How to Market and Sell Restaurant Merchandise


Many restaurant operators mistakenly believe that selling merchandise is only for chains or theme restaurants. The truth is, restaurant merchandise sells. As long as the restaurant can develop a loyal customer base and the merchandise is unique, there is a lot of money to be made through selling souvenirs, gifts and other merchandise.

Reasons to Sell Merchandise

Boost your profits. From gift certificates to coffee mugs to cookbooks, unique merchandise really does sell. Every year, restaurants sell more than 700 million T-shirts.1 Restaurants like Hard Rock Café, Planet Hollywood and Cracker Barrel make a large portion of their profits by selling merchandise.

Get paid to market your restaurant. Each piece of logo-ed merchandise that a customer purchases not only creates extra profit, it also serves as a mini-advertisement for the restaurant. By selling merchandise, you get people to pay to market for you. Think of the Hard Rock Café’s brilliant marketing cycle: customers buy the t-shirts or merchandise, other people see the Hard Rock Café logo and decide to patronize the restaurant, then those people buy t-shirts and the sequence continues, driving profits for a restaurant that might otherwise fail.

Developing Merchandise

Whenever possible, the merchandise you sell should be printed with your restaurant logo. Consider selling the following types of merchandise:

Gift certificates. Any restaurant can profit from selling gift certificates. They are easy to make and they can really boost sales, especially near holidays. About ¼ of the gift certificates will never actually be used,2 which turns that sale into pure profit. They are also good at creating new customers, since people usually give the gift certificates to their friends and family. Whether or not the gift certificate is redeemed, your restaurant will benefit.

Cookbooks. Your favorite customers love your food, and they may want to reproduce their favorite meals at home. If you choose to create a cookbook, make sure you are not giving away any secrets. You should include only your simplest dishes and recipes for discontinued specials or former menu items that you are no longer serving.

T-shirts, hats, mugs, etc. Always make your restaurant’s logo and/or slogan a prominent feature of the souvenir. That way, the merchandise is unique, and it can also serve as a mini-advertisement for your restaurant. You can find a company to print your logo on hats or t-shirts, or you can purchase logo printing for your glassware. Bars and coffee shops should especially consider selling logo-ed glasses and coffee mugs.

Packaged food items. Your customers like your restaurant because of the food or drinks, so selling your edibles to be taken home is always a good idea. For example, if you are famous for your BBQ sauce or salsa, consider offering packaged bottles or jars that your customers can use at home. For whole pre-prepared dishes, you can use a vacuum pack machine to package your goods and sell them to customers.

Selling Your Merchandise

When you price your merchandise, you will want to follow the same guidelines that you use when pricing your menu items. If your restaurant is value-oriented, your merchandise should be, too. Consider selling mugs and t-shirts. If your restaurant is more formal, in addition to t-shirts you should try selling pricier, more formal merchandise, such as your own logo-ed bottles of wine or logo-ed champagne flutes. You can sell your merchandise through any of the following channels:

Your restaurant display case. Put your merchandise on display in a prominent place in your restaurant, like near the point of purchase or behind the bar. The point of purchase is usually the best place for merchandise, since it facilitates impulse buying. Make sure the display is easily visible and appealing, since a messy display will never sell merchandise. Also be sure the prices are visible.

Online. If you have not already created a restaurant website, do so, because it is one of the best places to sell your merchandise. You can create an entire tab for your online store. Another possible channel for selling your merchandise could be an online restaurant merchandise dealer.

Local retailers. Ask local stores if they would be willing to sell your merchandise. Many gift shops will sell your restaurant’s souvenirs on commission. If you are selling your own packaged food items, you can distribute them retail in the refrigerated or frozen section of a local grocery store.

Even if you think you will never make profit selling merchandise, it is probably worth a try. Purchase one set of merchandise and see how it goes. If you cannot sell the items, you can always use them as promotional gifts. If you can sell them, you will reap the double benefits of extra profits and free advertising.

1 Patti J. Shock, John T. Bowen and John M. Stefanelli. Restaurant Marketing for Owners and Managers (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, 2004).
2 Ibid.

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