SMS Marketing for Restaurants

Back to Industry Guides

Introduction to SMS or Text Marketing for Restaurants

SMS Marketing for Restaurants

Running a restaurant isn’t a piece of cake.

Sometimes, business is booming. The restaurant is packed, the kitchen is bustling, and you’ve got a waiting line wrapping around the corner. Other times… not so much. How about Monday mid-afternoon? Pretty empty? At times like that, you’re starving for business.

Text message marketing allows restaurants, coffee shops, or other businesses in the food service industry to order up a fresh round of customers, exactly when you need them most.

With SMS marketing, restaurants can drive customer traffic on demand. With only a few clicks, you can send your customers enticing deals, time-sensitive offers, and weekly specials that instantly arrive in their hands.

Within minutes, you’ll have hungry hordes lining up for a bite of your business.

Bottom line: Text marketing means more revenue, more customers, and more buzz for your restaurant.

So… what exactly is text message marketing? And how can your restaurant use it successfully?

Read on, restaurateur. Read on.

What Is Text Message Marketing? How Does It Work for Restaurants?

Simply put, it’s the use of text messages for the purpose of marketing.

It’s an easy, effective, and inexpensive way for restaurants and the food service industry to cash in on the massive popularity of texting, increasing both revenue and customer loyalty.

Restaurants send mobile coupons, advertise weekly specials, promote events, and more, all via text messaging.

Want an example? Meet Joe.

Joe makes the finest pizzas outside of Italy, but he’s got a problem. Business booms on the weekend, but Mondays are absolutely dead. It’s a problem many restaurateurs face: unprofitable slow days.

Joe decides to do something about it, so he signs up with SimpleTexting. He reserves a free keyword (“JOES”) and puts up a sign in the pizzeria:

Next Monday, just before lunch, Joe logs on to SimpleTexting and sends an appetizing text blast to all his pizza-loving customers.

Within minutes, there’s a steady stream of hungry customers walking through the door—a big change for a Monday!

With each new week, Joe gets more customers to text and the effect quickly snowballs.

Now, the pizzeria is packed on Mondays, Joe is earning a lot more money, and he’s got hundreds of loyal customers he can invite to his restaurant at any time.

All it takes is a simple text to get started. And of course, Joe doesn’t stop there! He heads over to our blog to discover more pizza marketing ideas.

Why Should Restaurants Try SMS Marketing?

Not convinced?

Here are 7 great reasons why text messaging is an ideal medium for business owners in the restaurant or food service industries to reach more customers and increase check values.

7 reasons why your restaurant should text

1. Texts are popular

All your customers are already texting—why not text with them? 73% of Americans regularly send or receive text messages.

Restaurants are in a unique position to cash in on texting’s popularity: Texting is most popular with young adults—97% of them text regularly. In fact, text messaging is the most common form of written communication for ages 15-24.

Why is that a big deal for restaurants? Because adults 18-24 eat out more than any other age group. In other words, they’re the people frequenting your restaurant the most, your most valuable customers.

Speak the language of your most valuable customers: text!

2. Texts are a “guaranteed read”

No text goes unseen, seriously. That’s why The New York Times recommended text message marketing in their Small Business Guide, trumpeting it as a “guaranteed read.”

The facts back up their claim: 97% of marketing texts are read. For some perspective, the open rate of marketing emails is typically 10%. There’s simply no better way to reach your customers every time.

3. Texts are instant

It’s not just that all texts are read, they’re read immediately. 90% of texts are read within 3 minutes! That’s breakneck speed from you typing a text to your customers reading it, and it opens up new marketing possibilities.

Those 3 minutes allow you to get customers walking through your door fast, exactly when you need them most.

4. Texts are intimate

Why do we invariably read all our texts, usually within minutes? Because most of our messages come from close friends, family, and love interests. A text inbox, unlike an email inbox, is exclusive and intimate space.

When your customers accept your texts, they don’t welcome you as some faceless business, they welcome you as a friend—a warm restaurant with a human touch.

5. Texts are mobile

Texts allow you to reach your loyal customers anytime, anywhere. Nowadays, cellphones are practically an extension of our bodies. They’re constantly on hand. 90% of young adults even sleep with their phones!

Unlike physical coupons, menus, or flyers, customers will carry your message with them wherever they go. Your text is seamlessly stored in the phone, available whenever and wherever they need it.

6. Texts are affordable

The cost of text campaigns is minuscule—as little as 1¢ per text—and well worth the return on investment. Many restaurants don’t have piles of extra cash for a TV spot, while others don’t need a full-on ad campaign—they just need a push during slowdowns and a better loyalty program.

Business-wise, text marketing simply makes sense for restaurants. No wonder big brands like Arby’s, Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr., and Pizza Hut, among many others, are using text message marketing.

7. Texts are well-received

Let’s be clear: You’re not blasting spam to anonymous emails. You’re texting customers who already know and love your food.

That’s why the texts you send are so effective: Customers want to receive them. By marketing to customers who already love your food, you’re tapping directly into your most valuable resource.

Examples of How Restaurants Can Use SMS Marketing

Okay, you get it, texting is great for restaurants … but what exactly are you going to text? Here are 6 great text campaigns, along with examples, that are sure to keep your customers coming in and coming back.

Mobile coupons
Encourage repeat customers and invite new ones with text coupons.

Daily Diner Coupon – Present this text for 1 FREE COFFEE or TEA with any purchase.

Limited-time discounts
Send time-sensitive discounts to drive traffic and speed up slowdowns.

Joe’s Pizza – Offer good only before 6pm: Buy 2 slices of any pizza, get a FREE MEDIUM DRINK!

Weekly specials
Keep guests up to date with your chef’s weekly specials.

