Personalizing restaurant email newsletters is an ubiquitous marketing strategy, but you have to be careful not to cross the line and antagonize your patrons! Here are some common personalization mistakes and how to avoid them.

Excessive Mail Merge

Mail merge is like the salt in your kitchen. Just the right amount and your dishes will take on perfect balance and taste… too much and your patrons will confuse your salmon for a salt lick. One of the primary mistakes restaurateurs make when composing their email missives is thinking that some mail merge is good, so more must be better. Then they end up with this type of gobbledygook: Hi, John! We have a table set aside for John Brown tonight, so why not take the Brown family out for dinner? Our courteous staff is waiting to call out “John Brown, Table for Four,” and seat the Browns at the John Brown table to taste the specialties our Chef has prepared for John Brown and the Browns!” An illiterate kindergartener can determine that this was hardly a personal message written directly by you but just a fill-in-the-blanks automaton. Email marketing is based on providing your customers with the personal touch, and overuse of mail merge has the diametrically opposite effect. Instead of the content being read as personalized, it’s read to divulge that you think of your customer as a number to be plugged into an email spewing machine. Most experts agree that limiting the use of a customer’s name to one or two occurrences in the email message content is likely your best option.

Testimonial Overuse

It doesn’t matter if it’s the Mayor leaving a compliment on your website’s comment form or written on the back of the guest check, don’t ever use it as part of your email marketing campaign without gaining formal permission to use their name. Using testimonials in your newsletters is another case where you can easily overdo it and end up alienating your customer. If they see a number of named testimonials in every email, they may be wary of providing any information to you in fear that they’ll be next on the list (and they might not want their family or employer to know that they regularly splurge on your Abalone Crusted Wagyu Filet Mignon).

Too Much Signup Info

Many restaurants ask for the customer’s birthdate on their signup forms so that they can send out solicitations to hold the party at their venue. Although this is an acceptable form of personalization, much of the other information they provided should be considered off-limits. Stating that “your home at 1234 Chav Avenue is just 1.6 miles from our restaurant,” or “we’re looking forward to seeing your 555-555-1212 on our reservation line’s caller ID” can be seen as intrusive and stalkerish.

Correlating to Their Orders

By tying your customer records to your POS system, you can gather a variety of behavioral data on your regular patrons by what they order at your restaurant. While these facilities can be helpful in establishing general trends, they can be severely counterproductive when applied too minutely in your email campaign. The determination that a customer always orders vegetarian meals can be invaluable so that you don’t send them your invitation to Parillada Night, but informing them that you’ve kept track of how many times they’ve ordered the Aquinas Napa Valley Chardonnay with the Caribbean Coconut Shrimp can be interpreted as Big Brotherish and outright creepy. A better way to leverage this information is to suggest other dishes which you know pair well with that type of wine (without ever mentioning the varietal), such as your Hazelnut Chicken in Prosciutto Cream Sauce, or your Shiitake Mushroom Salad With Truffle Oil.

Crafting your email content to secure an equilibrium between the extremes of personalization is a wise stratagem. You wouldn’t use a pound of anchovies in your tableside Caesar Salad, so don’t overdo it in personalizing your email campaign.