Archive for the “Gift Card Strategy” Category

Understanding Comp Cards vs Gift Cards

As gift card sales come roaring back and diners return with gusto, it’s worth taking a hard look at a common but costly practice that ends up taking a toll on restaurants: using gift cards as comp cards.

Complimentary (comp) programs entitle guests to receive products or special discounts at your restaurants. Whether used as a goodwill gesture for guests or to extend a privilege to employees, providing comps is a part of doing business.

Restaurants use gift cards as a means to comp guests. Like paper certificates, guests readily recognize gift cards, which are convenient to issue, and easy to redeem. Unfortunately, comp programs follow distinct financial accounting procedures. Failure to isolate comp transactions from standard gift card transactions creates a “double taxation” penalty that can overstate your sales tax and income tax burden by as much as 12%!

Common pains of comp programs

Comps typically represent 3-5% of total sales — a meaningful slice of your business — and are often not well controlled or properly processed. The main risks of poorly administered comp programs include fraud and abuse, as well as improper financial accounting.

Fraud and Abuse – No One Wants to Lose Money
Inadequate measurement and control of comp programs can result in fraudulent behavior. Paytronix customers report that restaurants lose one in 10 controllable comp dollars to fraud. Paper certificates lack inherent controls and are particularly susceptible. Fraud is not limited to paper-based systems, though. A discount button on your POS system without appropriate controls also invites overuse and abuse.

Improper Financial Accounting = Increased Tax Burden
Improper processing of comp transactions also causes needless financial losses. Recording the value of comp transactions requires specific accounting treatment. You fall victim to the “double taxation” penalty when that treatment is applied incorrectly.

Fundamentally, this taxation penalty occurs because the comp value is a restaurant expense, not revenue. When you fail to appropriately recognize this expense, you artificially inflate your revenues, overstate your net income, and thereby overstate your income and sales tax liability. This overstating is a costly and unnecessary expense.

Gift Cards, the Common Offender
This taxation penalty often arises when comp situations are handled by issuing a gift card. A gift card is the wrong device for comp transactions. Comp cards and gift cards are both valuable elements in retaining and attracting guests. But, they are distinctly different instruments.

A gift card is sold to guests, represents taxable revenue, and appears on the balance sheet as an accounting liability until redemption.

The value on a comp card is recognized as an accounting expense. A comp should appear as a discount that lowers the subtotal of a guest’s check and reduces the amount of tax associated with the transaction. The comp is given to a guest – not sold – and therefore should be reflected as a business expense, not as revenue.

Consequences of Mixing Gift and Comp Cards
Companies have sometimes had to restate earnings to correct for improper comp treatment. This is because they could not differentiate their comp and gift card balances and were forced by auditors to expense 25% of the combined outstanding balance.

Many chains try to backout the comp transactions in their general ledger, but it is difficult to differentiate these transactions and to accurately account for the amount of comps extended. For example, some companies require that receipts be mailed to corporate for processing. This is a labor-intensive process where lost and unidentified receipts understate the true comp amounts.

Interested in the latest news on Gift Cards? Check out our 2022 Restaurant Gift Card Report

Plus, you cannot back out the sales tax. States generally conduct audits based on POS reports, not general ledger data. Assigning proper tax rates gets very complex when a check has different items with different tax rates and is paid with comp and other tenders.

In short, fraud and mishandled comp programs cost you money, so our comp cards provide you with a safe, practical way to offer complimentary value to guests while halting fraud and assuring proper accounting for every comp transaction. 

To maximize your restaurant gift card program, ask these 6 questions

Gift card programs are a staple of the restaurant industry. They benefit top-line revenue, create brand advocates out of guests, and can be used to bolster community relations, employee dining, and to recover guests. For all their benefits, however, gift cards can put a drain on accounting resources and add friction to franchisee relationships.

Managing a successful gift card program is far from simple. Below are six critical considerations that all restaurant brands must take into account in order to maximize the benefits of their gift programs.

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Protect your gift cards from fraud with these safeguards

Gift cards make gift-giving easier for consumers and provide a valuable revenue stream for restaurants. Unfortunately, gift card fraud is a common and pervasive problem for merchants. According to a recent report by Mercator Advisory Group, fraud affecting digital gift cards alone represents a $950 million annual loss to the gift card industry – and that doesn’t account for physical card fraud.

A common form of fraud that targets the merchant involves criminals’ use of technology to “guess” the gift account numbers at lightning speed, enabling them to test many randomly generated numbers until they hit a valid card. When successful, this approach, called a “brute force attack,” is the first step in enabling criminals to access the value on compromised cards.  

Any form of stored value is susceptible to fraud, including comp cards and stored value linked to a loyalty program. 

There are some steps merchants can take to reduce fraud exposure, typically provided by the gift card provider. When choosing a provider, ensure the following safeguards are in place:

Avoidance of sequential numbers. While using sequential numbers when issuing gift cards seems like a logical thing to do, it vastly increases the potential for fraud. Sequential numbers allow criminals to make educated guesses about subsequent card numbers in a series. You’ll want a provider that randomizes the number sequence on the gift cards it issues in order to prevent criminals from deducing entire card numbers. […]

The industry rallied around gift cards, but did it help?

As the COVID-19 crisis gripped the restaurant industry, a call went out for people to purchase gift cards to help keep restaurants afloat. The hope was that an increase in gift card sales would sustain restaurants while they converted to a future dominated by online ordering, takeout, and delivery.

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The media ran with the story and restaurants nationwide sent out pleas to their customer base to help with a gift card or egift purchase.

An analysis of restaurant gift card sales in early 2020 reveals that the marketing effort worked but ultimately achieved mixed results. Overall, sales dropped during the pandemic, but that drop was much less severe than we saw in overall restaurant sales during that same period.

Around the same time we saw an increase in overall load amount on the cards purchased, with most of that increase happening in Casual and Fast Casual brands. This suggests that yes, the effort did manage to keep things from getting worse and provided restaurants with a much-needed kick. However, the actual impact on business is much more difficult to discern.

Gift card loads tend to hover around the $30 range for the industry as a whole, but in March we saw that number spike as high as $60, then settle in at about $15 higher than normal, eventually falling well below the normal benchmark.

Markets with the biggest impact

When we look closer, things vary through the industry. Fine Dining, for example, saw little movement in the average price of a gift card when compared year over year, while both Fast Casual and Casual Dining brands increases of between $10 and $30 on their average gift card sales. All that said, much of that lift was gone as we entered Q2. 

It’s also worth noting that included in the “gift cards” category are recurring loads for things like app-based purchases. Your coffee app may ask for your credit card, but you are effectively buying a gift card when you reload, then spending that money over time.

Moving forward, however, we see that gift card sales remain well below last year’s levels as we head into Q2, with traditional bumps in sales that happen around Mother’s Day and Graduation season being much less pronounced than in previous years. It is possible that people have switched to more generic gift card offerings, like those from third party delivery services, but we have little evidence to draw a full conclusion.

This is worth watching. However, given that the vast majority of gift card sales happen during the holiday season, we won’t have a good idea of whether there are major changes to the marketplace until the end of 2020.