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COVID-19 Restaurant Resources

Gift Card Marketing and How It Can Help Restaurants Right Now

by

Katherine Pendrill

Though virtually every industry has been touched by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the restaurant industry that has been completely turned on its head. With social distancing measures in full effect and outright closures in many areas, restaurant traffic and sales have quickly begun to fall.

In spite of the current situation, many customers have expressed a desire to support their favorite independent restaurants. One of the ways they’re doing that is with gift cards for restaurants.

Admittedly, gift cards may not bring in the kind of revenue that a full dining room does. But in times of crises, gift cards can provide immediate cash flow that can keep restaurants afloat. Not to mention that when things return to business-as-usual (and they will), gift cards help get customers back in your restaurant quicker.

In this article, we’ll cover gift card marketing ideas for restaurants and how it can help during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this article, we’ll go over:

  • The benefits of gift cards for restaurants
  • Examples of how restaurants are using gift cards to combat the impact of COVID-19
  • Eight gift card marketing ideas for restaurants

With the response to COVID-19 changing daily, not every venue will be able to apply these restaurant gift card ideas. However, this article can serve as a valuable resource for restaurateurs looking to implement some form of gift card marketing. You can also start using gift cards immediately by signing up for TouchBistro Gift Cards – a service that’s easy to set up and customize for your business.

The Benefits of Gift Cards

Gift cards have always been a valuable source of revenue for restaurants and gift card sales have been on the rise for several years. But in the wake of COVID-19, gift cards have taken on a whole new meaning to many restaurants.

Below are some of the biggest benefits of gift cards for restaurants, particularly during times of crisis.

Immediate Cash Flow

With a growing number of states and cities restricting restaurant operations, cash flow is quickly becoming an issue for many restaurants. Even for those that have been able to pivot to takeout and delivery, a lack of in-store dining means a significant decrease in sales.

Gift cards are effectively microloans for restaurants, providing a quick injection of cash – with virtually no cost of goods sold – even when operations are limited. When customers purchase gift cards, restaurants can use that cash immediately. This money can then be used to pay for rent, inventory, staff, or other bills while riding out the pandemic.

Woman shopping online with a mobile phone

A Way for Customers to Show Support

Many independent restaurants have loyal customers and devoted regulars. However, with an increasing number of people practicing social distancing and working from home, few are able to continue visiting their favorite venues.

Gifts cards give consumers a quick and simple way to support restaurants, even when they don’t have the option to dine in. Gift cards are also a way for customers to commit to returning to a restaurant when regular operations resume.

Brand Awareness

With COVID-19 disrupting business-as-usual, consumers have seen a massive shift in their routines. Instead of dining out regularly, many are now cooking at home.

Of course, this shift away from dining out won’t last forever. When the pandemic ends and restrictions on restaurants are lifted, many people will be eager to go out and enjoy meals with friends and family. Gift cards are a great way to ensure that when this time comes, customers will remember your restaurant. In other words, gift cards sold now ensure there will be diners in your seats when your doors open again.

Examples of How Restaurants Are Using Gift Cards

Though restaurant restrictions differ across the country, many businesses have come up with creative restaurant gift card ideas to boost sales. Below are some of the ways restaurants are making the most of gift cards right now:

Digital Gift Cards

For restaurants that have been forced to close temporarily, selling gift cards online has been one of the best ways to get them into the hands of customers. For instance, Portland restaurant Stella Taco offers online ordering for its gift cards, which the brand has been promoting on social media. Similarly, in New York, contemporary Mexican restaurants Atla and Claro both allow customers to purchase gifts cards online for friends and family as a digital gifting option.

Restaurant groups have also been promoting online gift cards that can be used at multiple different restaurant concepts. For instance, the Portland restaurant group ChefStable has an online store for gift cards that can be redeemed at any of its restaurants.

While independent restaurants have spearheaded many efforts to boost gift card sales, there are a number of community-led initiatives underway as well. For instance, Nahil Mehta of Eniac Ventures recently teamed up with the startup lunchbox.io to create a crowdfunding platform called helpmainstreet.com. Through the platform, customers can find and purchase gift cards from more than 20,000 restaurants from across all 50 states.

Email and Phone Orders

Of course, not every restaurant has online ordering or a webshop in place for gift card sales. This has caused Portland-based restaurants like Yonder and Masia to take gift card orders over the phone. Similarly, Portland’s Berlu takes gift card orders via email

Extended Merchandise

This effort to quickly boost sales has also caused a number of restaurants to think beyond gift cards and promote their merch as another way for customers to show their support during restaurant closures. Just take the examples of Dimes in New York City, which has a cookbook, candles, lip balm, and more, all available on its webshop. Across the country in Los Angeles, Tacos 1986 sells everything from T-shirts and hoodies, to its signature red ball caps.

Dining Bonds

One of the most innovative restaurant gift card ideas has been the Dining Bonds Initiative. Free and open to any restaurant, bar, or eatery – whether it’s fine dining, casual, local or national – the initiative involves the sales of Dining Bonds, which are essentially discounted restaurant gift cards. These bonds are sold at a suggested price of 25% less than face value, but redeemable for the full value upon dining at the restaurant. The idea is that these bonds provide restaurants with an immediate source of revenue, while also providing a source of traffic when restaurants re-open their doors.

Gift Card Marketing Ideas for Restaurants

Though restaurants are faced with increasingly limited sources of revenue, gift cards are one option that still remains.

