How to Build a Restaurant Email List the Right Way

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5 min read

Jan 10, 2023

How to Build a Restaurant Email List the Right Way

Building a restaurant email list from scratch can feel like standing at the base of a mountain. With so many paths to consider and gear to choose from, reaching the summit might feel overwhelming.

While there are dozens of ways to build your email list and even more when it comes to choosing the right email software — it’s not as tough as you think. You simply need a guide. 

Consider this article your trail map for navigating the most important elements of building a restaurant email marketing list. We’ll also cover crucial pitfalls to avoid and best practices for launching your first campaign.  

By the end of the article you’ll walk away with:

Understanding the Email Marketing Landscape

Email has been around for years but it’s still one of the most powerful marketing channels. While social media and paid advertising can be lucrative avenues for restaurants, email marketing yields the highest return on investment (ROI) with an average of $36 for every $1 spent. At SevenRooms, we’ve seen restaurants earn as much as $400,000 annually in incremental revenue from emails alone!

The foundation of successful email marketing is building a high-quality list of customers to receive your emails. An email list can open up countless opportunities for your restaurant. Below are some of the biggest benefits.

Improve guest loyalty and repeat business
Drive incremental revenue
Collect and manage feedback
Send out important updates and announcements 
Keep your restaurant top of mind

As you can see, your list has the potential to become a powerful marketing tool but how you go about collecting customer data is essential. It’s important to build a list that is compliant with your local regulations and includes quality data. You can spend weeks designing email templates and developing robust campaigns but if you don’t have good customer data, you won’t reach guests.

restaurant email marketing

The Ultimate Email Marketing Guide for Restaurants

Email Marketing Rules of the Road: Compliance 

To get up and running quickly, you may be tempted to buy or rent an email list. However, reliable email lists are about quality, not quantity — stay the course. Swiping a credit card might be faster than manually collecting guest data, but you’ll only suffer in the long run. 

Additionally, many Email Service Providers (ESPs) have strict requirements around the use of explicit opt-in emails. Violating your ESP’s acceptable use policy could have legal ramifications. 

The best way to build an email list is for a guest to voluntarily opt-in either online or in person. Opting-in usually requires a guest to fill out a form or check a box. Depending on your region, you may be able to include any guest that transacts with you and provides their email address — this is called a soft opt-in. 

By collecting email addresses from guests, your email list will be healthier and drive higher engagement and performance. Opt-ins also ensure you’re in compliance with email marketing regulations.

SPAM & Blacklists

Most people receive dozens if not hundreds of emails a day. If your email or business isn’t relevant, they won’t open it — or worse, mark you as spam. Once marked as spam, any email you send will go directly into the spam folder, never to see the light of day. 

Additionally, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Google, Hotmail, AOL and Outlook protect their customers from unsolicited emails. If an ISP marks your email as spam, it could damage your sender reputation, lowering your email deliverability or landing you on a blacklist

A good hiker knows the success of any climb boils down to preparation. Email marketing is the same. Taking the time to properly build an email list now will set you up for success. 

Pro Tip: Once you’ve built your email list, it’s important to double down with good sending practices. Nurturing that list with timely and relevant content is key to ensuring a healthy sender reputation and avoiding spam filters. 

Mapping the Route: Ways to Build a Restaurant Email List 

Online Reservations and Online Orders

Today, consumers are used to exchanging their contact information for an online reservation or order. These channels are a restaurant’s best source for growing an email list.

While “name” and “email address” are essential, you should use your online reservation and takeout form to collect other important information. 

For example, adding fields to your reservation form for guests to enter their dietary and seating preferences, birthdate and special occasions allows you to create robust guest profiles. The more guest data you have, the easier it is to segment your email lists for targeted marketing campaigns.

Below is an example of a customized reservation widget for Brodeur’s Bistro in British Columbia. In addition to contact information, they’ve added fields to collect dietary restrictions, birthdays, special occasions and reservation notes. 

Online Reservation Widget for Restaurant Email List Collection

Additionally, there are two checkboxes at the bottom of the form, one for agreeing to the venue’s policy and the other for guests to opt-in to receive news and offers from the restaurant. 

A guest can click on the information icon to get more details which state “From time to time, we’ll contact you via email to keep you in the loop about what’s happening at Brodeur’s Bistro!” If a subscriber checks that box, Brodeur’s has explicit consent to send them marketing emails. 

