Bars & Restaurants Serve Up Sales

The bar and restaurant industry is buzzing. Here are tips to help your clients boost their brand and engage patrons.

Raise a glass to this: Americans love to eat and drink.

So much so that the National Restaurant Association predicts industry sales will increase 3.6% to $683.4 billion in 2014, which is equal to 4% of U.S. gross domestic product.

The report also states that industry job growth this year is expected to outpace the overall economy for the 15th consecutive year. The industry is the nation’s second largest private sector employer.

Americans rank the restaurant industry as the top business sector in the country, overtaking computers as the most highly regarded industry by the general public, according to the latest Gallup Work and Education poll, conducted in August.

“The restaurant and bar sector orders a lot of promotional products, as they strive to create and build a unique brand relationship and connect with their clientele,” says Mitch Weintraub, CEO of Pinnacle Promotions (asi/295988). “Promotional products are a way to help develop and expand a brand to reach out to their target demographics and foster repeat business.”


A general rule of thumb is that restaurants should allocate 3%-6% of sales to marketing, and these establishments should allocate this money proportionately to sales volume, according to a report from restaurant industry consultant Aaron Allen.

While some restaurant owners think it’s best to spend money to drive sales when business is slow, Allen advocates spending marketing dollars to further build on busy periods. “Fish where the fish are biting. If July is your busiest month, you should spend a proportionate amount on your restaurant’s marketing budget in that month,” he writes.

This sector is always looking for ways to carve out its own unique niche. “Brand visibility and creation of awareness are critical in a market where there is competition on every corner,” says Bill Mahre, president of ADG Promotional Products (asi/97270), a division of Taylor Promotional Products.

Bars typically use promotional products to enhance the experience itself, says Beth Beasley director of sales and senior branding manager at US Imprints (asi/348081). Examples: Branded glow sticks and LED wristbands for the dance floor, or leis, custom Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses for a Luau Night. How about cowboy hats, cowboy-shirt beverage coolers and cowboy boot mugs for western-themed bars?

Restaurants use promotional products to help with branding, attracting new customers and winning repeat business, reinforcing brand affinity. Seeing the restaurant’s logo and tagline over and over again on cups, napkins, straw caddies, etc. help give the brand a more permanent place in customers’ minds, Beasley says.

Restaurant giveaways can help extend brand awareness and marketing into the customers’ own homes. A Mexican restaurant may hand out taco-shaped stress relievers at a Cinco de Mayo festival that customers can use to redeem a 15% off special, she suggests.


The majority of promotional product purchasing for bars and restaurants is done at the local level, according to Beasley. Her clients prefer face-to-face meetings. In addition, many businesses feel good about supporting local commerce.

“This market thrives on local relationships with reciprocity,” says Sheila Johnshoy, ePromos’ (asi/188515) VP of marketing. “Bars and restaurants want to support the businesses that patronize their establishment, as well as create goodwill in the community,”

Bars and restaurants are often tapped to support local events, like fundraisers and festivals, so there is a natural tie-in with the local promotional product distributor and these events as well.

Restaurants and bars rely heavily on local distributors to supply them with everything from custom uniforms to branded matchbooks to promotional glassware,” says Pinnacle’s Weintraub. Corporate chains or franchise establishments traditionally use a company store structure through larger, national distributors/suppliers, he adds.

Weintraub says there can be barriers to entry for large, national restaurants and bars. “Small, local or regional establishments are where reps can show value to help these operations expand their brand,” he says.

Still, some chain or franchisee individual locations may be allowed to break from the company store model and go outside to work with local distributors because of pricing, quality, options or a relationship with the representative or location.


Carla Bollinger, advertising specialist at HALO Branded Solutions (asi/356000), does a significant amount of work with the food and beverage industry. She got her start working with the restaurant industry when she ignored the “No Solicitation” sign on the door of a Pizza Hut regional office. Although it was a national chain, the local approach worked.

“I walked in bearing goodies, met Evelyn, and told her I could do anything with a logo on it,” says Bollinger. When asked if she could produce an award in a day, “Of course I said yes! I felt this could be a big opportunity, and scrambled to get it done,” she says.

From that first order she produced lots of awards and lapel pins for the chain. She even began providing uniforms, despite the fact that Pizza Hut said they had to come from corporate headquarters.

“I asked Evelyn about the managers’ shirts, which were shipped from Texas. I told her she was spending a lot on shipping. I had my embroiderer do a new logo, and ended up providing lots of apparel in the Western states for Pizza Hut,” Bollinger says.

That was 15 years ago, and she continues to provide promotional items for Pizza Hut franchises. She has worked with Pizza Hut through its conversion to a franchise business, by being proactive and staying on top of organizational changes that affected the corporation’s promotional buying.

Pizza Hut is currently offering delivery on bikes, so there is a safety aspect to their promotional needs. As a result, Bollinger is now producing safety wearables, flashlights and safety cones, as well as putting safety awareness messages on water bottles, in addition to other employee gifts.

“People work very hard in the restaurant industry and good companies like to reward them,” she says. She has provided awards to deserving employees, as well as Christmas gifts for district managers to present to top store managers. These range from pens to jackets.


Steven R. Flaughers, owner of Proforma 3rd Degree Marketing (asi/300094), who moonlights as the lead singer in a country music band, says he landed a steady account at The Thirsty Cowboy after playing a few gigs at the country western bar. He provides Thirsty Cowboy T-shirts and cami tops for the ladies logoed with “Cowgirls Get Thirsty Too.” All are available for purchase.

He also supplies the client with a number of giveaway items. “This client is all about partying,” says Flaughers, noting that the owner will randomly decide to do a promotion or have an event and order promotional merchandise like stadium cups, beverage coolers, caps, carabiners and keychains.

US Imprints helped one client, The Billiard Club, in Edmonton, Alberta, with a beach-themed Full Moon Party. “To help create a fun atmosphere and offer that unique experience, we printed custom sand pails that the bar incorporated into its special drink of the night,” says Beasley.

The pails were such a hit that the Billiard Club has reordered 500 pails each year for the event, in addition to multiple reorders of sunglasses, sombreros, bottle openers, drawstring bags, pens, highlighters and flying discs.

When working with local restaurants and bars, it helps to attend local events, both business and personal, to get to know the community, says Beasley. As you expand your network, look for chances to ask your contacts for introductions to potential customers.

“Once you start building relationships with a few establishments, ask those customers to introduce you to the decision-makers of their locations in other areas,” she says.


When working with bars and restaurants, it’s important to be mindful of their hours and note the best time to talk. “They don’t work traditional 9-5 hours, so you need to make yourself available when they are,” says Johnshoy of ePromos.

Who to approach? Normally with chains or franchise operations, a distributor should target the regional VP or marketing director, and with independent establishments, the owner/manager, says ADG’s Mahre.

He says regional people can have an impact. “They usually have budgets for their respective areas of responsibility, and great events can become national ones quickly. Small opportunity now may become very large if it is a hit.”

At corporate or franchise locations, Weintraub says reps should reach out to the store manager to inquire if they do any local ordering, or if all promotional materials are ordered through headquarters. “A rep can go a step further to ask the store manager for a contact person at the corporate level to discuss their corporate plan for promotional products and uniforms,” he says.

When working with a bar or restaurant, Flaughers initially focuses on apparel. “I look and see if all the staff is wearing the brand,” he says. “They may want T-shirts, aprons, polos, or if it’s a sports bar, perhaps a referee-style outfit. If you target an actively growing brand, you can grow with them with apparel, and then have an opportunity to provide other items as they expand.”