If you don’t already have gift cards in place at your restaurant or if you’re looking for a new solution, TouchBistro can help you get set up with customizable gift cards that integrate with your POS.

Here are eight actionable gift card marketing ideas that can help your restaurant make the most of this valuable income stream:

1. Increase In-Store Visibility

For restaurants that are able to remain open for dining or takeout orders, it’s important to increase in-store signage for gift cards. If possible, create an eye-catching display to draw attention to the fact that gift cards are available.

Of course, not every restaurant has the means to whip something up in Photoshop on a moment’s notice. If your design skills are limited, use your words. Let customers know that gift cards are an easy way to support businesses they love and that purchasing a gift card allows you to continue serving your community.

2. Motivate Staff to Promote Gift Cards

With fewer orders coming in, it’s vital that staff make the most of every interaction with customers – even if that’s over the phone, email, or social media. Make sure that staff are reminding customers that gift cards are a great way to support your restaurant right now.

While motivating staff to promote gift cards is important, stay away from mandatory quotas or creating competition among staff. Keep in mind that this is a trying time for your team too, so aim to keep things as positive as possible.

Female restaurant worker on the phone

3. Go Digital

With social distancing becoming the norm and fewer opportunities to interact with customers, online gift cards are increasingly valuable for restaurants. Digital gift cards allow customers to immediately support your business, without the need to set foot in your store. Not to mention, research has found that the average load of stored value is consistently higher with digital gift cards than with physical ones.

Of course, customers can’t purchase online gift cards if they don’t know that it’s an option. If you already have a gift card integration on your website, add a promotional gift card banner to your homepage to make sure that it’s the first thing customers see when they visit your site.

And if you don’t currently have a gift card integration on your website, you can use services such as GiftUp, GiftFly, or AnyCard. Free to use and install, these apps allow you to sell your restaurant’s gift cards online so you can receive payment right away. 

4. Use Email Campaigns

Many restaurants have turned to email to update their customers on how their restaurant is responding to COVID-19. If this is something you’re considering, it may also be a good opportunity to mention that gift cards are available to anyone looking to visit your restaurant in the future.

While email can be a valuable way to reach your customers, keep in mind the sensitivity and severity of the current situation. It’s important to think carefully about your brand messaging and communications plan during COVID-19 before sending any emails. Having a clear communications plan in mind can ensure that any messages promoting the sale of gift cards are thoughtful and appropriate.

5. Leverage Social Media

With the daily onslaught of news, customers may not be visiting your restaurant’s website directly. That’s why it’s important to promote gift cards across all your channels, including social media. Whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, or another platform, highlight your gift cards to make sure customers know their options. And don’t forget to explain how customers can purchase gifts cards in your post – whether it’s online, over the phone, or by email.

Like your email communications, keep in mind the severity of the situation when promoting gift cards across social media. While it can be tough to know what to say in such an unprecedented situation, taking the time to think carefully about your messaging can ensure your post hits the right note with your followers.

6. Promote Self-Gifting

Traditionally, restaurant gift cards have been a great gift option for the holidays or other special occasions – hence the name, gift cards. But in the midst of COVID-19, gifting may not be top of mind. Remind your customers that self-gifting is also an option and can be a great way to treat themselves or their family at a later time.

This is especially important as a growing number of consumers are looking for ways to support local businesses. If your customers or community is looking for ways to support your restaurant, remind them that they can simply buy a gift card (or other merchandise) for themselves and enjoy it at a later date.

7. Sweeten the Deal

Restaurants have long used the tactic of throwing in additional perks if customers purchase a gift card worth a certain amount. For instance, customers might receive an extra $10 gift card with the purchase of a $50 gift card. This can incentivize customers to purchase a larger gift card amount to receive the additional credit. Similarly, you might offer a bonus gift card if customers purchase a gift card on a particular day or at a specific time.

Though this tactic is not new, it may be a good way to increase the value of the gift cards customers are currently purchasing. For instance, if a customer only intended to spend $40, they might be willing to spend another $10 now to receive an additional $10 off in the future. Just make sure that the messaging around any discounted gift card promotions falls in line with the rest of your COVID-19 communications.

8. Bundle Your Gift Cards

For some restaurants, takeout and delivery operations have significantly ramped up. If orders are still coming in, you might want to consider bundling gift cards with certain orders. For instance, if a customer places a large order for takeout or meets a certain dollar amount for delivery, you could offer a gift card for a discounted fee.

Though it may seem counterintuitive to discount your gift cards, the idea is that customers may be incentivized to place a larger order to take advantage of your special offer.

Family eating a takeout meal

Conclusion

It goes without saying that gift cards cannot fully replace the revenue that comes from full dining rooms and steady foot traffic.

But in times where options are severely limited for many restaurateurs, gift cards can provide a temporary, but much-needed, injection of cash. Gift card marketing can be especially valuable for restaurants with a loyal customer base and strong community following, as they provide a tangible way for customers to support local businesses in times of need. And for many restaurants right now, every little bit counts.

Our team is continuing to put together resources for restaurants impacted by COVID-19. If there is any topic you would like to see or story you would like to share, you can contact our resource team directly at blogfeedback@touchbistro.com.

*Terms and Conditions may apply – see this page for more details on TouchBistro Gift Cards.


Katherine is a Content Marketing Specialist at TouchBistro, where she writes about trending topics in food and restaurants. The opposite of a picky eater, she’ll try (almost) anything at least once. Whether it’s chowing down on camel burgers in Morocco or snacking on octopus dumplings in Japan, she’s always up for new food experiences.

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