Why restaurants should test email content right now (and how)

To say the least, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a rollercoaster event, impacting all industries. 

Those in the food and beverage industries – restaurants in particular – have taken one of the hardest hits. 

Earlier this year, most restaurants saw a sharp decline in diners visiting their establishment. This was due to strict restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus. 

change in restaurant diners graph due to pandemic

Source: Statista

Globally, many restaurants were required to close their doors to in-house diners, so they had to rely 100% on drive-through orders and deliveries.

Millions of small businesses had to find ways to inform customers of changes. This meant that subscribers received a huge influx of emails – some campaigns were effective, while others weren’t. 

A/B testing, for any industry, is an important step in setting up an effective email campaign. Not all businesses can afford to run a campaign that doesn’t resonate with customers. So, for harder-hit industries like restaurants, A/B testing is a must

Email marketing in the era of COVID-19

Email marketing has been an essential part of most marketing strategies. It has the highest return on investment (ROI) of any digital channel. 

As COVID-19 took over the world, consumers received a lot of email. Because of this, marketers saw a substantial increase in their benchmarks.

food and beverage 2020 email benchmarks

Source: Campaign Monitor


While many brands have benefitted from sending email updates, they realized that consumers were getting frustrated around so many emails saying the same thing.

flood of covid-19 emails sparks twitter response

Source: Campaign Monitor

Unfortunately, for many brands, there was no way to avoid sending an update email. Restaurants had to find a way to keep their patrons up-to-date on the frequent changes.  

Now that things have settled a little, many industries can now start revisiting their email marketing strategy. They can start making much-needed changes to what they send and when. This will not only cut down on unnecessary emails, but also keep your communities in the loop as you navigate your business's new normal.

COVID-19 updates are still important, but share relevant content only

Email marketers know that they’re required to report major changes to their followers. However, most COVID-19-releated emails earlier this year had nearly identical messaging – which isn’t a great experience for your subscribers.

McDonald's shared a rehashed, bulleted section regarding what they were doing to keep staff and customers safe. 

mcdonalds covid-19 email update

Source: McDonald's

The highlighted section is one variation of what appeared in millions of emails from multiple industries. 

There’s no getting rid of the COVID-19-update email. When things change, emails need to be sent. However, instead of sending the same message as everyone else, you can make sure you’re only sending the most relevant content to your readers. 

Take this example from Foodsby.

foodsby email covid-19 update example

Source: Really Good Emails

While this email does have similarities to the McDonald’s email, Foodsby went into more detail and made specific recommendations to their workers and patrons.

Do your automated emails align with the current environment?

Like any email marketing professional, you likely set up various email campaigns months in advance. Email automation ensures that you stay ahead of the game

Sometimes, as we saw earlier this year, plans must change. 

Many consumers, especially those subscribed to various restaurant email lists, noticed that some messages didn’t align with lockdown protocols. For example, many restaurants were continuing to invite people to dine-in when that wasn't an option. This was because certain businesses didn’t edit their emails before sending.

Take a look at your automated emails – do you need to create a new section, edit existing copy, etc.? These changes won’t be difficult, but they’ll show your subscribers you care.

Check out this example from KFC.

KFC restaurant open email announcement example

Source: Really Good Emails

While their header says, "we are still open," they make sure readers understand what "open" means. 

Make your messages regarding the pandemic easy to skim

As things continue to change during this pandemic, you need to keep your subscribers informed. Instead of restating the same information, design updates that are easily skimmable. Make sure you include all of the important information, but try not to be too long winded.

Dominos does a wonderful job of giving their subscribers the option of staying informed by including a safety section to their emails. Instead of spelling everything out in the email, they included a "learn more" call-to-action (CTA) button. This is thoughtful, and gives readers autonomy – they can learn more about the business’s safety protocols, or they can move on.

dominos scannable email example

Source: Dominos

What restaurant A/B testing looks like during COVID-19

All of the changes during COVID-19 can be overwhelming. This is especially true for those often impacted daily, like restaurants. Take the time to find out what works for you when it comes to:

  • Send frequency

  • What information your audience wants from you

  • When they want to hear from you 

The best way to find out what works for your restaurant is through A/B testing

email benchmarks by day during covid-19 table

Source: Campaign Monitor


If you aren't quite sure what you should or shouldn't be testing, pay careful attention and A/B test the following areas.

1. Subject lines and preheader text

Marketing professionals understand just how vital their subject lines and preheader text are. These make the very first impression with your reader. During the pandemic, consumers have become accustomed to seeing "COVID-19" frequently in their inbox. On the flip side, many have also started to associate it with a standard “copy-and-paste guideline” email. 

Instead of using COVID-19 in your subject line, get creative with different ideas to capture your reader's attention, such as “check in” or “our response to the current event.”

2. COVID-19 update sections

You know your readers need to stay updated. Consider adding a "learn more" section – like in the Domino’s example – or offer a category preference for subscribers in their email preferences.  

3. Send frequency

Consumers appreciate necessary updates from their favorite brands. However, if you send daily updates with only tiny tweaks, your subscribers will tune you out. It's important for restaurants to A/B test their send frequency so patrons have the most relevant information.

4. The tone of your messages

This is arguably one of the most important things to A/B test. Sometimes you’ll need to convey a serious message, and sometimes you can use a calmer or more empathetic tone with your readers. We’re living in an uncertain time, so testing the tone of your message can mean the difference between keeping and losing your subscribers. 

Wrap up

Restaurant A/B testing is more vital than you may think. Your subscribers rely on your communications more than ever before. If you aren't considering things like the language or tone you use, then you could risk losing subscribers and customers.

A/B testing should be a regular part of any email marketing strategy. But during COVID-19, restaurants need to take the extra time to A/B test the following:

  • Subject lines and preheader text

  • COVID-19 update sharing options

  • Send frequency (especially pertaining to COVID-19 updates)

  • Message tone

Like all great dishes, restaurant email design must have the right ingredients. Check out these seven email designs and boost your campaigns today.

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