Pandemic forces restaurant owners to rethink in customer communication

Did you know that 81 % of consumers search for restaurants via their smartphones? The answer to the question of how effective SMS marketing really is these days is obvious. Cell phones are everywhere. People use their smartphones to decide where to eat, what to eat and who to eat with. Some people are so intertwined with their mobile devices that they surf through their social networks while eating.

Also, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, SMS marketing has seen significant growth. In today’s world, customers demand a convenient on-site pickup. For many companies, the operational aspect of this requirement is more complex than they have been accustomed to. The large restaurant chains have the budgets to adapt quickly. Smaller companies have the need, but wonder if they can afford such a solution. Additionally, there are the organizational challenges that businesses face when guests visit a restaurant. Due to spacing rules, fewer people can fit into the restaurant and long waits are inevitable. Again, there needs to be a straightforward solution for guests to support a safe, touch-free experience wherever possible.

The New York Times has a theory on the popularity of takeaway food orders: people have missed going to restaurants and stores. Pickup from so-called takeaway windows at restaurants gives them a reason to get out of the house, even if they don’t leave their cars. Aside from being a reason to leave the house, it’s also convenient, touch-free and safe. Restaurants across the country are expanding their pickup services out of necessity and consumers are increasingly using them, also out of necessity.

A survey of more than 1,000 consumers found that 87 % of respondents want restaurants to continue offering takeaway pickup and other processes that limit the need for an in-person visit.

Changed customer communications since the pandemic

This pandemic has caused many business owners to rethink the way they communicate and interact with customers. Restaurant owners now face on-site dining capacity restrictions, some are allowed to dine outside and others are still limited to takeaway or delivery.

Due to the unsteady numbers of cases, cities, states and counties must continually adjust the timing and nature of restrictions in response to local seven-day incidence. With text messaging, restaurateurs can instantly notify customers when there is a change in the restaurant’s status, hours, capacity or offerings.

That’s why more and more restaurants are trying to make a customer’s visit or meal order more efficient, enjoyable and unique. There are several options for this, but one straightforward yet cost-effective way is to facilitate the entire process through SMS.

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Why should restaurants opt for SMS marketing?

The reason for using SMS is simple: customers love texting. Germans spend an average of two hours a day on their cell phones.

The SimpleTextin SMS Marketing Report 2020 found that retrieving, sending and replying to text messages is the most common way people spend that time. It’s no wonder that 90 % of text messages are read within the first three seconds of receiving them.

People ignore calls from unknown numbers. Emails can get caught in SPAM filters or lost in the jungle of a typical email inbox. SMS messaging stands out, is universal and doesn’t require you to download yet another app.

The rise of instant messaging and social media platforms has led to predictions and speculation about the redundancy of SMS as a profitable channel for marketing. However, time has proven that this is not very realistic.

The strongest catalyst for SMS marketing success is the fact that anyone with access to only a cell phone and a network connection is a potential addressee.

Customers don’t have to rely on the Internet or smartphones or be present on various apps and media to receive and read an SMS.

Following are the key insights to get an idea of why SMS marketing is an indispensable tool in restaurants’ marketing strategy:

  • SMS boasts a powerful 90-95 % open rate, which is among the highest in the marketing industry
  • SMS promotes a 45 % response rate, which is more than 7 times higher than emails
  • 75 % of target customers have indicated that they prefer SMS over other mediums to receive promotional messages

The entire process of running an SMS campaign is time-saving and cost-effective. Once the creative part of designing the message is done and a contact list is created, the rest happens in just a few minutes. Sending the bulk SMS takes less than a minute, receiving the messages on the phones takes 5 seconds and the final step, when the message is read, happens in about 3 minutes for over 95 % of all delivered messages.

This means that SMS marketing is the perfect channel for restaurants to reach customers. Interestingly, restaurants and bars have been late to adopt text marketing compared to other industries.

Two types of SMS messages that can be sent by restaurants

promotion restaurant sms

Bulk SMS (Campaigns) – this is the typical marketing SMS that a person receives, where the content is informative but does not have an immediate CTA (call-to-action) option for the recipient. These are ideal for communicating promotions, coupons, openings, etc.

sms messaging restaurant

Transactional messages – These are informational or alert messages sent to the customer as a result of a customer-initiated action. They can be confirmations for reservations, OTP messages for online food orders or loyalty points earned from the last meal. Transactional SMS can also be used to collect feedback from customers via 2-way SMS or web links.