How Brodeur’s Bistro Used Direct Reservations to Build Their Guest Database 

Prior to 2020, Brodeur’s Bistro was a walk-in only restaurant. But when the pandemic hit, restrictions forced them to seek an online reservation solution. They turned to SevenRooms’ direct reservation and digital waitlist management system, and in six months, added 9,000 new guests to their client database. 

With this data, they were able to launch automated emails that followed up with guests after every visit, allowing them to respond quickly to any positive or negative reviews. In the first month alone, they generated $4,000 in incremental revenue from their email efforts!

By opting for a direct reservation channel, Brodeur’s Bistro was able to customize, collect and own their guests’ information to build a restaurant email database to fuel targeted email campaigns. Had they opted for a third-party channel like OpenTable or Resy, their options would have been limited, as these platforms own restaurants’ guest data and use it to re-market their own services. 

Learn more about the benefits of switching to a direct reservation system with SevenRooms. 


Walk-ins present another golden opportunity for collecting guest data. On busy nights when guests are waiting in line or crowding your host stand for a table, train your hosts and FOH staff to require guests to provide their email addresses to join the waitlist. An easy way to do this is to ask “… and your email address?” when collecting guest information. Framing the question this way, rather than asking, “what is your email?”, increases the likelihood that someone provides their email address.

Pro Tip: Take the burden off of your staff by placing QR codes at the host stand to allow guests to join the waitlist themselves. That way, they can enter their own data and track their place in line. Learn more about waitlist software

Signage and Feedback Form

The best time to capture a guest’s email address is when they’re dining with you. At the table, encourage guests to sign up for your emails by using a QR code and a message like “join our email list for special discounts and offers.”

An old, yet tried-and-true method is the traditional feedback form. You can either print these and place one in every check presenter or better yet, provide a QR code to allow a guest to navigate to a digital guest feedback form. Both options should require an email address field so you can follow up and encourage them to opt-in to your marketing emails.  

Contests & Giveaways

Who doesn’t jump at the chance of winning a free gift card, private dinner or special dish? Run a contest or raffle to boost engagement and capture guest data. 

Better yet, kill two birds with one stone and host a contest for reviews. Incentivize your guests to leave a review for the chance to win a gift card. Not only will you hopefully get amazing guest reviews, but you’ll also capture those email addresses to lure them back in.  

Newsletter Subscription Form

Your website is a powerful tool for capturing guest email addresses. Add a subscribe section to your most visited pages like your homepage, menu pages and contact us. Using a pop-up form as guests scroll through your website is another effective way to capture guest emails. It helps if you add an incentive, like a free dessert.

Your subscription form could simply ask for a guest’s name and email address. For example, NYC-based In Good Company Hospitality has a prominent yet simple “Sign up For Newsletter” section displayed on the homepage. 

Newsletter Email Marketing Subscription Form

For something a little more robust, you could embed a form that captures additional fields and gives more of an explanation of the newsletter’s intent. 

National James Beard-Award Winning Chef Michael Mina displays a more robust newsletter subscription form on his website with fields for birthdays and anniversaries so they can “spoil guests with special offers and treatments”. 

Example of how to build a restaurant email list through restaurant email form

Special Experiences and Events

An event is a great way to get people to engage with your restaurant and grow your email list. Whether it’s a wine or whiskey tasting, jazz night or paint and sip event, use your social media channels, community and partners to spread the word. By marketing your event through other channels, you’ll hopefully attract new customers and grow your email list.

Choosing Your Gear: Restaurant Email Software

Selecting a restaurant email marketing platform is as important as building a quality email list, and there are dozens to choose from. 

Most email marketing platforms out there are built to serve a variety of businesses, but very few are created for the restaurant industry. Any email marketing program worth its salt should be able to:

Store and segment your list
Provide personalization features
Track metrics and provide reporting
Offer a library of pre-built templates and customizations
Offer marketing automation
Provide responsive customer service

What most traditional email platforms don’t offer is integration with your core platforms, like reservations, online orders and POS system. 

SevenRooms’ email solutions were built by operators for operators. With our email marketing solution, you can integrate guest reservation and order history to create personalized emails and better track your email ROI with detailed metrics specific to restaurants.

Starting the Climb: Tips for Launching your first email

Once you’ve built a substantial list, you’ll be ready to launch your first email. Below are some important email best practices to ensure your first go is a success.

Subject Line

The email subject line is like the front of your restaurant. It’s ultimately what nudges a subscriber to either open the door or walk away. 

