Sales & Revenue

Move Over Restaurant Gift Cards, Experiential Gifting Is In

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5 min read

Nov 27, 2023

Move Over Restaurant Gift Cards, Experiential Gifting Is In

Throughout the year, and for every major holiday, restaurants across the globe promote gift cards. After all, it’s an excellent way to drive incremental revenue and get new diners in the door. But when it comes to today’s experience-crazed consumers, are traditional restaurant gift cards still enough?

Data from Get Your Guide says that 92% of Americans prefer experiences to physical gifts this year. And it’s not just an American trend: 42% of people in the U.K. have also added experiences to the top of their wish lists. 

The data proves that more and more consumers are looking for opportunities to create unforgettable moments with loved ones. A trend that restaurants are primed to capitalize on.

Experiential dining is quickly becoming a way for restaurants to be seen as more than food and drink but an adventure, too. As restaurateurs redefine the traditional dining experience, they’re branching out from traditional gift cards and instead focusing on experiential gifting. 

Experiential Gifting for Experience-Crazed Customers

Experiential gifting goes beyond traditional restaurant gift cards or vouchers by focusing on immersive experiences that challenge the ordinary through inventive menus, multisensory dining, thematic events and unique activities. 

JKS Restaurants is an award-winning London restaurant group known for its innovative, boundary-pushing hospitality. For them, culinary creativity is the standard, so it only makes sense that the brand leverages experiential gifting to ensure more people can experience its sought-after brands, from Michelin star set menus at Gymkhana, Lyle’s and Sabor to one-dish wonders such as their Tandoori Mixed Grill Sizzlers at Brigadiers.

You see, the experiential diner wants — and is willing to pay more for — exclusivity, unexpected surprises and one-of-a-kind moments. What started as a way for JKS Restaurants to earn revenue after the pandemic has now become a pillar they consider its own business line. They’ve added an online gift shop to their website where their guests can easily browse and purchase one of their many experiences. 

JKS restaurant gifting site

Laura Irving, chief marketing officer at JKS Restaurants, says, “Monetary gift vouchers can often feel impersonal. At JKS, we’ve shifted our approach from simply providing a £50 voucher to offering an unforgettable experience. Take Gymkhana for example, we have an exceptional tasting menu available in the restaurant, and we package this up alongside a wine pairing, designed specially to complement the bold flavour and spicing on the menu. This alongside the service we offer and the setting you’re in, offers an unforgettable experience that feels less transactional.”

As Laura says, “When it comes to gift-giving, it’s easy to opt for a monetary voucher. But there is something special about handpicking a unique experience for someone.” 

How to Set Up a Restaurant Gifting Program

A restaurant gifting program can be used to drive sales and engage customers throughout the year during key moments and holidays. But coming up with new ideas to impress is daunting. A selection of evergreen gifting options puts you in control, allowing you to provide unique gifts year-round and for every occasion.

To accomplish this, you’ll first need to determine which gifts your venue is equipped to offer and then figure out how you’ll sell and promote them.

Know Your Audience 

It’s important to consider who is most likely to buy the experience. Start by analyzing your guest data, such as demographics, past orders and preferences, for trends and patterns. Does your demographic skew younger or older? Are they big spenders or frugal foodies?

Then, turn these insights into customized menus and experiences for your guests. The more you know who you serve, the better you can cater to their interests with a gift they’ll love at a price point they can afford. 

For example, restaurants serving millennials might play up the generation’s love of food-focused events by offering gifts that pair food and fun, such as themed dinners or chef’s tables.

Alternatively, if your venue operates a large loyalty program backed by repeat customers, your experiential offerings could leverage nostalgia by bringing back a beloved menu item accessible through a reservation-only event. 

Identify Your Unique Offerings

When deciding what types of experiential gifts you’ll offer, consider your unique selling proposition. Think: menus, cuisine, decor, location, mission, staff size and more. 

A few experiential restaurant gift ideas include:

Beer or wine tastings
Interactive cooking classes, virtual and in-person
Intimate tasting menus for two
Scavenger hunts and escape rooms followed by cocktails and small bites
Subscription boxes complete with special menu items and restaurant merch

Play to your strengths. For example, a restaurant known for its custom treats could partner with their head baker or pastry chef to sell a make-your-own birthday cake class. 

Cozy venues with outdoor terraces, balconies or gardens could use ambiance to their advantage and create “a night under the stars” set menu for two — a romantic Christmas gift customers will be all too eager to cash in on come Valentine’s Day

Consider an E-Commerce Platform

Voucher management systems, or e-commerce platforms used for selling e-gift cards and gift certificates, are a great option for setting up an online store for restaurant gifts with key personalization features. 

For example, JKS Restaurants has opted to use a U.K.- based gift voucher management system called Giftpro. One of the big perks is that it allows buyers to record custom video messages with their gift. 

However, there are several e-commerce platforms you can use to help sell experiences to the masses, including:

Vaocher (for Australian restaurants and hospitality venues)

Use Technology to Create Memorable Experiences

Restaurant technology can be your greatest ally in elevating an experiential gifting program. Look for an integrated CRM like SevenRooms that combines reservation and POS data, which tracks key information to create guest profiles that help you understand who your customers are and what they love. 

From drink preferences to spending history, the data garnered from these profiles become your secret weapon for redefining what it means to dine out and how far you can go to deliver personalized experiences to each guest.

FYI: Aside from your gifting platform, you can offer these same types of unique events and experiences as reservation upgrades using SevenRooms’ direct reservation platform.

Promote Strategically

Of course, the best experience gifts only work if people know about them. At a minimum, add a link to your voucher e-commerce platform on your website’s menu bar. Then, implement marketing campaigns to spread the word. 

Laura says JKS Restaurants uses SevenRooms’ automated email marketing features to send confirmation emails upon purchase and paid social media targeting to find new audiences who have yet to experience one of the group’s restaurants.

“You may not be a JKS Restaurant guest, but perhaps you have always wanted to visit Lyle’s or Sabor. We have several campaigns that engage potential new guests through targeted paid media.”

Strategic promotion can also help ensure consistent business during slower periods. It’s tough to predict revenue and bookings throughout the year when selling redeemable gifts, but JKS Restaurants leverages a few strategies to manage traffic during busy and slow times.

“We also utilise vouchers and experiences to help support us during off-peak seasons. Specifically, we create short-validity vouchers during the typically slow months of January, February, and March in London. This not only aids us in forecasting bookings but also incentivises customers to visit during off-peak times.”

Gift the Gifter: In addition to collecting guest data on-site, don’t forget to collect the gifter’s information during checkout. With their email, you can invite them to another event at a discounted rate as a thank you for their business, or you can reengage them later, like on Valentine’s Day or their birthday. 

5 Restaurant Experiential Gift Examples

Experiential dining is what you make it. While the concept is hardly a one-size-fits-all approach, some common themes overlap among popular experiential restaurants:

They’re unique. The experience should feel special and more curated than a diner’s experience during a regular visit.
They’re exclusive. Because these events are so tailored, they should require special pre-bookings. Phrases like “for one night only” or “now pouring” help bump up the wow factor.
They’re immersively memorable. Unforgettable moments that engage all the senses help ensure guests enjoy the experience so much they tell their friends about it.

Here are a few examples of experiential restaurants doing gifting exceptionally well and ideas for how you can do it, too.

1. Exclusive Culinary Experiences

JKS Restaurants leverage their renowned chefs to offer upscale Michelin star experiences. From wine tastings and pairings at Gymkhana to full-on feasts for four at Sabor, JKS Restaurants makes it easy for friends, families or colleagues to experience a culinary adventure they won’t forget. 

“The focus for us is on our Michelin star experiences at Gymkhana, Trishna, Sabor, Lyle’s and Kitchen Table. We discovered last festive season that these experiences were the most popular with our guests.”

