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Creative Ways to Promote Restaurant Gifts This Holiday Season

Holiday season is the best time to sell restaurant gifts, but without a strategic marketing plan, your promotions may get lost in the mix. Learn how restaurants are thinking outside the box this year.

Saxbys holiday gift box

Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you: Restaurant merchandise is very much in vogue. 

“There’s a trend right now where people are wearing merch,” fashion designer Rachel Comey told The New York Times in August. “Carrying totes from their local delis, hardware stores or their favorite steakhouse.”

This trend began with consumers buying merch to support local businesses during the pandemic, but has continued because restaurant brands are evolving into lifestyle brands. Consumers buy products from lifestyle brands that align with their self-image or represent something meaningful to them, and restaurants with strong brands are tapping into that. As the holiday season gift rush approaches, this new trend makes restaurant merchandise a lucrative opportunity.

To capitalize on this opportunity, however, restaurants need to be savvy marketers. When restaurants sell merchandise, they don’t just compete with other restaurants; they also compete with retailers, who market their products aggressively during holiday season. To stand out among that noise, restaurants need to get creative with how they package and promote their holiday gift programs.

This is easier said than done, but restaurants can turn merch into a powerful holiday revenue stream with the right mix of creative marketing tactics and optimized online merchandise stores. Here are eight examples of marketing tactics that restaurants can employ. 

Limited-Time Gift Promotions

The website for Rioz

Time-sensitive promotions push customers to complete a purchase immediately, rather than leaving a browser tab open and likely forgetting to return to it. For example, Rioz Brazilian Steakhouse runs a Black Friday promotion where diners who purchase $100 in gift cards receive $30 in gift credit — but the promotion is only active for seven hours. The gift credit creates value that customers want to capitalize on, and the limited-time offer creates urgency to purchase rather than continuing to research other gifts.

Social Media Gift Giveaways

Saxbys Instagram promotes a holiday giveaway

When a business offers free stuff, or even a chance to win free stuff, customers become far more willing to listen and participate. This is especially valuable on social media, where people participate with likes, comments and shares that generate free reach for restaurant promotions. Last year, for example, multi-location coffee shop Saxbys ran a gift box giveaway on Instagram. To participate, users had to follow Saxbys’ account and tag two friends in the comments, many of whom also participated. This viral sharing increased awareness of the holiday gift package, along with general brand awareness and followers for future marketing campaigns.

Gifting Web Page with Inquiry Form

The website for MP Grocery

Holiday gifts come in many forms, and people often struggle to find the right gift for their recipients. Why not consult food and beverage experts who spend the whole year providing top-tier hospitality? That’s the thought from MP Grocery, a specialty shop from James Beard Award-winning chef & owner Missy Robbins, which promotes gifting through an inquiry form that allows them to tailor ideas to people and occasions. If your restaurant has earned clout as a superior hospitality provider, offering your ideas in addition to your products can drive extra revenue.

Seasonal Photoshoots

The website for Rosa Mexicano

Restaurant gifts make great, convenient holiday solutions, but people don't always associate restaurants with holidays like other retailers. For restaurants to better position themselves as a holiday gift destination, they can add seasonal imagery to their marketing materials. . For example, Rosa Mexicano photographed its gift cards on a backdrop of snow and Christmas garland — a subtle but smart tactic to help customers connect gift cards with the holidays.

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Curated Gifts for Specific Audience

Bottles of beer

When people think about what gift to buy, the first step is thinking about the recipient's interests. The second, harder step is finding a great gift that plays into those interests. Restaurants can make that second step easier by curating and promoting gifts for specific audiences. For example, The Raleigh Times Bar in Raleigh, North Carolina promotes “Vintage Beer Packs For The Beer Enthusiast,” a curation of rare and vintage brews that any beer lover would love to unwrap. By being clear and direct in their marketing, The Raleigh Times helps customers connect the promotion with the people on their gift lists.

Monthly Subscription Packages

a box filled with different types of food

Magazine subscriptions are classic holiday gifts for food lovers, but companies like Table 22 have added a new layer to the mix with meal subscriptions. Huertas in New York City drives website visitors to its Table 22 page, where it offers tiered subscription packages like the “Conserva Club” for seafood lovers, the “Huertas Wine Club” for wine lovers and the “Huertas at Home Bundle” for Spanish food lovers. Each package is delivered monthly in three and six-month increments and includes an exclusive monthly dispatch with an at-home recipe from the head chef’s archive. Subscriptions also support the restaurant by providing upfront recurring revenue — something recipients and gifters can feel good about.

Influencer Merch Promotions

@dunkin Run don't walk to shopdunkin.com 🔥🔥🔥 @charlidamelio ♬ original sound - Dunkin'

Social media influencers have large, engaged audiences who trust them, making them a powerful partnership channel for marketers. Dunkin’, for example, partnered with Charli D'Amelio, one of TikTok’s biggest stars, to promote new merchandise from its channel. Obviously, most restaurants do not have Dunkin’s marketing budget, but affordable local influencers such as food bloggers can still make a meaningful impact. Click here to read more about the power of “micro-influencers.”

Merchandise That Gives Back

The website for Altro Paradiso

What spreads holiday cheer more than a gift that gives back? New York City’s Altro Paradiso sells tote bags on its website with an incentive: 100% of the proceeds from each purchase are donated to ROAR, supporting the city’s independent restaurant industry. Even more, as cities begin outlawing plastic bags, reusable bags like Altro Paradiso’s tote help forge a path to a sustainable future. Together, both restaurants and gifters can make a positive impact on their community.

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