Subject lines should be short and sweet with the goal of enticing a subscriber to open the email. Try using personalization or instilling a sense of urgency or FOMO (fear of missing out) to catch a reader’s attention.


“Katelyn, thank you for visiting last night”
“Just for you! 10% discount off your favorite dish! 🍣”
“Hey wine lover, don’t miss out on our Bordeaux flight!”

Just be sure that the subject line accurately represents the context of the email. 

Body Copy & Call-to-Action (CTA)

No one likes to read a novel when it comes to emails. Keep your content concise, compelling and easy to read. Also, it never hurts to inject a little personality and humor. 

Your CTA is what you want the reader to do once they’ve read your email. Is it to make a reservation? Place an online order? Buy a gift card? Whatever your goal is, make it bold and clear with a button.

Pro Tip: Ensure the CTA is “above the fold” — meaning the top half of the email. It’s also best to limit the number of CTAs — too many could overwhelm the reader. 

List Segmentation

When it comes to successful email marketing, segmentation is key. According to Campaign Monitor, marketers have noted a 760% increase in email revenue from segmented campaigns.

Not every message is going to resonate with every subscriber. By segmenting your audience based on demographics, behavior or preferences, you can better tailor your messages and boost engagement. 

For example, an email promoting a new pizza dish or beer you’ve recently added to your menu might not be relevant to your gluten-free guests. If you’re able to segment your list based on dietary preferences, you can exclude your gluten-free diners from this particular promotion and then target them when you have a more relevant offer.

Test, Implement, Repeat

Regularly sending out A/B tests is the best way to improve your emails. Say you have a group of 500 subscribers. Create two versions of the same email and send version A to the first half and version B to the other half. With split testing, you can test different images, messaging, subject lines and CTAs to find out which version drives better audience engagement. 

Over time you can take those learnings and apply them to your email marketing campaigns. 

Consider Email Marketing Automation

Email marketing is a lot of work, especially if you have to do it manually. Marketing Automation helps speed up the process and can yield impressive results. The industry average open rate for restaurants is 18.5%, but at SevenRooms, our clients who use Marketing Automation average a 70% open rate, more than triple the industry average. 

We asked SevenRooms’ Director of Customer Success – Marketing Automation, Mariesa Portmann, what types of automated emails perform best. 

“One of the top performing automated emails we often see is a re-engagement series. A re-engagement series allows restaurants to automatically follow up with guests who haven’t visited in a while and invite them back in. 

Post-visit follow-up emails for first-time guests are also very successful. When a guest has a memorable experience in-service and it’s capped with a personal thank you note from the GM, it transcends the guest experience beyond the walls of the venue. Restaurants spend a lot of time growing their email list, so these emails are a great way to ensure these guests and email addresses don’t go “stale”.”

SevenRoom’s client, Altamarea Group, leveraged Marketing Automation to send follow-up emails after every reservation and online order and to guests who hadn’t engaged with their restaurants in a while. In 2021, they sent emails to 47,000 people which generated $340,000 in reservation revenue and $60,000 in online orders. Talk about success! To learn more about Marketing Automation, check out our guide.

Playbooks & Guides

The Restaurateur’s Guide to Marketing Automation

Learn More

Reaching the Summit

The top of the mountain is finally in sight. You’ve built a quality email list, chosen an email marketing platform and launched your first campaign. But just because you’re at the summit doesn’t mean the journey is over.  

Once you’ve built your email list, you might be tempted to “set it and forget it”. But your list should be regularly audited at least annually. Keep your eye on metrics like open rate, click-through rate, and unsubscribe and spam rates. This will give you a good idea of how your subscribers engage with your emails. And remember, it’s about quality, not quantity. 

SevenRooms’ email solutions were built to make email marketing easier for restaurants. To learn more about SevenRooms, book a demo today

Restaurant Email List FAQs

How Do I Create a Restaurant Email List?

Some of the best ways include online reservations and online orders, hosting a contest, soliciting guest feedback, adding a newsletter subscription form on your website and hosting an event. 

Should Restaurants Have an Email List?

Yes, restaurants should have an active email list in order to send newsletters, promotions, and special offers to their guests. Email is also one of the most lucrative marketing channels for restaurants. 

It is not illegal to purchase an email list, but it’s not a good practice since these contacts haven’t opted-in to receive emails from your business. Without explicit consent from individuals, you may risk violating certain regulations based on where the recipient lives. 

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