Gift Cards: The Gifts That Keep On Giving

In the restaurant world, industry professionals know that the beginning of Q1 is typically a slower season. The post-holiday lull that we see in January and February is not something to fear, it just requires some planning. Gift cards can be part of that plan.

One strategy we suggest to restaurant owners and operators is to promote gift card sales during Q4. We believe that the best-selling tool to get guests in the dining room next year is by providing a great experience now.

Fun fact: one consumer study found that the average consumer spends $59 beyond the original value of the gift card, and 44% of shoppers say the gift causes them to visit somewhere they wouldn’t have otherwise. In short, your loyal guests are referring diners to you (which is the best compliment you can receive!).

So, how do we encourage guests to buy gift cards?

Buyer Perks

One way to promote gift card sales is to add some perks for the buyer. This may be as simple as offering a free app or dessert with every purchase, or a sweeter deal that discounts their total check the next time they visit your restaurant.

If the cost of these perks is higher than you’d like, you can host a contest like a raffle. Every guest who purchases a gift card will be entered to win one larger prize, such as a comp meal for two to four guests. If you choose to go the contest route, make sure you’re asking for an email or phone number so the winner can be contacted. A bonus of this strategy is you are simultaneously developing a contact list that will help with email marketing later on.


For some particularly loyal guests, purchasing gift cards from your restaurant may be a yearly practice. Everyone else needs to know they are an option!

Advertise gift card sales with signage near the host stand, bar, and even on the countertops in restrooms to let guests know you have gift cards available. Another effective approach is attaching a small advertising handout to the final check. This small one-pager can be tastefully done by adding verbiage that thanks the guests for visiting while mentioning gift card availability. A server will often return to the table to collect a payment only to find the guest has decided to add a gift card to their bill.

For our tech-savvy friends, a QR code added to the handout gives guests the option to purchase a card when it’s convenient for them. These are powerful tools if you’re planning to participate in a raffle and need to collect guest contact info.

Online Gift Card Sales

Many consumers prefer to shop online nowadays, and gift cards are no exception. You can make them available on your site with the options for immediate email delivery, mailing a physical card to the recipient, or a printable version that the buyer can add to their outgoing holiday cards. For the direct delivery options, adding a field for personalization will allow the buyer to add a thoughtful touch to the gift, even if it is last minute.

Getting Employees Involved

You can boost gift card sales organically by encouraging friendly competition among your service staff. The person with the highest sales wins a prize (this could be a nice bottle of wine, tickets to a fun local event, or even a gift card for them to come to dine in with family & friends!). Sales competitions also help shifts go by a little faster for servers & bartenders during the busy holiday season.

Social Media

Make sure to highlight gift card sales on your social media. Not only can socials direct traffic to your site, but promotions give lots of content to share throughout the holiday season. You may also consider offering a discount to anyone who buys a gift through social media or someone who comes in and mentions a social media post of your choosing. It also gives you an idea of the reach and effectiveness of your current social media strategy.

Final Thoughts

Gift cards are an easy way to build sales both during Q4 and ensure that guests are coming back in the new year. If you need help piloting a program or need more tips on increasing gift card sales that are specific to your restaurant, give us a call!