How to make your restaurant gift card the must-have gift of the holidays
The holiday season has shoppers everywhere scrambling for the perfect gift, the last-minute gift, stuff to fill a stocking, teacher gifts and coworker kudos. But shoppers need not scramble, if you and your staff are doing their jobs right — promoting your restaurant’s gift cards. Because who doesn’t crave your signature pizza or garlic knots or specialty salads? Well, you know the answer — no one, at least no one on Santa’s nice list.
Although it’s better to give than receive, when it comes to holiday shopping, most givers would love a small token of appreciation for their hard-shopping efforts. If you’re willing to give a little, you’ll probably see a lot more gift cards flying off your counter.
“With my restaurant and retail clients, we have found that successful gift card programs always include something for the buyer. And, to get people in the door in dreary January in Chicago, we have usually made that offer something the buyer can use starting January 2,” says Jen Peterson, leader of J Peterson Marketing in Chicago. “For example, with one client we did when you purchased $25 in gift cards before December 24, you got a $10 gift card to use January 2 – January 31. You could purchase something for just $10 at the restaurant but, most likely, you’re spending on top of that $10 so it’s January revenue that we probably would not have had otherwise.”
Big incentives will also get your customers’ attention and sway them to purchase a gift card for themselves or for someone they love.
A contest promoted on social media that boasts a high-value gift card will get customers clicking and buying, according to Leah B. Ynostrosa, owner and Chief Brand Elevator at Tacos & Caviar Brand Elevation in San Antonio.
“These contests are proven to raise awareness for your brand while also getting people to talk,” she adds. “Provide a ‘consolation’ offer to non-winners to purchase a gift card at a discounted rate. We’ve seen purchases skyrocket as patrons rack up tabs well beyond the gift card value.”
Dean Small, founder and managing partner of SYNERGY Restaurant Consultants in Newport Beach, California, suggests running a raffle for a trip that customers will automatically be entered if they buy a gift card.
You’ll also see increased foot traffic and gift card sales by sponsoring a fundraiser.
“Sell gift cards at a reduced price and the difference in price goes to charity,” advises Small. “Fundraisers are a great way to get people into the restaurant.”
Plus, you’ll be giving back in the season of giving, a great way to strengthen your ties with the community.
If you want your customers to purchase gift cards as holiday gifts, make it easy for them to connect “gift card” with “gift.” Signage strategically placed throughout the restaurant and holiday decorations such as gift-card-stocked stockings will help them see the gift card as a holiday gift, according to Small.
Visual reminders such as table tents and a point of purchase you can throw in a to-go bag that serves as a reminder that pizza is the perfect gift, will go a long way in promoting gift card sales during the holiday season, he adds.
Gift card promotion doesn’t have to be limited to your storefront, though; by extending your reach into cyberspace, you can exponentially multiply your gift card promotion efforts and as a result, increase your sales.
Ynostrosa recommends pairing “table-top tents with a QR code linked to a Facebook Messenger bot or e-mail opt-in form to build your audience (whom you can later retarget in e-mail or via Facebook Messenger).”
If your e-mail list is already substantial, put it to good use.
“I’m a big fan of utilizing your e-mail database. These people gave you their e-mail address to hear from you so make it worthwhile. Perhaps they get an even better incentive — a $15 gift card or their gift cards go until February 28, instead of January 31 — something just for that group. They just have to bring in the e-mail to purchase,” advises Peterson.
Snail mail can be as equally effective as digital mail in promoting your gift cards, according to Small. Be sure to add parameters on gift cards such as they can only be used for pick-up or dine-in. That way, you’re safeguarding your chance to upsell, he adds.
Any marketing strategy to increase gift card sales will only be strengthened when you get your entire staff on board, and the effort they put forth promoting gift cards should be acknowledged and compensated.
“You can do a contest, and nothing is better than cold, hard cash (or a Visa/Amex gift card). I also love surprise rewards. You hear an employee talking up the gift cards and getting a sale? Reward them on the spot with a $20 bill and have some higher rewards, too,” Peterson advises. “A key to making this work from a management perspective is to budget for this before the holidays. Start setting aside some funds to use in November and December for employee rewards.”
Keep a scorecard or pie or growth chart of employees’ performances on gift card sales that everyone can see and offer substantial prizes for sales leaders, said Small. To offset the added expense of employee prizes, he suggests partnering with other vendors who could supply the loot.
“Pizzerias can have trade-offs with other vendors so they’re not paying dollar for dollar. Restaurant operators may have points when paying with credit cards, and they can use the points to get prizes,” Small says. “Set realistic goals in terms of sales. During pre-shift meetings encourage them to be on their game. It’s not difficult to sell gift cards if you’re focused.”
If you’re concerned that offering a gift card at a discounted rate will negatively impact your revenue, Small says that a good percentage of gift card users — approximately 17 to 22 percent — will leave a balance on the gift card, of nearly 20 percent. And, of course, there are always customers who misplace gift cards completely.
Gift cards not only make a fantastic holiday gift, they also generate double the buzz and interest in your restaurant thanks to the customer who purchases the card and the gift card recipient who is already a fan of your place or will soon become a returning customer. Take advantage of the season by effectively marketing gift cards so that the end of the year and the year to come continue to be successful for your business.
Deann Owens is a freelance journalist living in Dayton, Ohio. She specializes in features and human-interest stories.