Restaurants eat up virtual gift cards

Employees love gift cards because they make them feel appreciated.

Nation's Restaurant News sizes up the scene in restaurant gift card sales.

NRN reports that the National Retail Federation predicts that 81.1 percent of shoppers this year will purchase at least one retail gift card of some sort, spending an average of $156.86 – the highest amount in a decade. Total spending on gift cards will reach $28.79 billion this year.

According to an NRF survey released in October, respondents said the cards offered by restaurants were among the most popular: More than 33 percent of respondents said they planned to give the gift of a restaurant meal during the holidays.

Virtual gift cards seem to be the next big thing, as restaurants offer eGifting — giving virtual gift cards that can be sent by email and used at checkout with a mobile device.

Restaurants large and small are getting into the act. Darden, which owns brands such as Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52 and The Capital Grille, are offering them.

Locally, we see Starr Restaurants doing it, as is Square Peg in Center City (which uses Treatful, a gift card service owned by OpenTable).

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