of inflation are felt across the board—at the grocery store, the gas pump, and the housing market— so consumers are seeking new (or going back to old) ways to save money and be more cost-conscious.

There is a dichotomy at play as well, as consumers struggle between a desire to be pragmatic and the urge to get out there and have a little fun again.

After a few years of being stuck in the house, and not knowing when it would all end, consumers, especially the younger generations, are much more optimistic in 2023 than ever before, prompting them to look for new ways to enjoy life. For many, this includes dining out or ordering delivery from new places. When it comes to where and what to eat, however, deals influence consumer behavior.

A good deal via a simple direct mail piece can help immensely with their dining decisions. Not only can direct mail deals entice people to try something new, but coupons and discounts can boost the frequency of visits and increase basket size.

Stats to consider:

More to Digest

Especially in a time when belts are tightened, dining out can be quite a luxury. With many families putting off vacations and other more costly leisure-time endeavors, eating out is something to look forward to. But, when all is said and done, restaurant dining is still a discretionary expense for consumers and can be one of the first cuts from the budget when money is tight.

Consider this:

1- Younger consumers prefer to eat out

Older generations like Gen X and the baby boomer crowd are more practical with their spending; not so with millennials and Gen Z who are more likely to look to restaurants for their dining decisions.

Stats to Consider

  • While only a third of baby boomers eat at a restaurant each week, 41% of millennials dine out on a weekly basis.

  • 11% of Gen Z do not ever cook at home. That’s a whole lot of people who look to restaurants as their exclusive means of eating. And more than other generations, these younger consumers are constantly in the market for a dining discount.

  • While many dine out or pick up takeout, 36% of millennial parents and 32% of Gen Z will not do so without a discount. Deals drive the decision to eat out and which restaurant to go to.

  • 72% of millennial parents and 61% of Gen Zers are influenced by a coupon, discount, or promotion when choosing a restaurant.

2 - Eating out and ordering in is usually a spur-of-the-moment decision

For many, eating out or ordering delivery is often unplanned, with the decision to eat a meal at a restaurant generally being a spontaneous decision.

With the return to normal sneaking up on many consumers at staggered times, people’s lives are busier than ever. Whether soccer games have resumed on the same day that their work schedule demands sticking around past “clock out time,” remote work has suddenly reverted back to an in-office situation, or there are doctors appointments mounting up, it’s a hectic and unusually crazy time for families. Then there are times when people are just tired or not in the mood to cook. Life happens, and this causes many to decide on the fly that they need a break from cooking at home.

With so many consumers deciding at the last minute to eat out, order delivery, or pick up a last-minute pizza, simple old-fashioned coupons appearing in the mailbox can have a huge impact on these out-of-the-blue, we’re-hungry-now, and I-don’t-want-to-cook decisions.

3 - Omni-channel marketing works

Coupons, discounts, and promotions will not help your restaurant if customers do not know about them, which is why restaurants must meet customers where they are. Taking an omnichannel approach to marketing requires making the offline-online experience consistent and seamless.

Stats to Consider

  • 46% of consumers use the internet to search for restaurant coupons or discounts

  • 49% use mobile to save on restaurant dining

  • 26% of millennials and 28% of Gen Z are influenced by social media recommendations

Omni-channel Marketing Strategies

Promote deals online

Now is not the time to cut back on your marketing spending. Use your digital platforms, loyalty programs, and mobile ordering to get in front of your customers, keep them engaged, and drive their dining decisions in your favor.

Go old school

With so many advertising messages vying for their attention online, offline marketing channels can help your restaurant stand out. While it may seem old school, people, including younger generations, look to print ads and direct mail for deals.

More stats to consider

  • 42% of consumers use direct mail to help plan restaurant visits.

  • 65% of millennial parents and 51% of Gen Z look to newspaper ads when choosing a restaurant.

  • 23% of Gen Z will go online after seeing a print ad or receiving a coupon in the mail to order at a restaurant.

  • 21% of consumers will go online to visit a restaurant’s menu after receiving a direct mail coupon, menu, or flyer.

  • 72% of Gen Z and 74% of millennials will go online to review a menu or download an app after seeing a print ad or receiving a direct mail promotion.

What is Direct Mail?

Direct mail is any form of printed promotional material, including flyers, pamphlets, menus, coupons, and postcards.

Why Direct Mail Works

Consumers that have become immune to click-bait online links are more likely to trust direct mail because the message is right there in print. With a tangible mail piece, consumers don’t have to click and scroll through dozens of website pages to find what they’re looking for.

The Best Times for Restaurants to Use Direct Mail

Regardless of the medium or marketing channel, knowing when to run a restaurant direct mail campaign is important. Menu specials, grand openings, special events, and holiday menus do extremely well when promoted via direct mail marketing.

