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How Your Restaurant Can Generate Extra Revenue Right Now

Kyle Greco

October 26, 2020

There’s no getting around it: it’s hard out there for small business owners right now. The COVID pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy, putting many community staples in peril. 

One such staple might be your restaurant. While you might have already started to get back to normal with the return of outdoor dining, the sting of weeks without patronage likely hasn’t gone away quite yet. And with the stress of a potential “twindemic” on the horizon, you may feel like your business is on shaky ground.

That means you’re going to need to get creative. What else can you do to generate revenue? A T-shirt fundraiser is one of the most obvious solutions. Believe it or not, this isn’t too hard to pull off.

But Wait, Who Wants To Wear Restaurant Apparel?

In a word, everyone. The t-shirt is a domain no longer dominated by sports teams, bands, and brands. Podcasts have their own mech now. YouTube channels do, too. People want to rep the things they love, and wearing a t-shirt is probably the easiest way to do that.

20 years ago, the only restaurants that sold merch probably already had the “tourist trap” label. No longer. In fact, if you’re wearing a restaurant shirt out and about, you either A) used to work there or B) are a regular. Either way, it reinforces people’s sense of community, making them feel like an insider.


A shirt can make someone smile, just like their favorite meal.


That feeling has only grown since the pandemic, with restaurants of all kinds getting in on the action. You’re not going to find a better time to start selling merch of your own.

Who Benefits From Selling Restaurant Apparel?

Even if your restaurant isn’t in imminent danger of closing, selling t-shirts and other merch can still be a great move for your business. It stands to benefit everyone in the equation that makes your eatery tick.

Your Employees

If your business is in an area that has opened back up recently, your staff probably feels pretty relieved right now. However, that doesn’t mean everything is back to normal.

Remember that these folks may not have had income for the past weeks or months, and may need to play catch-up financially. You can help them do this by selling restaurant merch and splitting the proceeds among them. This leads to happier (and more productive) workers. 

The Business

When are you ever going to turn down the opportunity for people to pay you to advertise for your restaurant? Pretty much never, right?

That’s what selling restaurant t-shirts is, in essence. You want to increase your business’s profile? Customers who buy your merch are saying “we’ll be sure to put your name out there.” They’re your brand ambassadors, and you got them for free.

Your Customers

Patrons who love your restaurant want to know that it’s going to be around for a long time to come. So they might feel powerless upon first hearing that your business has suffered, or that their favorite staff members have fallen on hard times.

A t-shirt marketing campaign like this gives them an easy way to do their part in helping everyone out. It might also help strengthen their sense of community, something the National Alliance on Mental Illness says is crucial, especially in times like these.


Keeping the restaurant-patron relationship strong is paramount.


Steps to Develop a Successful Apparel Strategy

Have A Great Design

What makes people want to buy a t-shirt? Their loyalty to your restaurant will certainly play a part. Some people will buy your shirt just to show their support. But it’s up to you (or whoever designs your shirt) to convince the majority of your customers to click that ‘Add to Cart’ button.  

And it’s not that most of your customers are jerks. They have plenty of other items vying for their attention and wallet at all times, but especially now. A t-shirt with an ordinary design might not stick in their minds the same way a t-shirt with a funny, clever, or cool design will. 

For those reasons, you might want to hire a local artist to create a t-shirt design for you, or ask one of your artistically inclined employees to try their hand at making something. At the very least, read the reams and reams of things we’ve written about making a good design. 

Start Small

So you have a dynamite logo to go on your shirt. Does that mean it’s time to order 10,000 shirts?


Remember, the point of making these t-shirts is to make money, not lose it. If demand for these shirts ends up being off the charts, you can always order more. On the other hand, you can’t really return already-printed shirts just because people don’t want to buy them.

Limiting the number you sell better ensures your success. Why? Well, first off, it drives up demand. Marketing anything as part of a “limited run” can perk up customers’ ears, even if that limitation is ultimately artificial. 

As such, your initial run should be in one shirt color with universal appeal. Heather grey looks good on pretty much everyone, as does black. If there’s demand for multiple runs, you can branch out to other colors.

You’ll need to be careful in terms of picking how many of each size to get. Refer to the blog post we wrote about it for more guidance. 

Make It Part of The Work Uniform

If your restaurant is open again in some capacity, you have to advertise somewhere in-house that you have t-shirts for sale. Hanging one up by the cash register is an excellent idea, but an even better one might be incorporating it into the staff uniform. 


Your staff can wear the new shirts with pride.


This shouldn’t be too hard, as t-shirts are probably the most comfortable thing ever to work in, and a staple of casual restaurant workwear. To give your staff these shirts can be a positive sign to them, as well. It says “we’re going to do everything we can to help one another and get through this tough time.”

That sign of solidarity will resonate with your customers, too. When they see their favorite staff member come up to their table wearing a special new shirt, they won’t be able to resist asking about it (and hopefully buying a few, too)

Step Up Your Social Media Presence

Since things have opened back up, restaurants have doubled down on social media. Places that previously rarely posted are now filling up our feeds with that sweet, sweet restaurant content we all crave. What was previously untapped marketing potential is finally being realized, and just in time, too.

If your restaurant is doing the same, advertising your new t-shirts should be a cinch. Familiarize yourself with Facebook and Instagram ads (they behave differently, though owned by the same company) so you can beat the algorithm. 

Restock as Necessary

Once you’ve successfully sold the last of your initial run of t-shirts, it’s time to start the process again! Or not. You ultimately have to be the judge about the role merch will play as a revenue generator going forward. Maybe It’s something you’ll want to maintain on a regular basis. Maybe you’ll stick to doing limited runs of things every now and then. Or maybe this was just a one-off. Assess whether you and your team have the bandwidth (and money) to continue pursuing this


Kyle Greco

About the Author

Kyle Greco is the resident writer at RushOrderTees, where he blends word nerdery with his love for T-shirts. A graduate of The College of New Jersey, he is interested in exploring the intersection of clothing and culture. In his spare time, he makes music, builds guitars, and cooks with his wife. He enjoys hot dogs, sports, and collecting too many hats.