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8 Restaurant Gift Card Marketing Ideas for 2021


Katherine Pendrill

As the COVID-19 pandemic slowly begins to recede, many restaurants are turning to gift card marketing as part of their 2021 recovery plan.


First and foremost, gift cards provide restaurants with an immediate source of revenue – cash that can be incredibly valuable in the early months of recovery. And when things eventually return to business-as-usual (and they will), gift cards help bring old customers back to your business and encourage new ones to visit you for the very first time. In fact, 44% of consumers said that gift cards encourage them to try new restaurants that they would not have otherwise visited.

In other words, gift card marketing is a valuable way to diversify your revenue stream, while increasing customer volume – two factors that are essential to business recovery in 2021.

To help you kickstart your own gift card marketing strategy, this article will cover various gift card ideas for restaurants and how you can use this channel as a way to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this article, we’ll go over:

  • 5 benefits of gift cards for restaurants
  • The different types of restaurant gift cards available
  • 8 gift card marketing ideas for restaurants

While not every venue will be able to apply these restaurant gift card ideas, this article can serve as a valuable resource for restaurateurs looking to implement some form of gift card marketing.

5 Benefits of Gift Cards for Restaurants

Gift cards have always been a valuable source of revenue for restaurants and gift card sales have been on the rise for several years. But in the wake of COVID-19, gift cards have become even more valuable to restaurants.

Below are some of the biggest benefits of gift cards for restaurants, particularly during times of crisis and recovery.

1. Immediate Cash Flow

Though dining restrictions have been lifted in many places, cash flow is still a major issue for many restaurants. Even for venues that have been able to successfully pivot to a takeout and delivery model, most restaurants are still working to recover the money lost during the height of the pandemic.
Fortunately, restaurant gift cards can help to address some of these cash flow issues. Restaurant gift cards are effectively microloans, providing a quick injection of cash – with virtually no cost of goods sold. When customers purchase gift cards, restaurants can use that cash immediately. This money can then be used to pay for rent, inventory, staff, and other bills.

Woman shopping online with a mobile phone

2. Brand Awareness

As the pandemic subsides, more and more people are eager to go out and enjoy meals with friends and family. Gift cards are a great way to ensure that customers will remember your restaurant and head to your venue first when business-as-usual resumes. This is especially true if you use your gift cards as an opportunity to show off your unique branding – something that you can easily do with TouchBistro Gift Cards.

In other words, the gift cards you sell now ensure there will be diners in your seats in the near future.

3. Boost Sales

And when your customers do return, you can expect them to spend a little more. Studies have found that 72% of gift card holders spend more than the original value of the card, which means more money in your pocket at the end of the day.

And even in instances where customers spend less than the original value of a gift card, the remaining balance acts as an incentive for the customer to visit again – which is still a gain for your restaurant.

4. Attract New Customers

As your business slowly recovers from COVID-19, attracting new customers will be a top priority. Luckily, gift card marketing can play a role in bringing new customers into your restaurant.

Gift cards allow people who already know and love your restaurant to encourage others to visit by providing a financial incentive to do so. In other words, gift cards allow your regulars to become brand advocates who vouch for your food and service by encouraging others to try your restaurant out. This can easily translate into a whole new audience for your restaurant with 44% of consumers saying that gift cards encourage them to try new restaurants they would have otherwise overlooked.

5. A Way for Customers to Support Small Business

Restaurants and other small businesses have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and in response, a growing number of consumers have expressed an interest in supporting small and local businesses. In fact, a 2021 study by Mint found that 82% of consumers say they plan to spend more to support local businesses after the pandemic. 

Many independent restaurants have loyal customers and devoted regulars, and gift cards offer a quick and simple way for patrons to support their favorite local venues (even if they’re not ready to dine in just yet). In fact, the same Mint study found that one-third of shoppers in 2020 reported buying more gift cards from small businesses.

Gift Card Options for Restaurants

There’s no doubt that gift cards offer many benefits for restaurants. But when it comes to actually getting gift cards into the hands of customers, you have a few different options.

Below, we cover the two main types of gift cards your restaurant can offer.

Digital Gift Cards

As many restaurants learned during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, offering digital gift cards is one of the easiest ways to sell gift cards for your restaurant. If you use a digital gift card solution, customers can easily purchase and personalize gift cards online at any time. These digital gift cards can then be redeemed in-store by either scanning the associated barcode or by manually entering the numerical code attached to the digital gift card.

Physical Gift Cards

Though digital gift cards have become a popular option in the wake of COVID-19, physical gift cards still offer many benefits for restaurants. Many customers still prefer the look and feel of physical gift cards, especially when these cards are customized to match a restaurant’s branding, or special occasions like birthdays and holidays. Millennials and younger consumers are also the primary audiences for digital gift cards, which means if you have an older clientele, they may prefer the familiarity of physical gift cards.

If you do choose to offer physical gift cards, there are one of two types of cards to choose from:

  • Barcode-Based Gift Cards: This type of physical gift card comes with a unique barcode/QR code that is associated with the customer who purchased the card. You will need a barcode scanner to be able to scan these types of gift cards.
  • Magnetic Stripe Gift Cards: Magnetic stripe gift cards are more secure than barcode-based gift cards, but they are less durable because the magnetic stripe can wear out over time. This type of gift card can be redeemed by swiping it through a credit card reader

Once you’ve determined what type of restaurant gift cards you need, the next step is finding a solution to implement gift cards in your venue. Ideally, you should be using a gift cards solution that is directly integrated with your restaurant POS system. An integrated gift card solution allows you to easily create and promote customer gift cards for your restaurant, and then track sales, redemptions, and overall performance in your POS.

