Incentive - May 2009 - (Page 69)

GIFT CARDS Flavor of the Month Restaurant gift cards offer an easy-to-manage and inexpensive way to motivate employees in uncertain times By Leo Jakobson I t’s been a tough six months for the incentive industry, but the challenges faced by corporate incentive buyers have translated into opportunities for gift card suppliers. “A lot of companies have had to make some very tough decisions in this economy to stay competitive,” says Bridget Moen, brand manager of gift cards for Applebee’s, which has nearly 2,000 casual dining restaurants. “Yet it is important for them to reward and build morale for the employees working hard to execute in tough times. It is also important to recognize high performance, and we see good growth there.” And with both the economy and the weight of public opinion against big bonuses, gift cards have the advantage of being an inexpensive and easy-to-manage way of saying “thank you” to employees who are doing more with less, says Laura Parker, manager of gift cards for OSI Restaurant Partners, which has seven casual dining chains, including its flagship Outback Steakhouse. And while the broader casual dining industry has been hurt by the downturn, companies with long- and well-established brands are doing better than others, says Jake Guiang, manager of gift card and incentive sales for Darden Restaurants, whose flagship brands include Red Lobster and Olive Garden. “People’s lives are more unpredictable than they were a year ago, so they gravitate to trusted brands they have confidence in,” agrees Moen. With Americans cutting back sharply on discretionary spending, there’s never been a better time for a gift of a meal with friends and family Although his sales have held steady, Guaing says corporate buying patterns are changing. Customers “are buying what they need in the short term and not stockpiling cards” just to get bulk discounts. That trend has led Applebee’s to experiment with offering high-volume customers an opportunity to order unactivated cards, paying when they need them for program rewards. “They are not constantly tracking orders and shipping and we reduce our program costs, as well as our exposure to fraud and the risk of theft,” Moen says. Applebee’s is also moving into customiza- tion of cards, and will be able to offer this service to corporate buyers by the second half of 2009, she adds. OSI also hopes to roll out customization capacity this year, says Parker, who adds that customer demand recently led the company to offer cards that work at all of its restaurant brands, not just Outback or one of the others, along with all new artwork. It will be available at retail in denominations of $10 to $100, but corporate clients generally prefer cards without dollar denominations printed on them, which affords more price point flexibility. Send comments to | May 2009 | Incentive | 69

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Incentive - May 2009

Incentive - May 2009
Editor’s Note
Cover Story
Incentive House Roundtable
Incentive Strategies
Travel News
Up and Coming Destinations
Florida Beaches
Marvelous Mexico
Size and Style Matter in Luggage, Leather
Dining Gift Cards
Gift Cards Aid Archdiocese’s Wellness

Incentive - May 2009