How 30 Year Old Technology Helps Restaurant Owners Generate Bookings On Demand

Every restaurateur knows what this tool is, uses it multiple times per day and most likely has purchased from it.

Not only that, but has one of the highest customer response rates in advertising.

Yet, most restaurant owners still do not use it.

Alright, what is this tool exactly?

Re-Introducing: Mobile SMS Marketing.

Imagine sending out a quick SMS and within minutes actually start receiving calls and texts from people eager to book a table for the night?

In this short post you’ll learn why SMS marketing is fast-becoming the tool of choice for many business owners who want a reliable method to connect with customers and generate more revenue.


What Makes SMS Different?

Owned Media (Control)

SMS is “owned media” which means you own the audience – this is important when it comes to marketing.

Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram are channels that can (and often do) change the rules which can sometimes make it tougher to market your business – you actually have little control because you don’t own Google, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – therefor you must play by their rules.

High Open & Response Rates

If no one opens to your messages then there can be no bookings.

The great news with SMS is that at least 82.1% of the people you text will open that message and up to 40% of people will respond.

Email you’re looking at a 20% open rate and 3% response rate, Facebook is roughly 3% open rate to give you an idea of how tough it is on other marketing channels.

Currently, few if any advertising tools offer that kind of “out-of-the-box” performance that any business can achieve with little to zero marketing experience.

Fast Responses From Customers

Most of your SMS messages will receive a reply within 90 seconds of them reading your message.

Easy To Use

In terms of mechanics, if you’ve sent a text message you can send SMS messages – it works the same way with the only difference being that (most of the time) you’ll be sending out messages from your computer instead of your mobile.

100% Reach & No Internet Required

One of the greatest advantages to SMS is that it doesn’t require your customers to be online to receive your text messages.

This means, there are no online ad blockers, or spam filters to worry about, you have direct access to your customer list.

Also, customers can receive messages no matter how old their mobile is, if they can receive text messages you can send them offers and updates.

Customers Love SMS

In fact, 75% of customers would love to receive offers and updates from businesses.

All you need now are some basic SMS Marketing ideas to get you started!

Get More Bookings With These SMS Marketing Tips

Now that we’ve outlined some reasons why SMS is becoming a popular advertising tool, let’s look at how you can use it to grow your restaurant.

Build An SMS List

In order for SMS to work you need to build an SMS list, the mechanics of how to do this are straight-forward and there are many resources to help you do this.

All you will need is a:

  1. Keyword and;

  2. Shortcode

These two elements are needed so that people can become a subscriber, this may look familiar:

Text “bananas” to 12345 and receive [special offer].

“Bananas” is the keyword

“12345” is the short code

These will be provided to you from your SMS service provider.


3 Ways To Build Your List

Promote + Offer

When it comes to SMS marketing the money is in the list – meaning the bigger and more responsive your list, the more revenue you can generate.

You will want to promote your list fairly aggressively to fill up your contacts list:

  • Website: update (or design) banners for your website

  • Table cards

  • Sandwich boards

  • Social media – update your social media page banners to promote your SMS list.

  • Email

  • Takeaway menus*

  • Restaurant menus*

  • Brochures/Flyers

  • At the POS

You get the idea.

Next, provide an offer to anybody who subscribes to your list – people are more guarded with giving away their mobile number so you need to make it worth their while.

Important Note:

Always include a way for people to unsubscribe from your SMS list it will keep you out of legal trouble this will typically be a line at the end of your message saying: ‘text “STOP” to unsubscribe’ and the SMS system will remove them from your list.


Competitions when used correctly, can be amazingly effective for getting numbers on to your SMS list.

You want to make sure that you’re targeting people who are most likely going to become customers.

Bad prize example

Text “transformers-rule” to 99999 and go into the draw to win a new gaming laptop!

People who are interested in laptops may not be interested in dining out.

Ideally want to target foodies or complimentary markets – for example people who love wine generally have an appreciation for great food so you could test a wine offer.

Good prize example

Text “dinner42” to 99999 and go into the draw to win a romantic dinner for 2 valued at $250 click here to see what you get! [LINK]

This is a better offer because the prize is based on what you sell – this will help you acquire better subscribers.


