Why Restaurants Shouldn’t Give Up on Gift Cards in 2020

    They can be used for marketing as well as sales.

    Three women shop for gift cards with bags.
    National Use Your Gift Card Day
    Quick-service restaurants will benefit from a growing interest in consumer purchase of gift cards.

    Quick-serve restaurants as a sector may not have experienced the cataclysm that their full-service counterparts have faced during the pandemic. However, many locations have seen declining sales and all quick-service restaurants need to continue to seek ways to increase traffic. Gift cards can make the difference between a solid number of guests and a really great number.

    Many quick-service restaurant operators perceive gift cards in terms of sales only. While gift card sales are excellent for the bottom line, they can be even better when used for marketing as well.

    It may not come as a surprise, but people love gift cards. According to research from the National Restaurant Association, last year, 72 percent of people wanted a restaurant gift card during the holiday season. This year is on track for even higher gift card sales. Based on Blackhawk Network's sales data, egift card sales are already up 44 percent year-over-year. 

    Quick-service restaurants will benefit from this growing interest in consumer purchase of gift cards. However, there’s a bigger upside by encouraging their actual use.

    Don’t consumers always use their gift cards? No. In fact each year $3 billion a year in gift cards go unspent. That matters to quick-service restaurants because consumers spend an average of 30–35 percent more than the amount of their gift cards. That’s why getting consumers to use their gift cards is good business for quick-service restaurants.

    How can quick-serve restaurants convince consumers to use their gift cards? It’s not complicated. Here are a few simple tips to drive traffic with gift cards:

    Stand Out—Consider your gift cards as a form of advertising that consumers will see every time they open their wallet. Make sure the gift card design reflects your brand, includes a recognizable logo and website.

    Be Schedule Savvy—Make sure you add some muscle to gift card promotions during months surrounding gift-giving holidays, especially those that honor colleagues and friends like National Administrative Assistant’s Day, National Nurses Day and National Bosses Day, in addition to graduations and winter holidays. Selling gift cards today, will guarantee traffic tomorrow.

    Think Friends & Family—According to Megan Flanagan, Executive Director of the Retail Gift Card Association, “People purchase gift cards for friends and family with the intent for them to go out and treat themselves.”  While sometimes a guest will come to a quick-serve restaurant alone, offering buy-one-get-one deals to encourage gift-card holders to bring someone along.

    Make Shopping Holidays Count—There are several “shopping holidays” that resonate with consumers such as Black Friday, and they’re a perfect opportunity for quick-serve restaurants to sell gift cards. But, did you know that there’s a special holiday dedicated to using gift cards? National Use Your Gift Card Daytaking place on January 16, 2021, encourages consumers to use their gift cards before they end up unused in wallets, purses, or drawers.

    Get the Team On-BoardGather your kitchen and cash register associates to get their ideas for in-store and online deals that will get your brand noticed.  It’s good for team-building and they may have ideas you never considered to drive traffic through gift card use.

    As quick-service restaurants continue to be mainstays for meals-out for consumers, gift cards can be a great way to drive more traffic.

    Tracy Tilson is the president and founder of Tilson PR (www.tilsonpr.com), a full-service public relations agency.  She is also the founder of Use Your Gift Card, LLC (www.useyourgiftcard.com), an online platform that serves consumers with reminders, tips and tactics for using and receiving the most out of their gift cards and National Use Your Gift Card Day which falls the third Saturday in January annually.