The winter holidays are typically the season for gift card sales, but restaurant chains are seeing a fresh opportunity in spring graduation season.
Chipotle Mexican Grill, IHOP, Applebee’s, Outback Steakhouse and others have launched promotions to attract graduation gift givers with the goal of driving some of the season’s celebrants into their doors.
Gift cards are becoming big business for many chains. At Applebee’s, for example, the system achieved $300 million in gift card sales alone in 2011, a 6-percent increase over 2010.
As has become common practice during the winter holidays, gift card promotions typically include the offer of a bonus, bounceback card or freebie as an incentive.
At Chipotle, for example, those who purchase a $30 gift card will receive a free burrito, order of tacos, salad or bowl through June 30. The freebie must be redeemed at a later visit, if they bring a receipt indicating the gift card purchase. The deal does not apply to gift cards purchased online.
Students are among the 1,225-unit chain’s most loyal customers, officials said.
“While Chipotle makes all of its food with premium quality ingredients from more sustainable sources, it’s still affordable and accessible,” said Mark Crumpacker, Chipotle’s chief marketing officer. “A gift card for your favorite graduate and a freebie for you makes it even more affordable for everyone.”
IHOP is hitting on grads, as well as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
Through June 18, IHOP is rewarding gift card givers with a free $5 bounceback coupon with the purchase of a $25 gift card.
“IHOP is a popular family dining destination, especially for celebrations, so our gift cards are a favorite at this time of year,” said Natalia Franco, the 1,550-unit chain’s senior vice president of marketing.
The bounceback offer applies for a future visit and they expire on July 31.
Here are some other spring gift card promotions:
• Outback Steakhouse and sister brands Bonefish Grill and Carrabba’s Italian Grill — all owned by Tampa, Fla.-based OSI Restaurant Partners — are offering a $10 bounceback card for those who buy $50 in gift cards by June 17. The bonus card is valid between May 14 and July 15 at all three chains.
• Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, another OSI brand, is offering a $20 bonus card for every $100 in gift cards purchased online or in restaurants through June 17. For online orders, guests can upload a digital photo of the graduate to personalize the card.
• Applebee’s is offering a $10 bonus card to those who buy $50 in gift cards at one of the chain’s participating restaurants through June 24. The bonus cards may be redeemed at the next visit before July 8.
• Through June 17, Red Mango guests will receive an extra $5 Share the Love gift card for free with each purchase of a $25 gift card, as well as a chance to win free yogurt and smoothies for a year.