Make Everyone A Winner

You’ve just given away your prize but what do you do with the other 99.9% of the people on the list?

Give them a special offer – this would be something like a free wine, free starter or free main.

We didn’t run a competition to give away free stuff we did it to build a list of customers.

By making an offer you can get people into your restaurant, trying your food and experiencing the service etc.

It’s important that this group is treated well because we want them to keep coming back.

Make sure your wait staff are professional, filling empty glasses and generating more revenue from each table.

Let Your Subscribers Grow Your List

Encourage new subscribers to get their friends to sign up to your SMS list as well – for every new subscriber send them an auto-reply that includes a great offer if 3 of their friends sign up.

Once your list is big enough send out a blast encouraging them to refer more friends to your list.

Using your existing contacts to refer their friends allows you to grow your list with little investment.

4 Ways To Increase Bookings

Send An SMS

Now that you’re getting people on your list, send them an invite to come in.

Make An Offer (but don’t discount)

Discounts are a slippery slope with jagged rocks at the bottom.

A better move is to include additional services, menu items etc. so that you’re not “slashing prices” but instead giving more value.

It’s a slight difference, but it will keep your list from perceiving your restaurant in a “cheap night out”.

Tell ‘Em What’s New

A lot of the time, people just want to know what’s new. Let them know about the new seasonal menu, or that you’ve a wine and cheese night coming up etc.

Use Scarcity

Build urgency into your SMS messages to fill up remaining tables.

Hey Jess! We’ve just launched our spring menu! Only 7 tables left. To book now reply Y or N

Use SMS Reminders To Reduce No Shows

Remind Customers of their Reservations

You’ve built your list, sent an SMS and people have placed a booking – a good thing to do is send them an SMS saying that you’ve booked their table and you will see them at X time.

Hi Jess, just a reminder to let you know that we’ve reserved you a table for two at 6pm tonight. See you then!

Or if people are booking throughout the week, send them an SMS on the day letting them know that you’ve set everything aside for them and if they’re still coming.

Hi Jess, just a reminder to let you know that we’ve reserved you a table for two at 6pm tonight. Can you confirm your booking? Reply with Y or N to re-book.

Nurture Repeat Business

This is a real business asset and needs to be taken care of, this builds better relationships, keeps you top of mind and reduce unsubscribes and of course grows revenue over time.

Use an SMS Loyalty Program

Loyalty programs are a great way to keep people subscribed to your list.

Hi Sara, you’re just one medium pizza away from a free one! Check out our menu if you’re keen for a pizza-night tonight! [LINK].

Consistent Contact

Contact them on a consistent schedule whether it’s once per week or once per fortnight, whatever it is keep it consistent. Be careful not to text too often as this can annoy some subscribers.

Keep A Clean House

You don’t want to have unresponsive subscribers on your list – the more of these people you have the higher your SMS costs.

Fortunately, with SMS most people will unsubscribe themselves but keep an eye on people who haven’t responded in some time and simply remove them from your list. 

Reduce Missed Bookings

Collect Bookings By Text (as well as phone, email etc.)

A phone line can only take one call at a time and if your campaign went well this will leave potential customers frustrated.

A restaurant I recently worked with had a voicemail system that would fill up not allowing people to even leave a booking by message. Not good.

When a person texts in you can see on your computer who’s looking to make bookings. You can quickly send a short text back letting them know their table is booked.

Improve Service

Collect Customer Feedback

No business is perfect, and sometimes customers can reveal problem areas that may not be obvious.

Alternatively, they can let you know what you do excel at, if you do something well don’t change it – in fact, this could become a unique selling proposition for your restaurant.

Every now and then invite them your subscribers to take a survey and if you like offer them a small gift to say thank you.


This is just a small snippet of the things you can do with SMS but it outlines the different ways it can be used to improve bookings.

You can find more resources that will help you take this a step further.

Once you have a solid list of buyers and you’re nurturing that list will great offers, events and updates you will have a created a tangible profit centre that you can use to generate customers on demand…even on your slowest nights.