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How restaurants can benefit from an SMS marketing campaign

At first glance, it may not seem like there’s much behind a small 160-character text message, but every message a customer receives is part of a well-thought-out marketing decision designed to have a positive impact on the business.

Advantages for restaurants when using text messaging:

1. More Walk-in customers

A restaurant wants a maximum number of daily visitors. This happens when the brand name sticks in the minds of customers and no other medium does the job better than SMS. Strategically timed messages immediately increase the number of walk-in customers. Here’s a situation: it’s the weekend and you’re planning to do something with your friends and you receive an SMS saying “Limited offer. Buy One – Get One on all pizzas at XYZ next Saturday 3pm to 7pm”. It is very likely that the pizzeria can expect a high number of orders based on the message. SMS messages are more personal and intimate, giving readers a sense of familiarity and connection with the brand.

Forwarding coupons or discounts just before a meal time urges readers to visit. Most restaurants have deals outside of meal times, for example, many restaurants offer lunch specials on weekdays to attract more people during the little-known rush hour of the day. Communicating such deals encourages readers to go in and buy a meal. Eating out has become a separate leisure activity and people are actively hunting for offers and deals. SMS has become more important with its clear and concise CTA.

2. Communicate offers and promotions

While emails risk ending up in spam or going unnoticed among hundreds of other newsletters, an SMS can communicate promotions and events most efficiently due to its high open rate and usage. A promotional SMS with discount codes or text messages about special offers have two effects on the reader: first, the obvious bonus they will receive by taking advantage of the offer in the message and second, the feeling of exclusivity the reader will experience by receiving a personalized message. In this case, even if you are not selling a particular offer, it still works towards creating brand awareness. Even when sending bulk SMS, it is possible to create personalized offers for different segments of the target audience. Coupon codes have become very popular, where customers are sent a specific code or link that can be used to activate a special offer price. If the reader does not use the code, automation can be used to send reminders at well-planned intervals to let customers know.

3. Reach a larger and more specific audience

For SMS to be effective, it is important that it matches the demographic and geographic lifestyle and behavioral characteristics of the readers. To do this, it is necessary to create a legally compliant database of customers’ cell phone numbers beforehand. Then, the contact lists must be filtered and managed. Additionally, segmentation can help, saving costs by preventing the sending of irrelevant messages that can lead to opt-outs. SMS has the widest reach among all digital marketing channels and this can be an advantage.

4. Scheduled texts for booking reminders and cancellations

Sending scheduled booking reminders not only encourages customers to keep a table reservation, but also gives a positive vibe of “being expected.” For high-end restaurants where every table is counted, this is a way to avoid wasting resources if the customer doesn’t make the appointment due to a missed reminder. Restaurants can also give the reader the option to cancel a reservation, which buys the restaurant some time to take another booking to fill up seats. For example, “Hi Maria, thank you for reserving a table with us tonight. We confirm that your table is reserved for 7:45pm. If you can’t make it, please call us at XYZ.”

5. Efficiently manage waiting lists

With limited indoor or outdoor capacity, many restaurants now need a better tool to manage their waitlist. Sometimes it is no longer recommended to use buzzers when the customer’s table is ready. SMS can be used to quickly and contactlessly let the guest know when the table is ready, thus avoiding queues.

SMS marketing for restaurants is an easy, affordable and highly effective way to surprise their customers with unique offers and discounts that will turn them into regular customers. When the various steps are followed and subscribers are not overwhelmed with daily messages, sales and brand awareness increase.

Message Networks provides messaging solutions for the gastronomy industry. With integrated APIs that provide technically sophisticated and privacy-compliant SMS services, restaurants will benefit from easier, faster and better communication channels. The company guarantees secure and direct delivery of these SMS to customers’ mobile devices. Delivery meets the highest security and privacy requirements through technologies such as IPsec (Internet Protocol Security) and HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure). All SMS are reliably delivered via a direct connection to the messaging gateways of the mobile network operators and without any time delay.