  • Grand openings

Direct mailers are still a must ahead of any restaurant’s grand opening. When a local community hasn’t heard of your restaurant, nothing works quite as efficiently or effectively as direct mail to get the word out to as many potential guests as possible.

Take advantage of consumers’ natural love for trying something new by pairing your opening announcement with great grand opening offers, such as 2-for-1 deals, drink specials, or locals-only incentives such as asking customers to show their school ID for a free dessert.

  • Customer birthdays

Birthdays are a great time to engage with customers on a personal level. Nothing entices a guest to visit your restaurant more than a discount coupon for a free meal, dessert, or specialty drink on their special day. Use customer data you’ve collected via email marketing to send personalized birthday cards to customers. This not only makes the customer feel appreciated by the restaurant, but it’s also one of the best ways to recruit loyal customers for the long term.

  • Holidays

Like birthdays, direct mail promotions ahead of big holidays are a great way to incentivize your guests to visit your restaurant on a special day. This works especially well for holidays like Mother's Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and New Year’s Eve.

  • Sporting events

Like the holidays, your customers will appreciate receiving a direct mail promotion good for a free this or that during your home team’s playoff game, the Super Bowl, or the World series. This works especially well if your restaurant will be broadcasting the game live.

  • Just because

When it comes to promotional campaigns, any time is a good time. There’s no need to overdo it. Something as small as adding a free drink for a limited time or specific day would do the trick of creating urgency and grabbing attention.

9 Suggestions for Successful Restaurant Direct Mail Campaigns

Now that we’ve covered the why and the when, let’s look at the how. Here are a few tips to ensure that your restaurant direct mail campaign is a hit.

  1. Start with a strong offer. Your offer should be compelling enough to get people to take action. For example, you could offer a discount on their next visit, a free appetizer, or a coupon for delivery orders placed directly through your website.

  2. Work with marketers. A do-it-yourself approach is okay if you have the time, but if the budget allows, it’s probably best to leave it up to the pros. There are likely hundreds of experienced third-party vendors that specialize in creating direct mail campaigns in your area. They will handle all the logistics, from the design of the mailer to handling delivery. Some will even help you track your campaign’s success by keeping a tally of the coupons being used via promotional coding.

  3. Build a mailing list. A great mailing list is everything. You can obtain data from your existing customers or find a reputable mail house that can provide you with a list of your desired target audience. Direct mail campaigns can be easily targeted via zip codes, as well. An example would be sending your mailer to anyone within a five-mile radius of your restaurant or within your delivery radius.

  4. Use attractive visuals. Like your website design, the visuals in your direct mail piece should be eye-catching and relevant to your restaurant.

  5. Keep the message clear and concise. Your direct mail piece should have a clear and concise message that tells the reader what you’re offering and how to take advantage of it.

  6. Use a call-to-action. Make sure your direct mail piece includes a call-to-action, such as “visit our website to order online” or “stop by to redeem today.”

  7. Get personal. Simply adding a recipient’s name to a direct mail piece can increase response rates by as much as 135%. Consumers have become immune to generic advertising. Bulk mail direct mail campaigns addressed “To Resident” are perceived as junk mail and will likely go straight from the mailbox to the circular file (the trash can.) The most successful direct mail marketing campaigns are personalized and targeted. And not only can names and addresses on the mailer be personalized, but nearly every component of your mail piece—including offers, logos, images, URLs, and QR codes—can be personalized too. The more personal the message, the more effective it will be.

  8. Prepare your website. Direct mail is all about reaching people offline, but your website still needs to be prepared, especially if you plan to direct people there via a QR code or link. This means your keywords need to be spot-on and all of your information, including address, hours, and menu needs to be complete and correct with sites like Google and Yelp. After all, when customers receive your direct mail piece, chances are, the first thing they’ll do is check you out online.

  9. Test and measure. Before you launch your direct mail campaign, test it out with a small group of people to see how they respond. Once you’ve launched your campaign, measure the results so you can make tweaks and improvements for future campaigns.

Whether it’s an online code for a carryout order or a physical coupon, make sure you collect data about the number of people who responded. Finally, assess the cost of your campaign. Factor in things like average check size and the number of repeat visits to get an idea of whether or not the campaign was a success.

While much of marketing has been digitized these days, restaurants shouldn’t underestimate the power of direct mail. Direct mail can be an effective marketing tool for restaurants. It allows you to target specific customers with personalized messages and offers. Plus, it can be a cost-effective way to reach a large number of potential customers.

People see hundreds of digital advertisements every day, but the average household keeps their mail for 17 days! This creates an invaluable opportunity to gain extra impressions with your target audience at no extra cost.

Direct mail can be a powerful marketing tool for restaurants. You can increase traffic and sales by using it to target specific customers and promote special offers. So don’t be afraid to get creative with your direct mail campaigns. Try out different ideas and see what works best for your business!

For more information and marketing tips, download our Free Ebook today!

By Eileen Strauss


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