We live in a mobile-first world. We use our smartphones for everything – browsing the web, messaging, banking, tracking health, entertainment – the list goes on. So it makes sense for almost all businesses to adopt a mobile-first approach when attempting to reach their audience. This includes restaurants and cafes looking to bring in hungry customers.

When you consider all the information someone can receive via their mobile devices – through an abundance of installable apps and their web browser – you might wonder how to best grab their attention.

Text message marketing is one of the most direct forms of communication – it cuts through the clutter of other apps. We know this because SMS has very impressive open and response rates – 98% and 45% – respectively. The corresponding figures for email marketing – 20% and 6% – pale in comparison.

What's more, business text messages are generally well-received. Several reports show that customers prefer to interact with a business rather than have a phone call, for instance.

We don't see any reason why the restaurant industry shouldn't consider SMS as an effective tool for marketing and promotion. Let's talk about some more advantages of restaurant text marketing and some best practices to get the most out of each SMS campaign you run.

Is SMS marketing for restaurants still effective?

Even though SMS as a technology is decades old, it's still highly relevant, especially for restaurant owners and hospitality businesses. Here's why using text messaging for restaurants is absolutely worth every penny.

1. SMS expands your reach

As of mid-2023, 7.33 billion people all over the world use a mobile phone capable of sending and receiving SMS messages. This figure is set to rise to 7.49 billion by 2025 and is way higher than the number of global internet users (5.03 billion). SMS is familiar even to people who aren't tech-savvy and prefer to use a basic cell phone. Therefore, by investing in SMS marketing for restaurants, you can expand your reach to practically anywhere in the world.

2. You can roll out timely updates

People booking a restaurant want confirmation that their table is secure. Restaurant SMS marketing allows you to confirm the details instantly and even provide instructions on how to change the time or cancel if needed. And if you're launching a new menu or opening a new outlet, a text marketing campaign ensures your news will get the attention it deserves.

Here's a prime example of how you can use text message marketing for restaurants.

"Hi [Name]! Your table for 2 is booked for 26 Jul 7.30 pm. We look forward to hosting you! :) Reply CNCL to cancel. To change your booking: [URL]"

3. Immediately get your message across

SMS messages are delivered fast. They rely on a cellular connection rather than the internet. This means you can communicate time-sensitive information quickly. For example, you can quickly have your restaurant text deals which come with an expiry date, e.g., 'Kids eat free during school half-term'.

Using text marketing for restaurants naturally results in concise content so recipients can read your messages easily. A short message also makes it hard for readers to miss the main point of your message. There's no fluff to distract them.

4. Collect data and feedback

SMS is ideal if you want to boost customer engagement, which is why it's often used for short surveys. As part of your restaurant SMS marketing strategy, you can poll your subscriber list to find out what they want. Then you can send more targeted text messaging campaigns to promote the very things being asked for. You can also send out automated text messages after customers' visit, asking them about their experience and assuring them you will take any suggestions they might have seriously.

Happy customers make for returning customers!

5. Boost sales

All of the above benefits lead to the one that really matters – a rise in restaurant bookings and orders and, ultimately, a boost in revenue. You should find that SMS marketing provides a strong ROI, with the increased sales significantly outweighing the cost of your text campaigns.

Woman taking bookings in a restaurant

12 popular use cases for SMS-based mobile marketing for restaurants

There are two main types of messages you can send with a restaurant texting system.

Promotional messages

These essentially tell you how to advertise restaurants to the intended target audiences. They can include announcements about:

  • New items you're adding to the menu

  • Special events, such as a party for when a new item is launched

  • Happy hour timings

  • Curbside pickup facility

  • Exclusive deals or promotions for holidays and special occasions

  • How customers can join your SMS loyalty program

  • The process for online booking, including a link to the ordering website

  • Introducing your new SMS ordering system outlining how customers can text restaurants with their order details

Transactional messages

These are less about promoting your restaurant and more about providing them with a smooth customer experience by facilitating them when required. Such texts are sent for communicating:

  • The confirmation of a reservation, made online or via text or phone call

  • One-time PIN codes for verification, for when new customers sign up on your website or place a new order online, for instance

  • Order confirmation, with text messages containing a summary of the order details

  • The status of an order, such as when it's been dispatched or is ready for pickup

SMS marketing for restaurants: Getting it right

There are a few important tips you should follow to ensure you get the most out of your restaurant text message marketing campaigns. Let's go over them one by one.

