It is not obvious what the right frequency is for sending emails to customers on your email list. If you do it carelessly, you can send too many or too little. If you neglect using your email list, your customers won’t know what is going on and will forget about signing up for it. On the other hand, sending too many emails is a recipe for disaster as customers begin to think of your emails as spam. Rather than only clicking the unsubscribe button (you must give an easy way to unsubscribe), they also designate your emails as spam. If enough customers do this, your emails are blocked by spam filters (and not just for that customer) of different email and internet providers. Soon, you lose the ability to take advantage of the great marketing power of email. Studies have suggested that email marketing gets returns of up to $50 for every $1 spent.

For email frequency, the short answer is that it matters what your restaurant’s situation is. Most of it depends on your restaurant’s customers, its brand and its online marketing strategy. At the end of this article, you can see which of the three email marketing types matches your restaurant the most and the optimum frequency. Of course, these categories are approximations and shouldn’t be taken too literally.

The acceptable range for restaurants goes from every week to once a month. As spam filters will block the delivery your emails, sending any more often than once a week is a very bad idea. Also, not using your email list every month makes is both ineffective and makes your restaurant forgettable. Still, I am not saying every restaurant can send once a week.

These decisions should be initially based on value you create for customers and demographics. Also you should be aware the statistics from open rates (need an HTML email) and the number that unsubscribe.
Tracking is very very important, especially if you have high unsubscribe rates (I don’t care how effective you are with those that stay on the list). High unsubscribe rates demonstrate that your customers are likely clicking the spam button (some email marketing platforms track this)  too as they think you are sending emails too frequently. Don’t let a normal unsubscribe rate (under 1%) hurt your feelings. A normal unsubscribe rate shows that customers are primarily doing a periodic cleaning of their inbox.

How Your Emails Could Get Treated Like Spam

Finding the right frequency influences access to customers and their responses. For example, one of our clients lost ¼ the Hotmail addresses on their email list. His restaurant sent out one email and 3 customers marked it as spam on Hotmail. Beforehand, on his mailing list, there were 400 Hotmail addresses. Yet, he lost 170 of them when only .75% marked the email as spam. Essentially, he lost every address that never opened his restaurant’s emails. Having Yahoo allow access to those addresses is more trouble than its worth. This is serious. There are cases I’ve read about where it happened to .2%, but normally the email providers are tougher on bigger mass emails.

* Do not change the email address that you send from if you have had good open rates in the past. A good number is 12% or higher. For those with smaller open rates, swapping addresses isn’t recommended anyway. These opens protect you from losing all your customers if Yahoo, Gmail etc. block you (the correct term is bounce). Email service providers seem to not touch customers who have opened the email and not designated it as spam.

The Three Types of Restaurants in Email Marketing

Type A: Aggressive Marketing for Special Brands  (once every week)

To send out an email once a week, the restaurant must be creating incredible value for customers. Only 2 or 3% of restaurants could get away with this frequency. It could be through (cult) popularity, true creativity or deep discounts. The promotions and events will nearly always be new and exciting and not periodic (like Jazz Night). Essentially, customers must be listening to every word. These restaurants will probably have a large email list that is always growing. The email list will be fluid with high unsubscribe rates, but it will be compensated even more by new customers. Not only do the promotions catch the customers’ eye, the emails themselves should be a sight to see, design with the same care as a webpage. Even with high open rates (more than 30%), you should track your campaigns with more vigilance than any other restaurant owner. To do track customers, the emails need to be HTML. By using analytics, you have to see the signs of “too much” immediately so having an email marketing platform is vital. The brand, which is very memorable and popular, will defend this restaurant against being labeled as spam. If the restaurant doesn’t have a stellar brand, the restaurant will anger the 25% of customers who do label emails as spam (even if they subscribed). Once a week only applies to restaurants that put a lot into their marketing and have that rare brand that customers cannot get enough of.

Type B: Strong Online and Email Presence (between 2.5 to 3 weeks)

These restaurants have been able to effectively market online. This is about 30 to 50% of restaurants who have adapted well to the Internet. This group should send attractive HTML emails and engage in tracking through an email platform. Most of these restaurants have strong customer enthusiasm and loyalty. Their customers seek value in promotions on a habitual basis. They have built trust, but they should be cautious not to abuse it. Here I’d mix some of the periodic updates (weekly promotions) with the new stuff. The new information would get the subject line and be at the top of your email. They should give their emails thought and communicate only the most important information to customers. By paying attention to the tracking and building a realistic strategy, these restaurants can extend the trust they have in their restaurant to a customers’ email box (which you should never take for granted).

Type C: Passive Online Marketing (about once a month)

These restaurants haven’t invested any substantial effort into their online presence. Their websites do not even come close to the quality of their restaurants. Because they haven’t prioritized online marketing, they haven’t realized their marketing potential online. An email list can still help out this type of restaurant. The risk, however, is that the restaurant does not use it, and it becomes worthless. After a while, customers will forget that they signed up for an email list or why they signed up. Obviously, it has not provided them any value because the emails were too infrequent. It makes sense that these restaurants use HTML email like more involved restaurants(they have images, links and can be tracked). Nonetheless, they can get by without it if they make sure their plain-text emails are formatted correctly. The main thing is that they send out emails that customer value. Whether it’s a newsletter or a list of events and promotions, an email list cannot be put away in a drawer (or hard drive) and forgotten about until you come up with the perfect idea. It doesn’t work that way.

Learn From Your Mistakes/Successes

At the end of the day, you won’t know what your customers reactions will be until you send out a few email campaigns. Any advice you find here should be abandoned if the response data says something else. You should start conservatively and slowly increase frequency until you maximized your responses (a calculation of the rate of opening the email, clicking on the link, those that unsubscribe and those that mark your email as spam). You should be especially wary of your emails being tagged as spam as it can affect many more than that customer. It may be a good idea to have subject headlines that include your restaurant’s name and call them a “subscriber”. Reminding them that they signed up will more than often get them to unsubscribe rather than mark as spam. If the unsubscribe button doesn’t work, they will definitely use the spam button. But think about what your online marketing goals are when deciding on a email frequency. What is your online presence? Can you improve it? How does this fit into your larger online restaurant marketing strategy? Email marketing performs so well that your restaurant would be crazy not to build and use your email list intelligently.