COVID-19 Restaurant Resources

Gift Card Marketing During COVID-19 and How It Can Help Restaurants

By Richard Gawlas

Gift card with gift box and bow

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. Many restaurants are getting creative to find solutions, which often includes some type of gift card marketing strategy.

Why?

In times of crisis (and in calmer seasons), gift cards can provide immediate cash flow. And when things return to business-as-usual (and they will), gift cards help get customers back in your restaurant quicker. Even if you don’t offer them yet, getting started with gift cards is easy.

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.

The Benefits of Gift Cards for Restaurants

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

In an effort to stop spread of COVID-19, restaurants, cafes, bars, and pubs had to close their doors, which means cash flow quickly became an issue. Even for those that were able to pivot to takeaway and delivery, a lack of in-store dining has meant a significant decrease in sales.

Restaurant 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.

A Way for Customers to Show Support

Many independent restaurants have loyal customers and devoted regulars. However, even as restaurants pubs begin to open up again, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of dining in just yet. Gift cards present a way for regulars to support your restaurant until they’re ready to return.

Brand Awareness

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

As restrictions on restaurants are lifted, more and more people are 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 During COVID

Though restaurants were ordered to close across the country, many businesses came up with creative restaurant gift card ideas to boost sales. Below are some of the ways restaurants made (and continue to make) 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. On RestaurantCredit, you can purchase an e-voucher for any participating restaurant, providing them with much needed cash.

The website was launched by listing site, Gourmet Guide. Any restaurant can join the platform for free to get their own dedicated page on the RestaurantCredit website, where they can manage orders, enabling their customers to purchase digital gift cards for their friends and family. 

Another emerging initiative is Indie Kitty, which allows people to purchase vouchers through the Wriggle app or website in amounts ranging from £5 to £40. The scheme is currently up and running in Bristol, Bath, Brighton and Hove, Birmingham and Cardiff. 

“The next few months are going to be very challenging for everyone – not least our partner restaurants,” says CEO of Wriggle, Rob Hall. “We hope that this Indie Kitty campaign can pull people together to support great small businesses and ensure they survive this period.”

Email and Phone Orders

Of course, not every restaurant has online ordering or a webshop in place for gift card sales. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Many restaurants in the UK, like Santorini Greek Restaurant in Manchester, have quickly moved to establish takeaway and delivery services, so customers can buy and use gift vouchers over the phone. 

Extended Merchandise

This effort to quickly boost sales has also caused a number of restaurants to think beyond gift cards and promote their branded merchandise to offer customers another means of showing their support during restaurant closures. 

The Laughing Heart still has the door open to its wine cellar, while Scout, the popular cocktail bar, will soon offer bottled cocktails for delivery and take away. With social distancing in full effect, many London eateries are turning to ecommerce, as popular haunts like Lyle’s, Monty’s Deli, and The Wolseley sell novelty gear like ashtrays and t-shirts through their online stores.

8 Restaurant Gift Card Marketing Ideas

Though may be facing fewer revenue sources right now, gift cards are still a solid option. That’s why strategic gift card marketing is important to ensure that your restaurant can make the most of this valuable income stream.

Here are eight actionable gift card marketing ideas:

1. Spread the Word When Customers Phone or Arrive for Takeaway Collection

For restaurants that are still open dining (indoor or outdoor) and takeout orders, it’s important to increase in-store signage to promote your gift cards. After all, if people don’t know the gift cards are available, they won’t buy them! Create an eye-catching display to draw attention to the fact that gift cards are now 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. When customers phone for delivery or arrive to collect their takeaway order, let them 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. Through word-of-mouth or some clever graphic design, you can ramp up your gift card marketing to sell more.

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, you should remember that this is also a trying time for your team. With the restaurant closed, competition for shifts in the takeaway shop or delivery van may be an all-time high, so try to keep things as positive as possible.

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 restaurant. 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 GiftPro and Diggecard. Easy 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 current climate 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 are 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 incentivise 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, takeaway 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 takeaway or meets a certain spend 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 incentivised to place a larger order to take advantage of your special offer.

Conclusion

It goes without saying that restaurant 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 COIVID-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.

Photo of Richard Gawlas
by Richard Gawlas

Richard is a Marketing Copywriter and Editor at TouchBistro, sharing tips and stories to help restaurateurs shine. He fancies himself a connoisseur of beards, burgers and Bordeaux, but is always curious to try something new and exciting.

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