If you’re anything like me – AKA subscribed to about a million email lists – you know that restaurants represent some of the top brands in the inbox these days. They know how to design an engaging campaign, and something about their marketing (could it be the free appetizers?) really resonates with email audiences.
So for my latest showdown, I thought it would be interesting to analyze the email marketing strategies of two major restaurant franchises: TGI Fridays
Here’s a look at the matchup.
The signup form
Vaguely creepy vibes aside, this page functions as a reasonably compelling way to generate email signups. In the hospitality industry, it's typical to frame your email list as a "Rewards Program" or "VIP Club,"
which is what TGI Fridays is doing here. Two clear paths are presented: Sign up, or log in if you’re already a member.
I don't love that the value proposition is hidden in that blurb of white text rather than being listed prominently. On this giant page, it gets lost and looks more like the type of legal jargon I normally scan over than something to actually pay attention to.
Once you click through to the form, you find that it asks for a lot of info, but that’s pretty much table stakes in this industry. And none of it feels out of the ordinary: While this many fields might cause too much signup friction for a retail brand, it makes sense for a restaurant to want to know your location and birthday.
On the form, they make the value of joining their rewards program clearer: New subscribers will get a free appetizer and a “Jump the Line” pass immediately upon signup.
The first email
Subject line: Welcome to Fridays Rewards
If there’s a value-packed welcome email out there, this is it. Fridays starts their subscriber relationship out on the right foot by delivering on everything they promised during the signup process. With a welcome email like this, I can’t wait to see what other goodies they’ll send down the road.
The next few emails
Subject line: Make the most of Fridays Rewards
Now that you have your coupons in hand, the next email in their welcome series does a fantastic job outlining how their rewards program actually works. A numbered list is a great, scannable way to share the highlights, and a bar at the bottom (cut out here because it contains Jamie's personal info) helps keep you up-to-date on your current rewards status.
Subject line: An entrée on us, and one to share.
And the rewards keep coming! A buy-on-get-one offer like this is a great way to draw people into their local restaurant – and since it's so valuable, it’s a smart choice to outline the offer so boldly in the hero image.
Subject line: Last chance – enter to win $10,000.
After the first few static emails, this GIF really caught my attention. I love the idea behind this: It contributes to a ton of key marketing goals (in-store visits, online orders, referrals, social engagement) in one, snackable campaign.
Subject line: Vote for a real New Yorker
I’m not entirely sure what the point of this campaign is, beyond capitalizing on timeliness and putting some delicious looking food in front of me.
That’s not to say it’s a bad idea: Sometimes, sending a marketing campaign purely for the purpose of generating audience interest and site traffic is enough (and they still offer the opportunity to order in that CTA at the bottom).
Subject line: Our Veterans deserve a free lunch.
Is there anything more patriotic than a giant image of a hamburger superimposed over an American flag?
This campaign is absolutely brilliant for a number of reasons: First of all, it’s a great way to generate some nice brand vibes by doing something cool for those who serve. Second, the CTA allows their subscribers to spread the word about the promotion AND helps grow their email audience in the process.
Subject line: Get 2017 started right.
Talk about a social media and email working in glorious harmony: This email leverages their audience to drum up brand awareness. Plus, that super engaging GIF in the header helps draw people in and get them interested.
Subject line: 🍷Join us for 1/2 priced bottles of wine
I have to dock them a couple of points for this email that’s mostly one giant image, but overall, it’s a solid Valentine’s Day campaign that helped drive reservations on a crucial industry holiday.
TGI Fridays set a pretty high standard… let’s see how O’Charley’s stacks up.
The signup form
Small caveat here: I've tried to use this form multiple times, and it hasn't ever worked. However, Jamie signed up months ago and it worked for her, so I'm going to evaluate these emails based on the perspective of someone who was actually able to join on their list.
The general aesthetic of the "O'Club" signup form signals that O’Charley’s is targeting a different demographic than TGI Fridays, but the premise is the same: Join our list to get rewards and exclusive offers.
It does a better job than the TGI Fridays form of outlining the value of joining their list – a free appetizer upon signup, a birthday surprise, etc. – in a clear, scannable way.
The first email
Subject line: Jamie, welcome to the family, we saved you a seat!
Initial thoughts on this one... where is her free appetizer?!
To be fair, it’s a smart choice to include a double opt-in (which ensures a cleaner, more engaged email list). But this is a huge pet peeve of mine: If you promise something in your signup form, don't make people wait for it, and definitely don't forget to include in in your first-touch email.
The next few emails
Subject line: Don't worry, we won’t ask you to share your FREE Appetizer
Ok, ok – here's the offer they promised. But they sent it a full two days after she signed up, which is a crazy-long time to have to wait for something that may have incentivized her to join their list in the first place.
A lot of brands include this lag on purpose to ensure people don't join their list while in a restaurant and immediately use the offer (therefore reducing the revenue generated from that visit). But even though I get the thought behind it, I don't think it's worth it. The best marketing means reducing friction whenever possible, and this tactic only contributes to it.
Subject line: 💸 20% OFF! Don’t let this deal get away! 💸
Despite my qualms with their appetizer-withholding, I have to commend O'Charley's on this email. I love the use of emojis in their subject line, and the message focused on a single CTA really stands out from their other campaigns.
Subject line: Kids eat 🆓
The emoji in this subject line isn't quite as effective: Since emojis won't render in some email clients, we'd never recommend using them to replace a word that's important to the message you're trying to get across.
This is also a message that would be more effective if sent to a segmented audience (based on point-of-sale data
or even previous email engagement): Free kids meals are a super compelling offer to people who have kids, but to Jamie, this is just more irrelevant noise in her crowded inbox.
Subject line: ❤️ 50% OFF WINE! Valentine's Special Only For You! ❤️
Ok, so here’s the deal: I’m normally all about an eye-catching GIF as the hero image. But I do draw the line when the GIF includes heart-shaped meat. Next.
Subject line: Join us for a Veteran's Day celebration!
It’s interesting that O’Charley’s does basically the same campaign as TGI Fridays for Veteran’s Day – vets eat free. However, their take is just less engaging than the Fridays version.
To me, it comes down to two crucial elements: First of all, they fail to highlight the actual offer in the subject line, opting instead for something vague. Second, their emphasis on copy over imagery makes this email less parseable. For an email from a restaurant, this email is severely lacking in images of delicious-looking food.
Subject line: Like, Us, Follow Us, Friend Us – it’s up to you!
I love an email with some user-generated content, and this is a fantastic social campaign from O’Charley’s. If it were me, I would have put a little more emphasis on the “we give out $25 gift cards” bit to help give people a reason to engage, but overall, it does the job of offering multiple touch points to their email subscribers.
Even though O'Charley's is from our hometown, I have to give this one to TGI Fridays. With a cohesive subscriber experience and more compelling content, they're the clear winner in this email battle.
Winner: TGI Fridays
About the Author
McKenzie Gregory is the content marketing manager on Emma’s marketing team. A Nashville native, she can be found covering all things email on the Emma blog, debating hyphenation rules, and watching obscene amounts of Netflix without a trace of shame.
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