Do you have a signature sauce or spice mix that guests rave about, or a memorable logo? You might have a ready-made market for retail.
"Acme Feed & Seed sells $40,000 to $45,000 per month in retail; the Southern and Southernaire Market sells around $20,000 per month," says Tom Morales, owner of TomKats Hospitality in Nashville. "My stint as the managing partner of the Loveless Cafe enlightened me to the power of branded retail — that a jam, hot sauce, seasoning, etc., could become representative of a food experience people could take home with them. Retail has been an integral part of our strategy in all of our operations, a way to continue the conversation, to please people who are not in our store."
According to HALO Branded Solutions, a leading promotional products distributor, some of the most common promotional items for restaurants to sell include T-shirts and hoodies, hats and keychains. Drinkware is also popular, varying by type of restaurant, and includes mugs, tumblers, pint glasses, shot glasses and, in recent years, Moscow mule mugs.
Restaurants often opt to sell something more closely related to their genre, according to HALO. A pizza restaurant, for example, may sell promotional pizza cutters and pizza stones so that its clients can try to re-create the restaurant experience at home.
Ed Doyle, president of RealFood Consulting, encourages the practice of selling items aligned with your concept. "You need to reinforce what your brand is already doing," he explains. "Items such as barbecue sauce from a barbecue restaurant and growlers from a brew pub help the guest reconnect with the experience they had at your restaurant."
"One of our best-selling items is the Table of Wisdom shirt, which pays homage to the history of where our brand began," says Rachel Layton, director of marketing for A. Marshall Family Foods, a Tennessee-based company comprised of 11 restaurants and hospitality businesses, including Puckett's Gro. & Restaurant. "We think it's popular because it tells the story of exactly what we hope to create at our tables every day. When folks dine with us, they experience that hospitality and then purchase a shirt to take home as a memory."
Retailing products at Puckett's began 10 years ago with the brand's barbecue sauce, according to Layton. "People kept asking while they dined with us for the sauce to take home," she says.
Doyle suggests retailing consumables whenever it makes sense for your brand. "A T-shirt is a great billboard for your restaurant, but consumables require the guest to return for a refill," he notes.
Morales can confirm that some of his restaurant's biggest retail sellers are indeed consumables. "Acme's best sellers are Blackberry BBQ, ACME Trucker Hat and Hot Chicken Rub," he says. "Southernaire's most popular items are Texas Ketchup, Peace and Plenty and Southern Steak Rub. All these items are letting folks take home the experience of the 'South of Somewhere' flavor they find in our restaurants and recreate it, as well as share it with friends and family."
If you're considering retail at this point, Doyle says to consider the logistics and ask yourself how deep you're willing to go and how you'll organize a retail program. "If you decide to offer sweatshirts, how many sizes will you offer? Where will you keep them? Will hostesses have to rummage through all of them to find the right size?" Doyle says. "If the staff doesn't want to deal with it, they won't help you promote it, either."
"At the entrance of Acme Feed & Seed we have a designated space for Acme Farm Store as well as an online shop," Morales explains. "At the entrance of Southern we have a small selection of sauces, spices and shirts to purchase. Three years after Southern opened, we launched Southernaire Market next door as an expanded selection of sauces, spices, dry goods — even the same steaks and seafood that we use at Southern — for folks to take home and prepare themselves."
"Our restaurant is set up like a grocery store, so merchandise is set up just like an old-time grocery isle near the cash register," says Layton. "Our barbecue sauces, spices and rubs sell well online reliably. Our t-shirts, which tend to be a keepsake type of item, do really well in the stores after folks dine with us or see a server wearing them."
Beyond having a retail area in the store, don't forget the power of an online store page on your website; servers wearing your merchandise; a display of spices and sauces next to a price list on the table; and social media promos and giveaways.
"We promote retail both online and in person," says Morales. "We use social media, pitch holiday gift guides, host 'shop and sip' events, stay in touch with hotel concierges, create customized gift bags and work with corporate events."
"Our strongest selling agents are our servers," says Layton. "They wear the shirts we sell and are happy to chat up the merchandise with any interested guests. We recently rolled out new merchandise and found that our newsletter was another powerful way to push online sales."