Italiano’s Weekly Chef Special: Bistecca Gorgonzola – Premium filet topped w/ blue cheese sauce, grilled onions & asparagus.

Notify your customers about special events and musical guests.

Tommy’s Irish Pub & Grill – Come down for some traditional Celtic music at Tommy’s! Boys of Eire – This Friday only 6-9pm!

Create a buzz and collect new contacts for your text campaigns with a Text-2-Win contest.

Primo’s Steakhouse – You’ve successfully entered to win FREE dinner for 4. Winner will be notified by text on Dec 1. Good luck!

Have customers vote for their favorite dishes and get instant feedback.

Ice Creamery – What’s your favorite new flavor?
A. Strawberry Smash
B. Peanut Butter Blitz
C. Cookies ‘n’ Creme de Menthe

Getting Started with SMS Marketing for Restaurants

Alright, so you know why to text, and you know what to text … but still not sure exactly how it all works? Don’t worry, it’s pretty simple.

Your keyword and our short code

You start by reserving a keyword. A keyword is your exclusive code that people will use to opt in to receive your messages.

Simple Texting


Your customers will opt in by texting your keyword to 555888—that 6-digit number is our easy-to-remember short code.

Your keyword should also be easy to remember and should represent your restaurant. Keep it short and sweet.

For example, if you run Primo’s Steakhouse, “PRIMOSSTEAKHOUSE” would be way too long—something like “STEAK” or “PRIMOS” would be perfect.

Import contacts

You also have the ability to import contacts with SimpleTexting. If you have a database of customer contacts, you can upload them into your account in seconds.

Contacts that you import into our system must have given express consent to be contacted. Texting any numbers that you have not collected organically is illegal and strictly against SimpleTexting’s anti-spam policy.


Now that you’ve got your keyword, you should give your customers some reason to sign up for your texts.

Some of your guests will opt in simply because they love your restaurant and want to hear from you. But you should try to collect as many opt-ins as possible—the larger your list, the larger the profits you pull in as a return.

Some guests will be hesitant to share their phone numbers—for these hard-to-get types, a little incentive will go a long way.

Here are three incentives that never fail to bring in new subscribers:

1. On-the-spot discounts
Your guests will love getting deals sent to their phones in the future. They’ll love a deal now even more. Offer an immediate discount for signing up in the restaurant.

Get 15% off your meal today! Just text “DINER” to 555888 for an instant discount and monthly coupons.

2. Free gifts
No one can resist the allure of getting something for nothing. Offer your guests a free appetizer, dessert, or drink in exchange for signing up for your texts.

Join our Text Club today and receive a FREE dessert! Ask your server for more information.

3. Sweepstakes and giveaways
If you inform entrants ahead of time, you’re free to text them with promotional messages for months after the contest is over.

Win a FREE iPad Mini! Just text “TOMMYS” to 555888 for your chance to win and join our VIP list.

Service vs. spam
Don’t forget that your text campaign is likely an incentive in itself.

Whether you’re texting guests discounts, coupons, specials, or event reminders, remember that these benefits are often incentive enough to get opt-ins.

Market your campaign as a friendly service, rather than a way to spam them with ads. Let your patrons know about the benefits of subscribing with a clear message.


No matter how enticing your incentive is, no one will subscribe to your text campaign if they don’t know about it. And they won’t know about it until you tell them.

Which brings us to an essential point: You have to advertise your text campaign.

Get the word out! Advertise your incentive wherever you can. Be sure to include a call to action containing the ridiculously simple instructions to join (e.g., “text ‘GRILL’ to 555888”).

Be clear about the benefits of subscribing and what exactly it is you’re offering. People already want what you’re offering: Your challenge is to make them realize how simple it really is.

Because your call to action is so succinct and your message so clear, it’s easy to promote your text campaign almost anywhere.

Where to advertise

  • Menus
  • Receipts
  • Table tents
  • Placemats
  • Window signs
  • Cash register
  • Website

To get the most for your money, be sure to integrate your simple keyword and instructions into any existing advertising that you’re already paying for:

  • Newspaper and/or magazine ads
  • Radio and/or television spots
  • Internet display ads

Advertisement layout

Your advertisement can be as simple as a hand-drawn sign or as complex as a highly produced TV spot.

No matter what the scope of your ad, be sure to feature the keyword and short code prominently. This is by far the most essential information for your guests. Secondary to the keyword, make sure the incentives are easy to read and grasp.

Important elements

Your advertisement should also include two necessary elements: a disclaimer and a notice of frequency.

The disclaimer simply serves to let the customer know that their normal costs for text messaging applies. The standard form of this disclaimer is “Message and Data Rates May Apply.”

The notice of frequency just means that you should inform guests of how many texts they’ll receive. Best practice is to send 2 to 4 texts per month. Sending significantly more texts than advertised could result in some heavy fines.

Other methods

Getting your patrons to text your keyword to our short code may be the easiest way for them to opt in, but it’s not the only way.

Use the personal touch of your servers.
Instruct your servers to offer customers a special deal (e.g., free dessert or 20% off their bill) for opting in. This is an extremely effective method to use after a meal but before the check.

“Could I interest you in a complimentary dessert tonight, along with free text coupons for the future?”

Collect business cards and numbers in a fishbowl by your register.
Advertise it as a way to sign up for special discounts or to enter your sweepstakes.

Drop your business card or phone number in the bowl for a chance to win a $100 gift certificate and get great deals texted to you in the future. 

Start for Free

If you’re ready to give text marketing a try, we encourage you to sign up for a free trial account with us.

You’ll get 50 messages plus your own custom keyword.

And yes, it’s really free. No credit card, no contract, just free.

When you’re ready to upgrade to a paid account, just change your billing plan from the dashboard. Simple!