If you've recently opened a new restaurant, one of the next steps you need to take in terms of marketing and increasing accessibility to customers is to begin offering gift cards. Nowadays, ordering gift cards is as easy as plugging in your specifications to an online ordering form and waiting for them to arrive in the mail. However, that does not mean you should rush into this process without any thought. There are many variations in the ways businesses handle and distribute their gift cards, and it is best to figure out which of these variations you prefer before you order the cards and start selling them. On that note, here's a look at two big decisions you need to make before you start offering gift cards for your restaurant.
Do you want to offer fixed amounts or let customers specify any amount?
Some restaurants allow their patrons to purchase gift cards in certain amounts -- say $25, $50 or $100. Others let the customer specify the amount. For instance, the customer could say "I want a $35 gift card" or "I want a $56.90 gift card" and that's what they would be given. There are pros and cons to both systems.
The value of the gift card is "put on it" when you enter that value into a specific computer program and then swipe the card through a magnetic reader attached to the computer via a USB port. If you choose the fixed-value system, you can pre-load cards with certain values, and then when a customer comes in to purchase one, simply swipe the card (with the needed program open on the computer) to activate it. If you let customers choose their amount, then your employees will need to individually program the amount onto the card before handing it over to the customer.
Letting employees load the cards per order leaves more room for error (they could enter the wrong amount, either accidentally or intentionally), but it also does a better job of catering to your customers' needs. Pre-loading the cards saves time and reduces the potential for error, but may leave customers perturbed if they can't buy a gift card for the exact amount they desire. It's up to you to decide which is the best option, based on your clientele, the reliability of your employees, and your marketing strategy.
Should your gift cards expire?
When you're loading the value onto the gift card and activating it, the software will also give you the option of adding an expiration date to the card. If the card is swiped after this date, it will come up as "expired" and the user will not be able to spend it. Some businesses prefer their cards to have expiration dates, while others do not. Note that if you do choose expiration dates, you'll want to have the words "this card expires ____ months after purchase" printed on your cards. A year is a typical time period after which a card expires, but you could certainly make your policy 6 months or 2 years if you prefer.
The upside to expiration dates is that they may allow you to make greater profits. There are sure to be some people who receive the gift card as a gift and never use it -- and then the purchase price is 100% profit for you. The downside to this strategy is that it may turn some customers off to the idea of buying a gift card from your restaurant. It may also result in you having to explain to some customers why their expired card cannot be spent and then having to deal with their disgruntled attitudes.
Should you offer per-determined amounts, or let your customers choose? Should your gift cards expire? Different strategies work for different businesses, but one thing is for sure: Deciding these things before you order and start passing out gift cards will ensure the process goes more smoothly.
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