TouchBistro Gift Cards is one example of a POS-integrated gift card solution. With TouchBistro Gift Cards, you can choose to offer guests the ease and convenience of digital gift cards that can be purchased, sent, and redeemed all through your very own Customer Web App. Or, you can choose to create customized, physical gift cards for your restaurant and show off your unique branding. No matter which option you choose, you’ll be able to unlock powerful reporting and end-of-year reconciliation support. 

8 Restaurant Gift Card Marketing Ideas

Now that you’re well-versed in the many benefits of gift cards for restaurants and you’ve evaluated all the different gift card options, it’s time to implement your gift card marketing strategy.

To help you get started, we’ve rounded up eight actionable gift card marketing ideas that can help your restaurant make the most of this valuable income stream:

1. Increase In-Store Visibility

Whether you’re fully open for dine-in or you’re still focused on takeout and delivery, it’s important to increase in-store signage for gift cards. If possible, create an eye-catching display to draw attention to the fact that gift cards are readily available from your restaurant. If you use TouchBistro’s physical gift cards, your provider can even help you create an in-venue display specifically for your restaurant.

Of course, not every restaurant has the means to whip something up in Photoshop on a moment’s notice. If your design skills are limited, you can always use your words. Let customers know that gift cards are an easy way to support the independent restaurants they love and that purchasing a gift card will help your business continue serving the community.

2. Motivate Staff to Promote Gift Cards

If your order volume is still below pre-COVID levels, it’s vital that staff make the most of every interaction with customers – even if it’s over the phone, email, or social media. Make sure that staff are reminding customers that gift cards are a great way to support your restaurant right now and ensure they explain exactly how your gift cards can be purchased.

While motivating staff to promote gift cards is important, stay away from mandatory quotas or creating competition among staff. Keep in mind that this is still a trying time for your team, so aim to keep things as positive as possible.

Female restaurant worker on the phone

3. Go Digital

With social distancing still the norm and fewer opportunities to interact with customers, digital gift cards are increasingly valuable for restaurants. As mentioned above, digital gift cards allow customers to immediately support your business – without the need to set foot in your store – making them a safe and convenient option for customers.

Of course, your customers can’t purchase digital gift cards if they don’t know that it’s an option. If you already have a gift card integration on your website, add a promotional gift card banner to your homepage to make sure that it’s the first thing customers see when they visit your site.

4. Use Email Campaigns

Many restaurants have relied on email marketing to stay in touch with customers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. If you already have a solid email list, this is the perfect marketing channel to advertise your gift cards. 

For instance, with TouchBistro Loyalty you can design and send personalized email promotions, so you can create specific campaigns promoting your physical or digital gift cards. Just make sure that any emails you send clearly explain how customers can purchase gift cards from you – whether it’s digitally or in-store.

5. Leverage Social Media

Customers don’t always go directly to a restaurant’s website, which is why it’s important to promote gift cards across all your channels, including social media. On Instagram, Facebook, and any other social media platforms you use, highlight your gift cards to make sure customers know their options. And don’t forget to explain how customers can purchase gifts cards in your post – whether it’s online, through your dedicated app, over the phone, or even by email.

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6. Promote Self-Gifting

Traditionally, restaurant gift cards have been a great gift option for the holidays or other special occasions – hence the name, gift cards. However, sometimes no special occasion is necessary. Remind your customers that self-gifting is also an option and can be a great way to treat themselves or their family to a delicious meal in the near future.

This is especially important as a growing number of consumers are looking for ways to support local businesses. If your customers are looking for opportunities to support your restaurant, remind them that they can simply buy a gift card (or other merchandise) for themselves and enjoy it at a later date.

7. Sweeten the Deal

Restaurants have long used the tactic of throwing in additional perks if customers purchase a gift card worth a certain amount. For instance, customers might receive an extra $10 gift card with the purchase of a $50 gift card. This can incentivize customers to purchase a larger gift card amount to receive the additional credit. Similarly, you might offer a bonus gift card, or a certain percentage off the face value of the gift card, if customers purchase on a particular day or at a specific time.

Though this tactic is not new, it may be a good way to increase the value of the restaurant gift cards your customers are currently purchasing. For instance, if a customer only intended to spend $40, they might be willing to spend another $10 now to receive an additional $10 off in the future. 

8. Bundle Your Gift Cards

For some restaurants, takeout and delivery operations have significantly ramped up (and stayed that way). If takeout and delivery are a big part of your business, you might want to consider bundling gift cards with certain orders. For instance, if a customer places a large order for takeout or meets a certain dollar amount for delivery, you could offer a gift card for a discounted fee.

Though it may seem counterintuitive to discount your gift cards, the idea is that customers may be incentivized to place a larger order to take advantage of your special offer.

Family eating a takeout meal

It goes without saying that restaurant gift cards cannot fully replace the revenue that comes from full dining rooms and steady foot traffic.

But as restaurants begin to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, gift cards can provide a much-needed injection of cash. Gift card marketing can be especially valuable for restaurants with a loyal customer base and a strong community following, as they provide a tangible way for customers to support local businesses in times of need. And for many restaurants right now, every little bit counts.

Katherine is a Content Marketing Specialist at TouchBistro, where she writes about trending topics in food and restaurants. The opposite of a picky eater, she’ll try (almost) anything at least once. Whether it’s chowing down on camel burgers in Morocco or snacking on octopus dumplings in Japan, she’s always up for new food experiences.

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