For Mother's Day, the Cheesecake Factory is offering customers $10 bonus e-cards for every $50 gift-card purchase.

Typically, Mother’s Day is the most lucrative holiday of the year for operators, with millions of families dining at restaurants. According to National Restaurant Association research in 2018, approximately 87 million adults said they would dine out on Mother’s Day. That, of course, is under normal circumstances.

Things are anything but normal now, so customers are looking for new ways to celebrate the special day and restaurants are answering the call. Although many are operating takeout-and-delivery only under the nation’s stay-at-home orders, there are ways to capitalize on the holiday.

The goal, restaurant consultant Larry Reinstein says, is to satisfy consumers’ pent-up demand for restaurant food, give them a “special occasion” experience at home, and make them smile.

Reinstein says restaurateurs should look at Mother’s Day as one tactic in a larger, strategic plan to start rebuilding business while taking care of guests. If you create a special Mother’s Day promotion, and do it well, it will not only be good for your brand, but also create an opportunity to ramp up your game.

“I’m not saying that if you do X specific things on Mother’s Day, you’ll have spectacular sales,” he says. “I’m saying your object should be to make mothers and their families happy. If you approach it in that way, they’ll associate your brand, and you, with trying to do good for people.”

How do you create that special experience? Reinstein suggests four options.

  1. Offer special holiday meal kits. Start by offering family packs that feed between four and six people. While most meal kits tend to involve some cooking, on Mother’s Day, things should be as easy as possible (ready to eat and/or reheat), so have everything prepared and done so there’s no real work to do. You could also include a special tablecloth, colored napkins, and an option to buy flowers along with the meal.

    Clyde’s Restaurant in Washington, D.C., is one company following that advice. The casual-dining chain is offering a $75 option for two people that includes spiral-sliced ham, choice of vegetable, and a side, and a $300 Surf & Turf for four, featuring oven-baked jumbo lump crab cakes and roast beef tenderloin. The chain is offering flowers to purchase, too (supplied by its distributor). A complimentary Mother’s Day card is included in the kit.

    “We wanted to help families have an easy and safe way to make the day special,” a company rep said. “We’ve always served as the backdrop for special occasions, and we wanted to bring a small sense of normalcy to this holiday.”
  1. Offer a special dessert box. Just because it’s takeout doesn’t mean you can’t offer a customized cake, cupcakes, or other special dessert for the holiday. You can sell those items or even another product, like gourmet chocolates, if you can procure them.

    For example, Mrs. Fields will offer special cakes, cookies, and chocolate-covered berries at a 15% discount throughout May. Baskin-Robbins will sell customizable ice-cream cakes. Customers preorder the cake and ice-cream flavors they want.
  1. Ramp up gift-card promotions. Let customers know you are selling gift cards they can redeem later, when the restaurant reopens fully. Gift cards are a good idea, Reinstein says, because they are instant revenue for the restaurant. At the same time, you could offer your customers the opportunity to purchase them at a discount, such as a $25 gift card for just $20. It helps set up future business, he says.

    Guests who buy a $50 gift card at Olive Garden receive a $10 bonus card with their purchase. The Cheesecake Factory does the same, with $10 bonus e-cards for every $50 gift-card purchase. Cheddar’s Casual Café is offering $5 bonus cards with every $25 e-gift card sale.
  1. Thank your customers; they’ll appreciate it. One great way to say thank you for the business is to include a note or card addressed to moms and their families. “Just say thanks for thinking of us and allowing us to help celebrate the day,” Reinstein says.

    That’s what the Founding Farmers casual-dining chain is doing at its stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The restaurants are offering brunch meal kits during the Mother’s Day weekend, and each one will include a thank-you note from the restaurant to its guests.

“The great majority of us out there just want to provide services and take care of our guests,” Reinstein says. “Yes, try and make a few bucks with this, but, mostly, make people happy. If we do that, I think our guests will be very loyal to us when we do come back.”