Restaurateurs should be on the hunt for new ways to take advantage of the foodie and family fervor.

The holiday season typically calls to mind idyllic scenes of sit-down family dinners or long talks around a fire. Whether celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah or an impromptu “Friendsgiving,” food is an integral part of the holiday season because of one shared characteristic: they bring people together.

As many people head to their favorite eateries during the holidays, restaurateurs should be on the hunt for new ways to take advantage of the foodie and family fervor. One particularly effective tactic to make the most of the holidays for your business is establishing a well-run gift card program.

According to First Data’s 18th Annual Consumer Insights Study, 33 percent of consumers reload their gift cards after their initial spending, including 61 percent of people ages 18–23 and 47 percent of those ages 24–37. Gift cards not only lead directly to spending—they also help restaurants inspire brand loyalty in younger consumers to keep them coming back.

Restaurateurs who truly want to take their holiday sales to the next level should consider these five tips to creating a thriving gift card program:

Get the word out: The simplest, and yet perhaps most important tip for executing a successful gift card program is to spread the message to the masses. Restaurants should strive to build awareness of their gift card programs across channels—from print advertisements, email blasts, and social media to in-store displays on tables or even windows. Because most gift card purchases are pre-planned, holiday advertising and promotions should be in progress as early in the holiday season as possible.

Details matter: To boost sales further, smart restaurateurs will offer their customers premium gift card carriers such as metal tins, boxes and die-cut envelopes for an up-charge. Some might be surprised by how a nifty carrier can make a simple gift seem much more enticing. For restaurant chains with multiple locations, it may be helpful to provide specific instructions to each branch on how to merchandise their seasonal cards and carriers and maximize their exposure.

Double-down on displays: Placing a gift card display at each register or host’s table will keep them top-of-mind for customers. That said, simply tossing a small pile of cards next to the mints is not the proper way to go about it. Just as restaurants should encourage their customers to dress up their gift cards with creative carriers, the restaurants should also strive for a fun, engaging presentation. When customers are discussing over dinner what they could buy a relative or friend for the holidays, a well-placed display could strike like lightning as the perfect option.

Include incentives: Beyond making a perfect present, gift cards can also help encourage additional spending. Consider that, according to the study cited earlier, over 80 percent of customers with a fine dining, fast casual restaurant or drug store gift card overspend the value of their gift card. Spread across hundreds or even thousands of potential gift card users, that effect could lead to untold profits. This is why gift card incentives are key to a strong program. Running holiday promotions that include gift cards as incentives (such offering a free $5 gift card with the purchase of a $50 meal) can also draw new customers in and help boost foot traffic—the ultimate win-win for restaurants.

Build internal excitement: Last, restaurants should keep in mind that their staff is on the front lines of the battle to encourage gift card purchases. Just as front-facing employees make the first impression on new customers, the wait staff can also promote the benefits of purchasing a gift card. Restaurant managers should create excitement among store-level employees by educating them through gift card sales training and having employees proactively sell gift cards to customers who’ve enjoyed their meals. Ambitious restaurants can even incentivize employees by running an employee sales contest with a bonus (in gift cards or otherwise!) for the wait staff member who encourages the most sales.

Perhaps more than anything else, the holidays will always be tied to food and fun. With customers in such high spirits, it is the ideal time of year to make a connection that goes beyond what’s on the plate.

With that in mind, restaurants should encourage their employees from the top-down to make gift cards a priority. The financial advantages of a well-planned strategy alone, make it a worthwhile investment. And when done right, a mutually beneficial gift card will have both customers and restaurateurs feeling jolly.

Expert Takes, Feature