Driving Full-Service Restaurant Traffic with Gift Cards

As Seen On FSR.
December 2020.


As Americans become more comfortable with visiting restaurants, driving traffic to pre-pandemic levels will be challenging. It’s essential to take a good look at all the marketing tools in full-service restaurants’ arsenals, and to maximize the use of each and every one of them. Gift cards are one of the best—but often-overlooked—means to get guests to patronize full-service restaurants.

Gift cards are excellent sales vehicles, but their marketing benefits are barely tapped. Gift card sales are terrific revenue generators, but there’s more to consider from strategic standpoint.

Here’s the latest good news for sales. According to research from the National Restaurant Association, last year, 72 percent of people wanted a restaurant gift card during the holiday season. This year is on track for even higher gift card sales. Based on Blackhawk Network’s sales data, egift card sales are already up 44 percent year-over-year.

Full-service restaurants will benefit from this growing interest in consumer purchase of gift cards. However, they can also get more for each gift card sold by encouraging their actual use.

Why? The fact is that each year $3 billion a year in gift cards go unspent. That matters to full-service restaurants because consumers spend an average of 30–35 percent more than the amount of their gift cards. That’s a good reason to take a harder look at gift card programs.

Full-service restaurants looking to leverage gift cards to drive traffic have many tactics to consider. Here are a few simple ways to drive traffic with gift cards:

Sweeten the Schedule—When exploring opportunities to support your gift card sales program, look no further than a calendar. Ramp up your gift card promotions during months for gift-giving holidays -think Valentine’s Day, Mother’s & Father’s Day, graduations and winter holidays. Selling gift cards around these key dates will guarantee traffic.

Make it Shine—Use your gift cards the way you use advertising by designing your gift cards to represent your brand and what sets you apart from other full-service restaurants. Don’t forget to include your website, phone number and logo.

Get “Friendly”—Megan Flanagan, Executive Director of the Retail Gift Card Association, “People purchase gift cards for friends and family with the intent for them to go out and treat themselves.” But people rarely go out to a full-service restaurant alone. Restaurants can consider offering buy-one-get-one deals when guests redeem a gift card. Those guests will run up their own tab too.

Sign on for Shopping Holidays—There are several “shopping holidays” that resonate with consumers. Promoting gift cards around such recognized shopping holidays like Black Friday are a good strategy. However, there’s a holiday specifically for using gift cards. National Use Your Gift Card Day, taking place on January 16, 2021, encourages consumers to use their gift cards before they end up unused in wallets, purses, or drawers.

Excite the Team—Gather your servers, chefs and hostesses for a meeting and brainstorm exciting in-store and online deals to energize your brand. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that they have creative ideas to drive traffic through gift card use.

As full-service restaurants invite guests back, getting the most out of gift cards programs is a simple and cost-effective way to drive traffic.

Tracy Tilson is the president and founder of Tilson PR (www.tilsonpr.com), a full-service public relations agency. She is also the founder of Use Your Gift Card, LLC (www.useyourgiftcard.com), an online platform that serves consumers with reminders, tips and tactics for using and receiving the most out of their gift cards and National Use Your Gift Card Day which falls the third Saturday in January annually.


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