- Every text message gets read, and restaurant owners get back more than $7 for every $1 they spend on text marketing, says Shane Murphy of Boostly.
- Don’t even think about using your own phone, however. To get started, you’ll likely need to partner with a business texting service.
By Rick Hynum
Long before smartphones became commonplace, Neil Papworth, a former developer at Sema Group Telecoms, sent the first-ever text message to Richard Jarvis at Vodafone. It was December 3, 1992, and the message was short and sweet: “Merry Christmas.” In those days, mobile phones didn’t have keyboards; Papworth, who was just 22, actually tapped out his message on a PC. Thirty years later, texting, also called Short Message Service (SMS), is so ordinary that we take it for granted. Even your grandmother, who hates newfangled things, probably knows how to text.
Undoubtedly, you know how to text, too. But do you know how to use texting to sell more pizza? “Texting is the most effective way to connect with customers in today’s market,” says Shane Murphy, co-founder and CEO of Boostly. “Every text gets read, and over 90% of those are opened within just three minutes. Studies have shown that, on average, restaurant owners get over $7 back for every $1 that they spend on text marketing.”
The beauty of text marketing is that it helps you stay in touch with your customers where they want to engage—on their phones. You just need to think carefully about what you want to say to them.
A Fast-Evolving Tool
Text marketing has advanced at lightning speed over the past several years. With Domino’s leading the way, texting, perhaps inevitably, has even become a tool for quickly and conveniently ordering pizza anytime, anywhere. But, more recently, Jet’s Pizza, headquartered in Sterling Heights, Michigan, has muscled its way into the lead, powering its text-to-order strategy with artificial intelligence (AI). The chain began testing the technology in Fall 2019; as of January 2022, more than 2 million orders had been placed by text at 275 Jet’s locations, reaping $54 million in sales. Jet’s customers can place an order, review it for accuracy and pay via text. They can also text “Re-Pizza” to reorder their favorites.
“We pulled off a technological and marketing feat that brands 10 and 20 times our size have yet to accomplish, and we have a two-year head start,” Aaron Nilsson, chief information officer for Jet’s America Inc., said at the time. “Artificial intelligence is the forefront of combating labor shortages and rising prices.”
By late November, Jet’s Pizza had surpassed the $100 million mark for orders made with AI, but that includes additional AI innovations, such as pro-ordering, which lets customers type their orders directly into the chain’s digital ordering system, and a phone bot.
You probably don’t have the resources of a 400-store chain like Jet’s Pizza. But don’t let that stop you from putting text marketing to work.
“Every text gets read, and over 90% of those are opened within just three minutes. Studies have shown that, on average, restaurant owners get over $7 back for every $1 that they spend on text marketing.”
— Shane Murphy, Boostly
Choose a Business Texting Service
To get started, you’ll likely need to partner with a business texting service. As Jessica Ayre, a content marketing specialist at Text Request, explained in a November 2 article on PMQ.com, “Texting from a personal phone just doesn’t work.” Mass texting and SMS promotions with keywords aren’t possible, she noted, and you can’t organize messages by group or category.
Moreover, Murphy points out, “From a marketing perspective, the mobile carriers and the government have regulations related to opt-in procedures that aren’t possible to manage on your personal device. This could open you up to massive fines. Additionally, you’re limited to sending texts one at a time, which can be extremely cumbersome, and then you are opening up customers to have direct contact with you forevermore. It’s important to have separation between your business and yourself.”
Encouraging your staff members to use their own phones to send, for example, texts about specials doesn’t really help either, according to Ayre, because you’ll gain “no insight into the conversations that staff and customers are having.”
What you need is a tech-savvy SMS service that specializes in text marketing. (If that company offers a seamless text-to-pay option—letting customers pay for their orders on their phones via a dedicated link—all the better.) Then, you need a strategy.
Above all, text marketing, when used wisely, can generate more repeat business, Murphy says. “Because of the real-time nature of SMS marketing, it’s focused on increasing the purchase frequency of your customers. Specifically, you can create urgency by having [the offer] expire within a few days and make it only available during certain periods of the day, so that you are truly driving extra orders. At Boostly, we see customers increasing their purchase frequency by 175%.”
But, when tailoring your text offer, think about your margins and don’t give away the store, Murphy warns. “A common mistake that restaurant owners make is sending offers with discounts that are too large. You don’t need to do a BOGO or a free pizza. Giving free garlic knots with a $25-plus purchase keeps your margins super-healthy and drives extra visits.”
“(With AI text-to-order technology), we pulled off a technological and marketing feat that brands 10 and 20 times our size have yet to accomplish, and we have a two-year head start.”
— Aaron Nilsson, Jet’s Pizza
To convert new or infrequent customers into regulars, PMQ has been preaching the gospel of loyalty/rewards programs for years now, and text marketing can help you there, too. “Most customers prefer to interact with a loyalty program via text since it’s easier to keep up with and doesn’t require a separate app,” Ayre said.
If you’re already promoting your loyalty program on social media, direct mail pieces and in-store signage, it’s now time to add texting to the mix. When you’ve contracted with the right business texting service, customers could simply text a keyword like PIZZA to your business number to sign up as a loyalty club member. Once they’re signed up, you can start texting them the info they most need, such as their points balance, expiring points, current rewards and VIP perks, as well as specials and offers that are exclusive to loyalty program members.
Have you just launched a new signature pizza or appetizer? Text your customers about it and make sure to list the key toppings that make that item so delicious. Looking to drive demand during a slow period of the day or week? Text them an offer for free delivery during those hours if they place an order at or above a certain dollar amount, say, $25 (or whatever works best for you). Has the weather been dreary and depressing lately? Text them about some of your comfort-food offerings, like lasagna or a tasty, hot soup.
Text marketing opens other doors for you as well. For example, you can use it to get feedback through short polls and surveys. How would your customers rate the service on their most recent delivery, carryout or dine-in experience? What’s their favorite specialty pizza on your menu, or what new type of dessert would they like you to add to the menu? (Give them multiple choices.)
You can even use text marketing to solicit positive reviews from satisfied customers. Simply text them direct links to your Google, Yelp or Facebook review page, and think about sweetening the pot a little bit by offering a discount on their next order.
A business texting service like Boostly can even help you get immediate feedback while the customer is digging into their pie. “If it’s a good experience, we help facilitate a 5-star review,” Murphy says. But what if the customer isn’t all that pleased? “We can collect internal feedback and open up a communication channel for you to connect with the customer, resolve the issue and bring them back in as quickly as possible.”
Just remember that there are laws in place to protect consumers from unwanted mobile communications. You will need each customer’s permission before adding them to your list. “Text marketing is primarily used to increase repeat frequency from your current customer base,” Murphy says. “Due to texting laws, you must get people to opt in before sending ongoing marketing messages, which normally means that customers have had a previous interaction with you and like your brand.”
Rick Hynum is PMQ’s editor in chief
For more information on text marketing for restaurants, contact these text business services: