How to organise a successful gift certificate program


It’s the gift you give the person who has it all: a voucher.

Gift vouchers are a great present idea for those who you may not know very well - gifting an experience rather than an item is fun, flexible, and leaves the organisation up to them. It’s hard to go wrong with a gift voucher.

In the hospitality industry, a gift voucher can include anything from a complimentary bottle of champagne, to a luxury dinner for two with all expenses included. There are no hard and fast rules about what your gift voucher program should look like, or how it should work - those decisions are entirely up to you as the business owner.

In this article, we will outline some of the major considerations and steps you should take when it comes to setting up a successful gift certificate program.

Is it right for your venue?

The first thing to ask yourself before setting up a gift program is whether or not it is right for your venue. As you are essentially giving away free meals or experiences; the trade-off of course must be marketing benefits and a flow-on effect from the gift recipient.

Determine what you’re gifting

Once you have decided to move forward with a gift voucher program, quantify what you can afford to give away as a gift. Generally speaking, it will be one of the following:

  1. A free meal for one
  2. A free entree for a couple
  3. Buy one, get one free
  4. All drinks included
  5. A bar tab
  6. A nominated cash amount towards the meal

However, you can always think outside of the square. If you are an ‘experience’ based venue, such as fine dining, or a boutique wine bar, perhaps the gift is a free tasting session with the chef or sommelier. Or perhaps you could run classes on a Saturday morning in the venue, teaching gift recipients how to prepare a certain dish, cocktail, or cuisine.

Most importantly, ask yourself how much each voucher increment (e.g. $50, $100, $300) will buy the recipient. Is that a full meal, or just a contribution towards? Is it for a three course special? The voucher should work easily with your menu items and costs.

Electronic vs. printed vouchers

There are many ways you can present your gift voucher. You can have an emailed copy that they print out and bring in, a physical voucher that you create in-house, or a gift card that is loaded up with cash in the same way as a credit card.

This decision will come down to the technology you use at your venue. There are plenty of EFTPOS gift card programs that you can sync with your POS machines, but for many, a good old fashioned printed system works just as well. Just make sure you have your vouchers clearly numbered and price amounts recorded.

Whatever system you choose, you must have the ability to send the recipient a soft copy via email. Most customers will arrive without a hard copy, and unless you have their details recorded, a sent email will be the quickest and most accurate method of retrieving their details.

Marketing or gifting, or both?

A gift voucher can serve two purposes: as a gift from one customer to another, or a gift from you (the business) to your customers.

Whilst the former option is fairly straightforward, the latter option needs to have clear boundaries. Ask yourself the following:

  • Who are we giving away the vouchers to?
  • How many will we send out?
  • What do we hope to get in return?
  • What are the terms and conditions?
  • How will be distributing these vouchers?

Sending out a complimentary meal or discount voucher around the time of say, a customer's birthday, is a great way to welcome them into your venue. Just be sure to quantify what your conversion rate then is for when that customer will return for a paid meal or drink.

Training and execution

Is there anything worse than booking an expensive experience on the basis of having a voucher, only to find out at time of payment that they don’t accept the voucher?

Making sure that your staff are trained up in exactly how to process gift vouchers is crucial. They should be able to pick a real voucher from a fake, how to process the payment at the end of the meal, how to issue a gift voucher, and also know about the terms and conditions of the voucher.

Set some goals

As mentioned briefly above, your gift voucher program must have the explicit purpose of increasing profits for your venue. Whilst giving away or discounting food and drinks may seem counter-intuitive, if executed correctly your program can invite new demographics and repeat customers into your restaurant, cafe, bar, or club.

In order for this to happen, however, you will need to set yourself some clear goals and take the time to measure their success.

Some goals might include:

  • For the voucher recipient to return as a paying customer
  • For the voucher recipient to create a high-performing and engaging social media post about your venue
  • For the voucher recipient to go on to buy more vouchers for their friends and family

You can influence the success of your gift voucher program with the level and creativity of the marketing you put behind it. Stepping up your advertising of the program around Christmas, Mother’s Day, and other holidays is a great time to attract new customers.

A gift voucher program is a special way to give new customers a great first-time experience at your venue. They will feel more relaxed about their first visit, and you will be given the opportunity to really engage with them in order to create a return visit.

But the logistics around creating this type of program mostly focus upon organisation and training. Make sure your staff are across how the gift voucher work, and it could be a real boom product for your venue.