Selling Restaurant Merchandise

The sale  of T-shirts, mugs, hats and other merchandise provides a supplemental revenue source for some restaurants. But the restaurant industry by and large is only scratching the surface. For your customers, food can be a moving experience and an expression of identity (vegans, for example). So your customers may want to buy merchandise and bring home something from your restaurant. However, a
considerable percentage of restaurants miss opportunities to gain an extra revenue stream and advance their brand through merchandising.

Giving Loyal Customers a Part of Your Restaurant

The benefits do not end after the customer pays for your merchandise.  Frequently, it has a much larger marketing effect. Typically, a loyal customer commits to your brand even more. This commitment has a lasting effect as it solidifies (literally) his or her opinion of your restaurant. Think about all the times the customer will come across the merchandise at home and be reminded of your restaurant.

Being the Topic of Conversation

The second effect springs out of the conversations that the product provokes. A compliment or question is an opportunity for word-of-mouth marketing between a loyal customer and a potential customer. You may think your logo is an effective advertisement when someone walks down the street wearing it on his or her cap or shirt. That is not normally the case for an independent restaurant. Instead, the T-shirt serves a marketing purpose when people get into conversations about the merchandise. These conversations give your customers the opportunity to talk about your restaurant and why they like it so much.

Spreading Your Brand

Merchandising can also take your brand one step further, as just having only your logo on a cap is a recipe for failure. Some restaurants (like the Hard Rock Cafe) have brands that can pull this off. Most restaurants that have merchandising potential cannot. You should really express your brand fully and connect it to your restaurant’s identity whether its through memorable/interesting text or visuals. Of course, you must consider customer demographics and what they want.

Also, what the merchandise is should reflect your restaurant. T-shirts don’t go with a restaurant with Michelin stars, but wine glasses might work. Don’t just do
it yourself if you have never designed anything before. Ask for help from someone competent. Here is a rundown of a couple pieces of merchandise you may consider and a few pointers:

Tips for Merchandise

T-shirts

  • text or image in front that expresses brand (whether funny, clever, cool or elegant)
  • logo is better on the back (or secondary) as customers shouldn’t feel like billboards and it will get more attention
  • should last in washing machine and affordable
  • if appropriate, use a T-shirt as a staff uniform

Mugs

  • should relate to restaurant (diners, coffee shops, pancake houses)
  • travel mugs are better as they have the potential for greater word-of-mouth marketing
  • better to have a distinct shape rather than traditional mug

Hats

  • should be quality build
  • baseball caps are safest bet
  • creative placement or representation of logo as back is out of sight

Packaged Food

  • provide customers with the ingredients but not the exact recipe
  • logistical issues: proper packaging and shipping
  • necessary phone and online services

Brand-specific Items

  • fine dining restaurant: wine glasses, shot glasses, watches, wallets, ties, scarves, throws
  • quick serve & casual dining: T-shirts (look above), glasses, magnets, key chains, pins, stickers
The four main things that will help you anticipate the success of merchandising is evaluating the size and excitement of your most loyal customers, the desirability of the merchandise, the visibility of the products and the price (remember there may be different state sales tax for merchandise). Be sure that you give customers a way to find out about these products, When in doubt, you should ask them if this would interest them.