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Merch is everywhere — customers buy branded items from YouTube creators, brick-and-mortar businesses, and everything in between. As a restaurant owner, you can take advantage of this trend; a few well-crafted pieces of restaurant merchandise can build community and boost your bottom line.

Before you start designing products or crafting food items, take time to get the lay of the land. When you understand the entire merchandise process, you can make smarter decisions up front and start selling branded items quickly.

Why sell restaurant merchandise?

Running a restaurant is time-consuming; before you add a new element to a food business, it’s important to determine if the payoff is worth the investment. If you have a loyal following, selling restaurant merch can have a few important benefits:

  • Additional revenue stream. Profit margins are famously tight in the restaurant industry, so merchandise can bring in additional income. In fact, many companies started selling merch during the pandemic to help recover lost revenue. Once you’ve produced it, selling merchandise is a relatively low-effort way to make money — cashiers can ring it up quickly.
  • Brand exposure. Restaurant merchandise is essentially an advertisement for your brand. Whether guests buy T-shirts or tote bags, your logo, name, or slogan will draw attention and create a sense of familiarity among customers. It’s a fun way to boost name recognition and expose your restaurant to a larger audience.
  • Customer connection. Merchandise can help build community and reinforce connections with your customers. After all, if someone loves your restaurant enough to buy a branded item, you’ve clearly made an impression. You can even hand out items for free to loyal customers to boost customer loyalty and encourage repeat business.

10 of the best restaurant merchandise ideas

Every food service business is different, which means there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for restaurant merchandise. Before you get customers to embrace your brand, make sure you have a logo design that fits your restaurant. As you select items, consider what matters most to your customers and what they’re likely to use.

Popular restaurant merchandise ideas include:

  1. Shirts, hoodies, and graphic tees

A shirt turns a customer into a walking billboard for your restaurant. Just make sure branded apparel is attractive and eye-catching; that way, shoppers will be more likely to wear it. 

  1. Tote bags

A tote bag is an everyday item anyone can use. Consider choosing bags that are big enough to use for daily errands, grocery shopping, or even air travel. 3.

  1. Aprons

Does your restaurant offer cooking classes or attract people who love to cook? Aprons could be best-sellers. Make sure the design suits the personality of the business — a BBQ restaurant might choose fun, cheeky aprons, while a fine-dining restaurant might use a minimalist design and elegant fabrics.

  1. Coffee mugs or beer mugs 

Mugs make excellent restaurant merch; they’re small, versatile, and affordable. Generate interest in your merch by serving your drinks in the cups you sell. This is a great way to directly increase visibility while upgrading your restaurant branding.

  1. Stickers, flags, and banners 

If your restaurant has a beautiful logo or a signature catchphrase, print it on small items for guests to display on water bottles, desks, or vehicles.

  1. Gifts for pets. 

Americans spend $136.8 billion per year on their pets. Grab a piece of that revenue with branded collars, water bowls, waste bag dispensers, or bandanas.

  1. Cookbooks

Do your customers ask for house recipes? Grant their wishes — and make some extra cash — with a restaurant cookbook. Include favorite food items, and ask your chefs to create exclusive recipes just for the book. Photograph the items in your kitchen and dining room for extra built-in promotion.

  1. Food items

If you don’t want to give away your secret recipes, consider bottling and selling the restaurant’s signature sauces, marinades, cookies, or spice rubs. That way, they’re accessible to all customers, even those who don’t like to cook. You can even sell your packaged food items on third-party delivery apps like Grubhub to increase your reach and make your ingredients a central part of home cooking.

  1. Hats, caps, and beanies

For a more casual restaurant merch option, embroider or print your business name or logo on a beanie or a hat. Guests always need high-quality hats, especially if you operate in a cold climate.

  1. Gift cards

Gift cards are appropriate for every restaurant, no matter the type or cuisine. To make them more appealing, choose attractive designs that include your restaurant’s brand elements. Promote your gift cards over the holiday season so that diners can give the gift of a great meal.

Unique merchandise ideas for restaurants.

