Market To Market: Helping Restaurants Recover and Reopen


For many, getting through a global pandemic has meant plenty of stress-eating—just not always at restaurants. With restaurants temporarily shut down last year and tens of thousands closing for good, people often calmed their nerves and fed their families from their own kitchens. (Did you even quarantine if you didn’t make homemade bread?) 

Domino’s Pizza sales revealed a pandemic pizza boom, with the company generating $240 million the first half of 2020, a 30-percent increase over the previous year, according to Fortune. Flour and other baking necessities flew off store shelves almost as fast as toilet paper. King Arthur, a 231-year-old flour brand, saw its retail flour sales triple when the pandemic began last spring, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. 

After weeks of quarantining and months of doing almost everything from home, sitting down at a restaurant feels like a distant memory. But food establishments of all sizes and sorts persevered and looked for new and innovative ways to serve their customers. The restaurant industry, which Research and Markets projects to reach $4.2 trillion by 2024, is nothing if not creative. 

When restrictions lifted, some restaurants rolled out make-at-home meal kits and family-sized to-go meals. Others added plastic shields to check-out counters, began taking temperature checks at the door, and offered patrons contactless payment options and curbside pickup. Some restaurants became more like general stores, selling eggs, meat and other grocery staples. 

While the pandemic has led to the closure of nearly one in six restaurants in the U.S., according to the National Restaurant Association, the industry is heating up again. Food trucks and farmers’ markets are growing especially fast, with 1,734 and 211 openings, respectively, in the third quarter of 2020.

In the year ahead, restaurants will continue to adapt and strive to fill their (socially distanced) tables once again. New restaurants—especially those with open-air formats that allow for safe distancing—are already emerging at pre-pandemic levels, according to Yelp. 

Whether food establishments are reopening after an extended closure or opening their doors for the first time, promotional products distributors can help them navigate the path ahead. Through promotional items, restaurants can educate about safety measures, promote specials, introduce new offerings and share how patrons can savor their favorite foods on their own terms.   


More than almost anything (including going on vacation, going to the movies and attending sporting events), people want to get back to their favorite sit-down restaurants. According to Datassential, 84 percent of people say they miss dining in restaurants—an activity that is second only to visiting in person with loved ones. 

Dining establishments can return the love through promotional products. If customers aren’t ready to sit down inside a restaurant yet, dining establishments can connect with them through takeout. Instead of sending their carryout meals home in a disposable bag, eateries can package items in a logoed bag customers can use again. Restaurants can also use promotional products to tap into trends like #TakeoutTuesday or #CarryoutWednesday.

While it may be some time before patrons pack into restaurants for Sunday brunch or crowd into sports bars to watch a big game, recovery is well under way. As re-openings expand this year, restaurants can use promotional campaigns to highlight COVID-friendly operations and let their employees and diners know they stand with them. 


  • The total economic impact of the restaurant industry is more than $2.5 trillion
  • Restaurants employ more women managers than any other industry
  • The restaurant industry is projected to add 1.6 million jobs by 2030

Source: National Restaurant Association


Most restaurant patrons remain cautious about dining indoors. Through promotional campaigns, restaurants can educate them about their safety protocols and highlight other ways to enjoy their foods, from order-ahead services to pick-up shelves. 

  • Getting food from a drive-thru: 78%
  • Getting curbside pickup: 72%
  • Getting restaurant food delivered: 68%
  • Going inside a restaurant to get a takeout order: 65%
  • Dining in a restaurant’s outdoor seating area: 50%
  • Getting drinks in a bar’s outdoor seating area: 45%
  • Dining inside sit-down restaurants: 38%
  • Dining inside fast-food restaurants: 36%
  • Getting drinks inside at bars: 35%

Source: QSR Magazine 


Here’s some insight into the opportunities that restaurants
can tap into now:

  • 76% say they are more likely to visit a restaurant with locally sourced food
  • 63% of consumers say they would rather spend money on an experience such as a restaurant meal over purchasing an item from a store
  • 61% of employed adults say they are more likely to pick up takeout food on the way home from work than they were in 2018
  • 58% are more likely to incorporate restaurant-prepared items, such as a main dish, side, or dessert, into their meal than they were in 2018
  • 58% say they are more likely to have restaurant food delivered than they were in 2018
  • 56% of those age 21 and older say they would likely order alcoholic beverages if they were offered as part of a restaurant’s food delivery
  • 52% say purchasing takeout or delivery food is essential to how they live
  • 49% say they are likely to choose a restaurant based on how much it supports charitable activities and the local community
  • 48% say discounts for dining on less-busy days would make them choose one restaurant over another



The pandemic has impacted food establishments in different ways. Restaurants in these 10 states felt the most severe impact in terms of year-over-year revenue:

State                   Average Revenue Down
South Carolina......................59%
New York..............................53%
North Carolina......................46%