1. Avoid overkill

Use SMS wisely – you don't want to annoy subscribers by sending too many texts in a short space of time. This is a mistake many businesses make once they start seeing positive results from their SMS marketing campaigns.

The problem is that too many texts come across as spammy and will cause people to unsubscribe. Start with one text message per week and only when you have something valuable or time-sensitive to communicate to potential diners. Sometimes it's more appropriate to use softer channels. For example, an interview with your new head chef would be better as a blog on your website, with an email campaign and social media posts to promote the article.

Also, pay attention to what times you're sending your text messages. Don't text at odd hours, like 2 am or 7 am, when your audience would hate being disturbed.

Read our blog on the best time to send text messages.

2. Craft compelling text message marketing copy

While text messages beg to be opened, if your marketing copy is poor, you won't capture your recipients' attention for long. A good rule of thumb for writing impactful copy is to follow the three Cs: Clear, Crisp and Concise.

  • Clear – tell the recipient about your offer or news and then tell them what action to take, e.g. 'Book a table' or 'View the menu'.

  • Crisp – use interesting language to make your copy punchy and bring it to life. Avoid boring, overused words.

  • Concise – get your message across in just one text (160 characters). This is better for the recipient who just wants to scan your content. It's also better for your budget because if you exceed the character limit, your text will count as two messages and thus cost double.

You can get inspiration for SMS marketing ideas by observing online trends, current affairs and memes. Incorporate humour and wit (everyone loves a chuckle) or use suspense to make your audience curious and motivated to read your message and click through to your restaurant's website.

If you have something amazing to show off, like a new heated outdoor dining area, take photos and send an MMS marketing campaign instead. A picture speaks a thousand words! You could also create graphics or videos to add to your message.

3. Don't be invasive

Always follow text message marketing rules – like never texting someone who hasn't given their consent and opted in.

Use your SMS subscribers' personal data sensibly too. You might well have a stack of information at your fingertips, like birthdays, food preferences, average spend per visit, the number of bookings per year, etc. But if you use some of this information in your restaurant text messaging campaigns, it might weird out your customers. To put it simply:

  • What's ok – reservation confirmations and reminders, dining offers, restaurant news and holiday wishes.

  • What's not ok – anything that uses data your customers haven't explicitly given you for SMS marketing.

For example, you might know that it's a customer's birthday because they booked a birthday meal the previous year, and you noted it in the diary. But if you haven't told the customer you'll remember that information for when their birthday rolls around again, they may be surprised (or even alarmed) to hear from you!

Bonus tip: Give customers the option to unsubscribe with every text message you send. Not only does this promote customer loyalty and trust, but it's also one of the golden rules you must follow.

Woman looking at mobile phone

Using your restaurant text messaging system to its full potential

SMS marketing for restaurants is highly effective. Even basic mobile phones can send and receive texts, broadening your reach to include people of all ages and those that aren't tech-savvy. Because texts are delivered fast, they're ideal for time-sensitive dining offers and boosting engagement, restaurant bookings and revenue.

If you want to run a successful campaign, follow these three smart tips:

  1. Don't overdo it – start slow and monitor campaign performance to check you're striking the right frequency. A spike in unsubscribes is a red flag that your texts aren't well-received.

  2. Use the three Cs – make your copy clear, crisp and concise to hold your subscribers' attention.

  3. Don't be creepy – only use personal data insights that subscribers have explicitly provided for SMS marketing purposes.

Want to know more about using SMS for restaurants? Get in touch today to learn how Messente can strengthen your marketing efforts.