Keep in mind that it may take time to land on the right branded restaurant merchandise ideas for your establishment. Don’t be afraid to start with smaller quantities of multiple items. Then, you can make future purchasing decisions based on which products sell best.

Creating and selling restaurant merch

You’ve decided that restaurant merchandise is a good option for your business — now what? Use these tips to create a road map for developing and selling branded merch.

Decide what to sell

The first step in the merch process is to choose products. To start, conduct a bit of market research:

  • Poll your customers. Use printed and online surveys to ask your customers what types of branded merchandise they’d like to see. If you see repeat diners, ask them for feedback in person.
  • Talk to staff members. Ask employees if customers have inquired about specific items over the years. You might discover regulars love your staff T-shirts, for example, which can guide merch selection and design.
  • Post on social media. Post a poll or question on social media and invite your followers to give feedback. It’s a cheap and easy way to crowdsource creative ideas, and it makes your fans feel like part of the process.

As you evaluate different ideas, measure them against your restaurant’s atmosphere, style, and cuisine. Every item should feel like a natural extension of the overall brand image. Funny stickers could be a good fit for a neighborhood coffee shop, for example, but they’d probably feel out of place at an upscale French restaurant.

Choose a supplier

Once you have products in mind, look for suppliers who can make them. Local print shops or embroidery businesses are a great place to start; they can offer in-person service and easy pickup. If budget is a concern, consider working with an online business such as VistaPrint or Moo. Most internet-based promotional product companies offer discount codes and regular sales.

Not sure which option to choose? Order samples. That way, you can check the quality of the material and print in person.

Other factors to consider when selecting a supplier:

  • Order minimums
  • Fees for shipping or multicolored designs
  • Available materials and sizes
  • Lead time for printing and shipping
  • Variety of product types
  • Regulations for food products

If you’re serious about merch, it pays to get the supplier right on the first try — it’ll save time, money, and effort down the road.

Design your branded products

Now, it’s time to create an attractive design. Again, look to your customers for inspiration. Are they likely to use merch with the restaurant logo? What design styles will appeal to them?

Most types of restaurant merch use a few standard elements:

  • Brand logo
  • Restaurant name
  • Representative images
  • Brand colors and fonts
  • Tag lines or sayings

This is a great time to lean in to the personality of your brand. If you love to greet diners by saying, “Hello, sunshine,” for example, you could print T-shirts with the same phrase. If you’re known for beautiful chalk art, consider incorporating it into the design. You can use Canva to create professional looking product designs for free. No matter what you choose, your logo or restaurant name should feature somewhere in the design. And as always, the final graphic should align with the brand and style of the business.

If you’re not a designer, don’t hesitate to outsource — a professional designer is an investment, but they’ll help you save time and maintain a professional image. 

Decide where to sell

Determine where to sell your merch. Most restaurants set up a display in store to capture the attention of customers. If you have a large remote following, an online store is an excellent way to increase sales. Create a page on your restaurant’s website for easy customer access.

Develop a marketing strategy

Marketing is the final step in the process. Before you launch merchandise, decide how you’ll spread the word. The most effective options include:

  • Social media marketing. Post photos and videos of your new products on your social media profiles to get customers excited.
  • Email marketing. Promote merchandise in your regular food-related emails.
  • In-store promotions. Showcase your new products in a prominent area in the restaurant, and ask your employees to wear the clothing during a shift. You can even host giveaways during the launch.
  • Influencer marketing. Send free products to local food influencers, or pay food bloggers to promote your merchandise.

Grow your business on Grubhub

Done well, restaurant merchandise can boost your brand awareness and increase revenue. If you’re looking for other ways to build the business, consider signing up for Grubhub. By listing your restaurant on the trusted Grubhub platform, you gain access to more local customers instantly. You can even sell food products in addition to the regular menu; it’s an effective way to get more sales for merchandise, including packaged meals, bottled sauces, and signature spice rubs.Want to learn more? To find out how the Grubhub Marketplace can help you promote regular dishes and restaurant merch, get started with Grubhub today.