Source: Stacker 


Before customers ask if a restaurant offers to-go margaritas by the gallon, they first want to hear about its safety measures. Restaurants can use promotional products to communicate the initiatives that matter most to patrons. Consumers most want to hear about the topics below:

  • Measures to ensure food safety: 49%
  • Measures to ensure employee safety: 47%
  • Measures to ensure safety of takeout and delivery: 44%
  • Service updates: 36%
  • Sanitation steps: 35%
  • Sales promotions: 29%
  • Involvement in the local community: 21%
  • Employee benefits: 20%
  • New menu items: 18%
  • To-go alcohol options: 12%

Source: Datassential


At the start of the pandemic, three decades of restaurant jobs—6.1 million—were temporarily wiped out in March and April alone, according to the National Restaurant Association. Fortunately, by the end of last year, restaurants had rehired approximately 3.44 million workers. As the industry continues to recover this year, food establishments can look to promotional items to recruit, reward and celebrate the chefs, baristas, servers and other staff members who keep the businesses running. 



Difficult times call for delicious foods—at least according to a study from OnePoll and Farm Rich. During the pandemic, the average American enjoys comfort meals five times per week and indulges in comfort food snacks six times a week. The most craved foods last year? Pizza, hamburgers and ice cream. According to the study, nearly half (41 percent) of people turn to comfort foods because they bring them happiness while 39 percent say these foods give them something to look forward to during times of uncertainty. 


The pandemic has caused a rush for fast food, leading to slower lines at the drive-thru. The average wait time in 2020 slowed by nearly half a minute, according to an annual study by SeeLevel HX. 


The Playbook To Restart Businesses, a PPB supplement, provides a visual journey through seven different types of businesses, including restaurants, with checklists of product ideas and suggestions to help distributors assist their clients in jumpstarting their business by incorporating promo products. Download it free at; an ad-free version is also available for distributors to share with their buyers.


With the Pocket Card Holder, food establishments can send a message and promote their brand with every gift or membership card they sell. Each holder is digitally printed in full color on two sides. 

Warwick Publishing Company  /  PPAI 114154, S7  / 


When customers pick up food or have it delivered, send it home in this Clear Frosted Shopper. Designed with a stylish frosted look, it's sized at 16 by 12 inches with six-inch gussets and is made from three mil high-density plastic so it's sturdy enough for repeated uses. Features include fused soft loop handles for additional strength and a cardboard bottom insert for stability. 

American Ad Bag  /  PPAI 111067, S10  /


With edge-to-edge full-color graphics and a one-piece minimum, the Tea Towel is an eye-catching and affordable way for restaurants and bars to stay visible.  

Pro Towels  /  PPAI 112755, S8  /


Restaurants can use Custom Coins to connect with customers in various ways, from using them as tokens for free drinks to giving them as VIP admission tickets. Most of the metals are antimicrobial. 

Osborne Coinage Co.  /  PPAI 112630, S3  / 


Complete with two scoring platforms and two sets of throwing bags, the Regulation Cornhole Set makes a fun addition to any bar or restaurant patio. The entire landing surface of the scoring platform can be logoed with a four-color process imprint, making it a highly visible way to show off a brand.

AJJ Enterprises  /  PPAI 429354, S2  /


The Turned Edge Menu Holders allow restaurants to switch out a paper menu between patrons, eliminating cross-contamination. Food establishments can also disinfect the laminated holder between uses to ensure a sanitary dining experience without degrading the menu holder’s quality. 

The Leslie Co., Inc.  /  PPAI 112363, S4  /


Equipped with wheels and available in sizes to accommodate sitting and standing employees, the Mobile Health Guard Shields allow restaurants to adhere to safety protocols amid the pandemic. Each shield is made from durable, thick acrylic. 

Visions  /  PPAI 110751, S8  /


As customers continue to dine al fresco, even while temps remain chilly, wrapping up in a blanket is a trend they are embracing. Restaurants can provide blankets for purchase at the hostess stand or in a gift shop, along with other branded items such as drinkware. The 50-by-60-inch Rustic Ranch Throw is made of 100-percent microfiber polyester faux-leather face with a 100-percent microfiber polyester mink lining and a whip stitch edge finish.

Terry Town  /  PPAI 230911, S7  /


With the 16-ounce Glass Drinking Jar With Lid, wineries, bars and breweries can send patrons home with a useful gift that will keep their name top of mind.

Allen Company  /  PPAI 113879, S5  /


Whether restaurant workers are serving patrons outdoors or delivering warm meals, the Hexa Synthetic Jacket keeps them cozy while showcasing the dining establishment’s brand name. Add a logo across the left chest, down the left sleeve, on the center outside back or on the center inside back. 

Hexa|Custom  /  PPAI 767010, S1  /  


Audrey Sellers is a Dallas, Fort Worth-based writer and former associate editor of PPB.

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