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Starbucks, DoorDash, Domino's: Restaurant Gift Cards Make a Holiday Comeback

Sales were up 43% year-over-year, according to a new report.

Gift cards make for easy gifts. They sell a wide variety of them at grocery store checkouts and few people are likely to be upset to be given a gift card to a restaurant they enjoy eating it (even if it is a pretty lazy gift). 

Restaurant gift cards, however, had a tough 2020, as the pandemic made dining out more challenging (and, in some cases impossible), but the numbers bounced back for the 2021 holiday season.

An early analysis of 2021 holiday sales data suggests that sales of restaurant gift cards should slightly exceed 2019 levels, according to Paytronix Systems, which describes itself as "the most advanced digital guest experience platform. 

Sales by the number of gift cards climbed by43%  when comparing the 2021 holiday season (Nov. 1 through Dec. 24) to the 2020 season. Sales were 6% over 2019.

Restaurant Gift Card Sales Bounce Back

When you look at total value added to cards, numbers were up 57% in over 2020 and 4.7% compared to 2019. Consumers also loaded slightly more money onto the cards they purchased this year, $35.34 compared to $32.03 in 2020 and $35.84 in 2019.

“It’s clear that the restaurant industry is starting to recover from the pandemic, but the nature of that recovery will continue to reveal itself as we take a deeper look at the numbers,” said Paytronix CEO Andrew Robbins. 

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“When we look at the median vs. mean sales, we see a divergence, suggesting that some restaurants and restaurant types are getting the bulk of the gains. We also saw an initial surge in fine dining sales on Black Friday that could point to a consumer desire to return to in-person dining. But that early sales spark could have been derailed by the emergence of Omicron during the last few weeks of the season.”

To get its results Paytronix analyzed the anonymous aggregate gift card sales for 277 merchants from Nov. 1, 2021, through Dec. 24, 2021, and used data from the same merchants covering 2019, 2020 and 2021 holiday seasons.

Which Restaurant Gift Cards Sell the Best?

Paytronix did not share which retailers sold the most cards, but Amazon (AMZN) - Get Amazon.com, Inc. Report has a page on its website that shows top sellers. 

That data, which only includes the restaurants and delivery services that Amazon sells on its platform, does show some likely winners.

Starbucks (SBUX) - Get Starbucks Corporation Report holds spots 2-6 on the chart for various iterations of its gift card, but that broad success may have caused it to lose the top spot. DoorDash (DASH) - Get DoorDash, Inc. Class A Report takes the #1 position while Grubhub (GRUB) - Get Grubhub, Inc. Report came in seventh, Darden Restaurants (DRI) - Get Darden Restaurants, Inc. Report (Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, others) came in eighth, Chipotle (CMG) - Get Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. Report took ninth, and Domino's (DPZ) - Get Domino's Pizza, Inc. Reportclosed out the list at 10.

Starbucks said that it expected to sell $3 billion in gift card value this holiday season, according to a press release. The company expected Dec. 23 to be its biggest day of gift card sales for the year.