"Strong industry growth has increased competitive pressures among restaurants, making it more important than ever to step-up marketing efforts that attract customers and keep them coming back. When asked about the biggest business challenges they face, U.S. restaurant owners cited filling seats during slower days or seasons (50 percent) and building their establishment's brand and reputation (27 percent) as the top two difficulties.
According to the survey, 90 percent of restaurateurs said they maintain a website, and 84 percent said they use email as part of their marketing strategy. In fact, nearly half of those surveyed (45 percent) said email marketing is their most effective marketing tool. Direct mail was a distant second at 18 percent, followed by print advertising at 16 percent."
published study: Constant Contact's 2006 Restaurant Survey
There are some important things to note about this survey:
"The survey was conducted through targeted online distribution to U.S. restaurant owners, who are current customers of Constant Contact, recording results from nearly 300. The majority of respondents are owner/operators of single-location, small business establishments that have been in business for five years or more."
This is significant because the results skew towards favoring email marketing, which is expected when the survey participants are customers of an email marketing company. However that being said, there is valuable information in the research report regarding how restaurants use the internet to gain a competitive edge, strengthen their brand, and increase customer loyalty. The survey results also show the various benefits of using permission-based email marketing.
Another significant aspect of the survey is that the respondents are "owner/operators of single-location, small business establishments that have been in business for five years or more". Being in business for 5 years or more is often a sign of a successful restaurant, and if successful restaurants are using email marketing and utilizing technology to remain competitive, it is probably worth considering for your operations.
The company who surveyed its own customers for this research, Constant Contact, offers a basic plan for $15 a month with a 60 day free trial. There are also free services available on the web which have their limits and conditions (e.g. small advertising included), but may be a good alternative for small restaurants.