Ways to increase gift card sales all year round

Gift cards do a great deal more for restaurants than pre-sell meals. The idea that “I will gladly feed you Thursday for a burger bought today” only scratches the surface. Gift cards bring in new customers, drive broader branding, expand loyalty program membership, and more. And they’re always high on the list of gifts people want most—across all occasions, holidays, and seasons. Both the National Retail Federation and the National Restaurant Association provide many reports that demonstrate the value of restaurant gift cards to both you and to your customer.

Increasing gift card sales is something you read a lot about as traditional gift-giving times draw closer—the most common approaches being Christmas-themed. Across the web, you can find plenty of ideas for ways to achieve higher seasonal sales. But gift cards only bring in their maximum potential value when they sell well all year round. Every restaurant, with the right strategic approach and the right mix of tactics, has the potential to grow card sales every day of the year.

The Gift Card Markets

We break the market for restaurant gift cards into three categories:

  1. Ready-made mass markets. These include Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and so on: the traditional times each year when we give gifts.
  2. Ready-made individual markets. Every day is a special day for someone—birthdays, anniversaries, and weddings.
  3. Specially made, non-defined markets. Here we look for ways to manufacture reasons for people to buy gift cards (often, for themselves). We searched through lists of odd and unusual “holidays,” from National Handwriting Day to International Programmer’s Day to National Bubble Bath Day. A look at this site will show you just how many of these “fun” holidays are out there.

Example 1: Valentine’s Day

The NRA tells us that restaurant gift cards are the most wanted gift for 31 percent of surveyed adults. Of that segment, almost half were men. The NRF puts that figure in context when it tells us that 15 percent of all Valentine’s Day gifts will be gift cards (making it a $1.5 billion market).

That’s a marketplace that’s asking to be served.

Here’s one campaign to think about. We call it "Buy and Book."

  1. Implement a “Buy and Book” discount package. If they purchase a Valentine’s Day gift card and make a reservation for a future night, give them a $5 bonus on the card value. When they show up for that reservation, give them another $5 bonus on the card.

  2. Set up inside signage, counter displays, and a web landing page for the deal 30 days before Valentine’s Day.

  3. Toward the end of January, put up an outside banner promoting your gift card specials.

  4. Your social media campaign should also start before the holiday. Just to give you an idea of how interest develops online, Google Trends indicates that Valentine’s Day searches reach three-quarters of their peak by the end of January. That’s when it’s on people’s minds, and that’s when it should be all over your social sites.

  5. Purchase 5,000 after-meal mints wrapped in a branded Valentine’s Day promotional wrapper. Bring more mints than the table needs; you want some of those leaving the restaurant in pockets and purses.

  6. Purchase 5,000 check carrier promotional inserts. Bring exactly the right amount to the table—not too few, not too many. Don’t make people share; people won’t talk about something they can only see one person at a time.

  7. Offer automatic card reloading, and give a $5 bonus with every $50 automatic reload.

  8. Offer extra loyalty bonus points if they purchase the gift card and enroll in the loyalty program at the same time.

Occasional Events

The most common use of gift cards is for birthdays, followed by weddings, followed by anniversaries—the gift card marketplace is hidden in plain sight. Once you are able to find it, however, it's also a marketplace that's ready-made. Birthdays are the easiest to uncover, especially if you’ve integrated your POS with loyalty and other programs. Still, the others remain mostly catch-as-catch-can.

Let’s catch some with these tips:

  1. Promote all year round with inside signage and displays—at the host station, restrooms, waiting areas, and the table. The campaign theme for the program is: “Get Carded! Always the Perfect Gift.”

  2. Print “Get Carded!” messages wherever you can: menus, receipts, cocktail napkins.

  3. Print three types of cards with matching carriers: birthday, anniversary, and wedding.

  4. Table tent inserts should spell out the benefits to the buyer:

  • A $5 bonus for each $50 of card value.
  • For both existing loyalty members and those who join on the spot, 100 bonus loyalty points for every $50 card purchased (in addition to the new member bonus).
  1. Offer automatic card reloading, and give a $5 bonus with every $50 automatic reload.

  2. Consider co-promotions. Here's an example: a partnership with local greeting card retailers. If recipients present the gift card receipt within 30 days of purchase, they get a 50 percent discount off the appropriate occasion card. Split the cost of the discount.

What’s your next step? Get out the drawing board and start planning your own promotions. Use what’s useful to you here. Incorporate what you learn of value from other reports, surveys, and opinions you gather. Ignore what doesn’t apply or what’s not realistic for your business. From that research, develop a one-year calendar of your own gift card programs and promotions.

And who knows? Maybe next year you can celebrate your own National Gift Card Profitability Day.

For more ideas on how to promote your gift cards and calculate ROI on your gift card promotions, you can download the full white paper on this topic, The Ultimate Guide to Increasing Gift Card Sales.

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.

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