It would be an understatement to say that 2020 has been a challenging year – especially for restaurants. When planning for an unpredictable future ahead, it’s worth considering how to maximize the positive impact gift cards can have on the bottom line.Although sometimes considered an add-on to restaurant offerings, there are a wealth of marketing advantages that go beyond the initial gift card sale itself.

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.

While restaurants can clearly leverage this increased interest in consumer purchase of gift cards, what’s less obvious is why and how to encourage their actual use.  It’s an unfortunate fact that each year $3 billion a year in gift cards go unspent. The good news for restaurants lies in another statistic: consumers spend an average of 30-35 percent more than the amount of their gift cards, according to Blackhawk Network. That can add up to bigger restaurant sales and more guests.

How restaurants can use gift cards to drive traffic and increase sales may seem complicated, but it’s a challenge that can be met simply, without additional marketing spend. Here are five tips to drive traffic with gift cards:


According to 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 restaurant gift cards offer a second opportunity, because people rarely go out to eat alone. Restaurants can consider offering buy-one-get-one deals when guests redeem a gift card that encourages card holders to bring along guests who end up paying their own tab.

Check the Calendar

Ramp up your gift card promotions during months around gift-giving holidays like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s & Father’s Day, graduations and of course, winter holidays. Planning gift card promotions around these key dates will reap future rewards by bringing patrons into the establishment.

Brand It

Design your gift cards as a brand reminder to guests about who you are and what you’re known for. Include your website and make sure your logo is clearly visible.

Align with Shopping Holidays

Building gift card sales promotions around 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.

Get Creative

Gather your staff and brainstorm exciting in-store and online deals to drive traffic in an innovative way that re-energizes your brand through gift card use.

As uncertainty about the future continues, the advantage of using gift cards to drive traffic is a sure thing.