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Delivering the Digital Restaurant: 9 Food Gifts for the Digital Age

Updated: Jan 26, 2022


Photo credits: Marcus Loke | Unsplash

In years past, we brought bottles of wine or trays of cookies as holiday gifts. This tradition has evolved, enabled by the digitization of restaurants. The modern version of bringing a bottle of wine or a tray of cookies to a party is sending your friends & family treats ordered online. The digital age has made gifting easier for the giver and for the retailer. Almost any food gift can be found online, with easy purchase and fulfillment, even for recipients who live far away. Sending thoughtful food gifts is now as easy as sending a Christmas card. Actually, even easier - the gifter doesn’t have to put on matching jammies or get a haircut to ensure a picture-perfect card!

Food gifts are the ultimate in sharing experiences rather than things. Restaurants are responding to the demand by expanding their self-definition and creating retail shops online.

In this special holiday Delivering the Digital Restaurant Speakerbox, we share some of our favorite websites for ordering gifts. The gift-givers among you will love these new ways to shop. The restaurants among you take note of these great examples for making your brand giftable. Consider which of these gifting strategies make sense for your restaurant to add next year. Leave comments below about others you love that we’ve missed.

1. Gift Card Collections -- Gift cards are a classic restaurant holiday gift. Several platforms make it easy for gifters to choose among restaurants and send funds electronically - no plastic waste, no shipping, and immediate fulfillment. Open Table has created a collection of egift cards for local restaurants and the Gift Card Mall makes it easy to find your favorite big brands.

2. Text Gifting -- The giftya website makes receiving a restaurant gift card even more frictionless. Recipients receive a text with funds that includes a personalized message and picture from the giver. Funds are tied directly to a recipient’s existing debit or credit card, and are transferred automatically when the recipient spends at the designated restaurant.

3. First-party egift cards -- Want to support your local restaurant directly and ensure no fees are lost between your purchase and the restaurant’s fulfillment of the gift? Innovated by Starbucks, online ordering systems like Toast now make this functionality available to every restaurant - like local restaurant Barley Swine (in Austin, TX). The Lettuce Entertain You group of restaurants in (Chicago, IL) also makes gifting across their portfolio of brands easy through a platform called Cashstar. Both of these are great examples of the “saasification” of restaurant technology. Functionality that used to be available only to large chains who invested heavily in custom solutions is now available to all through monthly subscriptions and percentage fees.

4. Food Subscriptions -- Want your recipient to think of you once a month for a year? Food subscriptions deliver high-quality food to help your recipient live their “Food as Identity.” ButcherBox delivers grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, and wild-caught seafood to the environmentalist on your list. Daily Harvest delivers “organic, nourishing and clean” plant-based frozen foods to the vegetarian on your list. Purple Carrot makes healthy-eating meal-planning easy, with plant-based meal kits for the vegan on your list.

5. Specialty Foods Marketplace -- Goldbelly enables gifters to send iconic local restaurants’ foods to friends who’ve moved away. Know the recipient on your list misses Chicago-style pizza? Gifters can remind their loved ones of home.

6. First-party Product Gifting -- Those wanting to directly support restaurants can order from restaurants’ own websites. The MahZeDahr Bakery in New York City has quite possibly the most beautiful website and giftable items online. Recipients will feel the indulgence and care from the gifter just through the beautiful packaging that encourages “unboxing” videos and Instagram photos. Greater’s has made their incredible ice cream available online for nationwide shipping. These businesses have invested in their first-party online ordering experiences, creating websites that rival online retail.

7. Delivery Platforms -- Not sure what your recipient likes? DoorDash, GrubHub and UberEats all sell gift cards that can be redeemed for delivery from any restaurant on the platform.

8. Specialty Wine -- Rules loosened during the pandemic for restaurants selling alcohol off-premise. Many states have extended the relaxed laws to allow restaurants to deliver alcohol or offer it for pickup. Playground DTSA offers a wine club in which fans can buy selections of wine curated by its sommelier. Using the Toast interface, gifters can reserve a 4-pack of hard-to-find wines for pickup.

9. Online cooking classes - Cozymeal offers cooking classes with trained chefs in the comfort of your own home. Put together a virtual holiday party for work-from-home coworkers or send the most challenged home-cook on your list a class to get them started cooking.

All of these sites demonstrate concepts from Delivering the Digital Restaurant:

  • Focusing on experiences over possessions

  • The value of convenience

  • Blurring lines between grocery, restaurant, and online shopping

  • Using food to share identity

  • Growing restaurant topline through new products that expand beyond the four walls

  • 3rd party marketplaces making life easier for consumers

  • SaaS tools to enable all restaurants - large and small - to participate in opportunities enabled by technology

  • Frictionless commerce

The digitization of the restaurant industry has made it easier than ever for gifters to support local restaurants and to focus on giving. It’s the thought that counts, and all of these websites help gifters be more thoughtful with less effort. Restaurants can grow topline by offering what their fans want: the ability to send a thoughtful gift while professionals take care of the product and the logistics. We look forward to 2022, when we expect even more restaurants to offer their products and services as gifts online.

Author Bio

Meredith Sandland and Carl Orsbourn are co-authors of Delivering the Digital Restaurant: Your Roadmap to the Future of Food.” After each spent 20-plus years in corporate strategy and retail food, Meredith and Carl each concluded that food in America was changing. They left their corporate jobs in search of innovation that would transform the restaurant industry. Ghost kitchens, virtual brands, digital marketing, the gig economy and lean operations are at the heart of the future they envision. For more information, visit or email

This article was originally posted in Nation's Restaurant News.



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