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Restaurant Promotions: Don't Make this Mistake

Updated on February 18, 2019
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is a promotional products expert and author of SWAG: How to Choose and Use Promotional Products for Marketing Your Business.


You've just finished a great meal at your favorite restaurant and then the check arrives. In the folder is your check and a pen... for a restaurant, but not the one at which you're currently dining.

Ack! And, yes, this has actually happened. What restaurant would even think of presenting a competitor's promotional pen to their customers?

Actually, the restaurant isn't doing this intentionally. Here's what happens, along with some ways in which they could avoid this mistake with their restaurant promotions.

Promotional Pen Panic

Agreed, restaurant owners have to watch their pennies! It's a tough business and profit margins can be very thin. So saving money by not investing in a promotional item such as branded pens seems like a good idea. Using generic non-imprinted pens from the office supply is an attractive alternative. Actually, that's not a bad idea if money is really tight and it would be a better choice than the following scenario.

Some owners do realize that promotional pens with logo are a good idea and do invest in them. Then the pens (naturally) start disappearing. Restaurant guests often swipe them when they sign off on their dining checks. That's really a good thing because it builds the establishment's brand, even though owners may see it as dollars walking out the door. They need to remember it's an advertising expense!

Then there are some owners who accuse their servers of stealing bunches of the pens. So how do these owners sometimes attempt to resolve the situation? They panic and tell their servers to provide pens for guests to use... at the servers' expense. To meet this new work requirement and expense, the servers swipe free promo pens from every imaginable business. Specimens observed in dining check folders over the years include:

  • Competing restaurants (Worst possible! This "servers' revenge" tactic hurts both the employing restaurant and, ultimately, the servers.)
  • Banks
  • Real estate agents and brokers
  • Schools and colleges
  • Hospitals and health care (Ewww! Where has this been?)
  • Auto care (Again, ewww!)
  • Car dealers

So what's a restaurant owner to do?

Controlling Promotional Pen Costs

Certainly, no restaurant owner wants to have runaway promotional costs for items such as pens. So here are some ideas to help control the cost while still building the brand:

  • Go Generic. If imprinted promotional pens are out of the budget, purchasing inexpensive unbranded pens from an office supply or online retail site is an option to maintain consistency throughout the restaurant and avoid having other business' promotions filter into restaurant server use.
  • Buy in Bulk. One of the easiest ways to lower the per piece cost for promotional pens is to buy in bulk quantities. Though not all diners will swipe a pen, purchasing a quantity to cover a significant number of total annual dining guests can help lower the overall cost and keep the branding consistent throughout the year. Watch for promotional pen sales and stock up!
  • Build the Brand into the Budget. Forcing servers to personally absorb a promotional or administrative expense, such as promo pens, can create negativity in the workplace. Add the cost of the pens into the overall pricing strategy and expect that they'll walk out the door!
  • Use Pens as a Business Card Alternative. Having the restaurant logo on the pen is great. But having the name, specialties/cuisine served, location, website and phone is preferred over a logo if imprinting space is limited. Logos can eat up a lot of space on minuscule pen imprint areas.

The Penless Future

While all of these suggestions are good ideas with current low tech systems in place, the world is beginning to convert to electronic restaurant check systems. Some of these systems position payment kiosks at tables so that guests can pay and leave anytime they wish. More convenience for everyone: guests, servers and restaurant owners. No checks, credit slips or promo pens to lose either! Bye, bye branded pens!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2014 Heidi Thorne


Submit a Comment
  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 years ago from Chicago Area

    You got that right, jtrader! A lot of restaurants forget that this is really cheap advertising that's walking out the door. Thanks for the comment and support!

  • jtrader profile image


    5 years ago

    Building the brand into the budget is a wise move. Once the pens go out to as many people as possible, they are reaching potential clients. Voted up and interesting!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 years ago from Chicago Area

    So impressed! Went to a local Macaroni Grill yesterday and the waiter used a Macaroni Grill branded pen AND had a supply of the same pens neatly lined up in his service apron pockets. That's what I'm talking about! Kudos to the restaurant for attending to this important detail!

  • alancaster149 profile image

    Alan R Lancaster 

    5 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

    Heidi, at the moment staying dry is a knack here, not keeping warm. Keep smiling.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hello FlourishAnyway! Another valid point about inconsistency. Ugh! Even if they got blank pens that were all the same color it would be an improvement. Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful week ahead!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 years ago from Chicago Area

    Agreed, alancaster149! The examples are everywhere. But the worst and most frequent offenses of this type I've found are in dining establishments. Penny wise, pound foolish. Thanks for checking in! Hope you're staying warm this winter!

  • alancaster149 profile image

    Alan R Lancaster 

    5 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

    This example could have been used with perhaps a couple of others to illustrate the point, i.e. catering (as above), financial (say, an accountant using promo material from a rival) or a shop promoting itself through a near rival.

    (The options are probably there in the business pages of a local newspaper).

    The bottom line is of course not skimping on image, through staff or promo materials bought through a professional organisation (agency or promo company). Nevertheless interesting on its own, Heidi. There's no accounting for some bozos' cost-cutting wheezes.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image


    5 years ago from USA

    Excellent point with competitors' branding and even with inconsistent branding from every other business in the community other than your own.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 years ago from Chicago Area

    Aw, thanks, billybuc, for the kind words! I've seen so many small biz folks (yours truly included) stumble on little stuff that can really help (or hurt) a business. So I try to make it as practical as possible. Thanks so much for taking a few moments of your weekend to visit. Cheers!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    5 years ago from Olympia, WA

    A business owner would do well to pay attention to every one of your manage to get to the nuts and bolts of the business world in a practical manner that anyone should be able to follow. Well done my friend. Have a great weekend.


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