While Michelin star experiences work for some, not every venue can support it. Luckily, you can still deliver upscale, exclusive experiences while you wait on your own Michelin star. 

Remember, the selling point of an exclusive meal is the over-the-top experience and service, which you can emulate by focusing on creating an immersive, hyper-personalized event that makes all diners feel special.

JKS gift for tasting menu example

2. Dinner and a Show

Go all-out with a truly immersive dining experience: dinner and a show. Pair a prix-fixe menu with live performances and host it in a private room at your venue.

Better yet, make it brunch! Inception Group’s Bunga Bunga Covent Garden is turning the heat up on Saturdays with a boozy, BUFF brunch offering bottomless pizza, prosecco and risque performers.

The experience is targeted to a very specific audience, and the provocative description paints a vivid picture of what guests can look forward to. Don’t forget to have fun with your the event details and use language that will excite your guests.  

“If you’re a mega fan of Five, totally bonkers for Backstreet Boys, dripping for One Direction, or absolutely nuts for NSync – then this is the brunch for you. Alongside unlimited Prosecco and pizza, we’ll be serving up the hunkiest of male strippers, circus acts and boylesque superstars in the heart of Covent Garden.” 

Inception group gifting example

3. Old Classics for New Guests

One of the main benefits of implementing a restaurant gifting program is that it gives new customers a chance to experience your most popular offerings. 

Date night, anyone? The Inception Group sells a “cocktails for two” experience at Mr. Fogg’s. Here, guests can enjoy any two of its award-winning cocktails in a themed Victorian setting. Similarly, the Battersea Power Station “sharing cocktail for two” allows giftees to sip the brand’s most popular cocktail in an iconic London landmark. 

Inception group restaurant gifting

This smaller-scale strategy is perfect for restaurants that want to experiment with a gifting program without committing to big events. These types of gift ideas help get people through your doors without sacrificing the experience. (At a lower price point, too!)

Plus, smaller-scale gifts help ensure you don’t overwhelm your staff with a last-minute request that could affect their ability to deliver delightful service.

4. Surprise Transformations

For one night only, transform your bar into a speakeasy or your dining room into a pop-up winter wonderland. 

Themed menus and decor will take this experience to another level. With every libation and small bite, you’ll immerse guests into another time, creating an experience they’ll tell their friends about.

In fact, a survey from Eventbrite revealed that after attending memorable pop-up dining experiences, 90% of diners said they would recommend the restaurant to a loved one and 87% said they would return to that restaurant again.

5. Don’t Forget About Restaurant Merch 

As more restaurants double down on branding and identity to differentiate themselves, they become more attractive to brand-loyal consumers. Restaurants are becoming more like lifestyle brands, according to the New York Times, and what do lifestyle brands do best? Merch. 

Consider supplementing your experiential offerings with retail merchandise as a keepsake from the event. For example:

Signed cookbooks from your award-winning chef
Unisex clothing advertising your punny slogan or intricate logo
Coasters or custom beer mugs for restaurants and breweries
Sustainable totes and bags for takeout

Pro Tip: Make it a giveaway on social media! Pack up your best merch and encourage foodies to tag their friends and share your giveaway on their feeds. The winner gets a fun holiday gift package, and you get more followers for future marketing campaigns.

It’s Time to Cash In on the Experience Economy

Gone are the days when consumers were satisfied with conventional gift cards or discount coupons. To create lasting impressions and forge deeper connections with customers, restaurants are leveraging the power of experiential marketing.

While JKS Restaurants certainly has experiential gifting all figured out, you don’t have to create such a bountiful buffet of gift ideas to have success of your own. 

As Laura says, “It’s better to start with the basics than to not do it at all. Get something online. Think about your USP (unique selling proposition) and just have fun with it.”

At SevenRooms, we’re here to help you on your mission to deliver unforgettable experiences for all. To see how our robust hospitality CRM can help you deliver wow moments of your own, book a demo today.

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