Company: Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp.
Contact: Jill Drecker, Manager of Guest Loyalty
Location: San Diego, Calif.
Industry: Retail (B2C)
Annual revenue: Confidential
Number of employees: 6000

Quick Read:

Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp., which manages a chain of 102 family-style buffet restaurants in 15 states, had a sizable email loyalty club. Its "Club Veg" totaled more than half a million members, all of whom had voluntarily signed up to be notified about upcoming food promotions. But Garden Fresh wanted these members to do more than receive emails—it wanted them to visit its Web site and learn more about the restaurant's offerings. In short, it wanted to be more interactive with its email members.

Working with online marketing agency Red Door Interactive, Garden Fresh tried two interactive email campaigns last year tied to a monthly food promotion at its restaurant chains. The first encouraged Club Veg members to visit the chain's homepage and learn more about the cherry dishes being featured that month, while the second campaign featured a clock counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until a popular chicken pot pie menu item would be available. In both instances, Club Veg members had a chance to win free meals by clicking on the link in the email and visiting the homepage.

The two promotions led to a huge increase in site traffic to the company's homepage: The cherry email campaign garnered a 906% increase in site visits on the day of the email blast, while the chicken pot pie menu initiative led to a 1,430% increase in visits.

The Challenge:

Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp. had an asset that any B2C company would envy: a database of more than half a million consumers who had voluntarily asked to stay informed about changes to the menu, ongoing promotions, and other relevant information. The company knew that this was an untapped asset; it wanted to reach out to this group and get them more involved without alienating valuable customers.

By setting up an interactive and fun email campaign offering customers the chance to win free meals and giving them recipes of their favorite dishes, Garden Fresh aimed to elicit more customer loyalty. The company hoped that more Club Veg members would visit its Web site to learn more about upcoming promotions, encouraging them to send emails to their friends about the restaurant and also visit the outlets more frequently.

The Campaign:

Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp. operates 102 casual-dining buffet-style restaurants in 15 states under the name Souplantation or Sweet Tomatoes. The company's niche is to have a different food theme each month. One month may feature "buffalo chicken" items, while another month may feature apple items.

The company began its "Club Veg" email club in March 2005, in part to keep customers informed about the current and future themes of the month. Patrons could sign up by giving their contact details at the restaurants or by going to the Souplantation Web site. Within 18 months of its launch, Club Veg boasted half a million members.

With so many members, Garden Fresh realized that it was time to try to do more than just send them emails. "We wanted to be more interactive with our online club," said Jill Drucker, director of customer loyalty.

In August 2006, Garden Fresh sent its first interactive email to Club Veg members to promote its Cherry month. The personalized email had art work and invited guests to go to the Souplantation Web site and visit its cherry tree. "If a visitor put their mouse over a cherry on the tree, either a fact about cherries or information about one of our cherry-related menu items would come up," recalled Drucker. The email also offered the chance to win two free meals.

On the day of the email blast, traffic to the Souplantation Webs site jumped 906%, said Drucker. The company didn't track sales for that month to see whether sales also rose.

Drucker and her team decided to try another initiative. In October 2006, as the company geared up for its annual November Chicken Pot Pie theme, Garden Fresh sent its members an email with a link to a clock on the Souplantation homepage counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until chicken pot pie became available in its restaurants Nov. 1.

"As this is one of our most popular menu items, we wanted to create even more excitement about its availability," said Drucker.

The personalized email offered Club Veg members a chance to win 30 free meals if they visited the countdown clock once it launched Oct. 20, 2006. On Nov. 1, the clock changed to count down the exact time left until the end of the month, when the item would stop being served.

The chicken pot pie email blast led to an impressive 1,430% jump in traffic to the Souplantation site on the day of its launch. The company decided to repeat the promotion for this year's Chicken Pot Pie month, with the countdown clock beginning this week, on Oct. 22, at 9 AM PST.

Garden Fresh now constantly looks for opportunities to be more interactive with Club Veg members. "We've learned it helps to get them excited about going to our site," said Drucker.

During a recent eight-week "Passport Promotion" featuring dishes for two weeks from each of four places—Asia, Greece, Italy, and Mexico—members were sent emails inviting them to come to the Souplantation site and personalize an email postcard inviting a friend to meet them at the restaurant.

Each two-week period had a different fun experience. Members could personalize a fortune cookie during the Asia promotion, dress a Greek God during the Greek promotion, draw a Mona Lisa for the Italy promotion, and use a donkey to invite a friend to a fiesta during the Mexico promotion.


Each interactive email campaign led to a huge jump in email traffic for Souplantation—906% for the cherry campaign and 1,430% for the chicken pot pie initiative. The results encouraged Garden Fresh to think about ways to be more interactive with its Club Veg members at all times, from offering them fun trivia games to chances to win free meals. It also has encouraged a dialogue with customers, which is invaluable in keeping customer loyalty.

Drucker has kept an email she received last year from a Club Veg member after the company sent out a recipe for its Classic Greek Salad. She wrote, "I'm just as happy to get this recipe as if you had sent a coupon," according to Drucker.

Lessons Learned:

  • Vary your email promotions to keep it lively. Now that Garden Fresh has seen the value of interactive emails, it tries to keep its emails different and fun. Some may offer recipes or the chance to win free meals, while others try to increase excitement about a menu item, such as the current countdown clock to next month's chicken pot pie.
  • Reward your most loyal customers. Club Veg members are Souplantation's most loyal guests, and they are rewarded by coupons, the chance to win free meals, and recipes to their favorite Souplantation dish. As the company's customer base tends to be women with children, they particularly appreciate these rewards.

Related Links: (Garden Fresh's online marketing agency)


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Case Study: How Garden Fresh Realized a Huge Gain in Web Traffic and Longer-Term Loyalty via Email

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