How to create and sell restaurant merchandise


Great food paired with the right drinks may be the crux of your business, but any savvy restaurateur knows there’s an additional income in merchandise. From branded t-shirts and hats to sauces and syrups, restaurant merchandise represents an underexploited revenue stream ripe for the tapping. 

Done right, and it can solidify your brand identity while padding the bottom line. But bringing buzzworthy merch to market takes more than just slapping some logos on cookware. Here’s how to cook up an insanely profitable restaurant retail program, garnished with pro tips for ramping up sales.

The power of restaurant merchandise

Before investing significant time and resources into a dedicated merch program, it’s wise to understand the financial and brand-building impacts restaurant retail products can offer.

On the fiscal front, well-executed merchandise generates an extremely high-margin revenue source compared to food and beverage offerings. Your standard branded t-shirt might incur £8 in production costs yet could easily retail for £25 or more—a markup most entrees could only dream of. Multiply those profits by hundreds or thousands of eager guests only too eager to buy into your culinary lifestyle, and we’re talking meaningful ancillary income.

But the upsides extend far beyond just padding the bank account. Merchandise is an extremely effective form of mobile brand advertising that gets your restaurant’s name and logo onto the streets. Each branded item becomes a roving billboard that reinforces brand awareness and strengthens customer affinity. Well-designed, high-quality pieces practically function as wearable amenities.

Need to drum up some buzz? Limited-run merchandise drops and exclusive VIP apparel creates wonderful FOMO-fueled hype. There’s a reason restaurants selling merchandise periodically launch special gear —those branded giveaways generate priceless mainstream publicity boosts. Smart restaurants start merchandising early to cultivate a distinctive brand identity from day one.

So whether you’re an upstart looking for untapped income streams or an established empire craving enhanced cultural cachet, merch should be firmly in your grasp. The real question is figuring out what products to sell and how to hawk them most effectively.

Choosing your merchandise

With the immense potential of restaurant retail firmly established, the next step is determining what actual products to peddle. This process should be an extension of your overall brand ethos and diner experience.

What’s the vibe?

Start by introspecting on your cuisine’s overarching vibe and demographic appeal. Are you a high-end, white-tablecloth destination doing elevated farm-to-table? Or maybe a funky, irreverent taco shack with a party atmosphere? Defining your brand personality will naturally point you toward merchandise that expresses the right thematic fit.

For finer dining establishments, classy items like embroidered aprons, wine accessories, specialty ingredients and upscale clothing tend to work well. Whereas trendier fast-casual and bar concepts may find success with cheekier apparel graphics, drinkware, bar tools and sauces condiments that customers can recreate signature dishes at home.

Talk to guests

It’s also wise to solicit feedback directly from your guests to gauge interest levels on different merchandise ideas. Simple survey tools or staff prompts can reveal the specific tchotchkes and wearables most likely to fly off the shelves. 

Focus on quality

Whatever you produce, quality should take precedence over unsophisticated branding cash-grabs. Investing in premium materials, ethical manufacturing and cohesive artistic direction elevates your merch from tacky trappings into highly-coveted brand artifacts. Nobody aspires to be a fad, so create merchandise with longevity and cultural relevance.

Speaking of cohesive artistic direction, now’s the time to commission a knockout logo and develop brand guidelines if you haven’t already. That distinctive identity is what you’re selling just as much as any physical product.

With a defined brand personality, keen understanding of what your customers crave and tightly-enforced aesthetic principles, you’ll be armed to introduce merch that resonates on a deeper level. 

Just be sure to start modestly while testing the waters, as being overzealous with uninformed merchandise gambles can quickly lead to higher expenses.

Producing and selling your merchandise

Once you’ve nailed down your brand-congruent merchandise concepts, it’s time to figure out manufacturing and distribution. This is where many restaurants trip up, as the logistical realities of inventory management, production minimums and sales channels often prove trickier than expected.


Your production options essentially come down to two paths: contract with a third-party merchandiser who handles the entire supply chain, or bring manufacturing and shipping in-house. The former provides a huge convenience factor but relinquishes some control over processes like artwork approvals. In-house merchandising provides tighter quality checks but considerable overhead.

Whichever route you take, be disciplined about sales projections and don’t wildly over-order inventory based on unrealistic franchise dreams. Start with controlled pilot runs and limited drops to build demand. Few things will hamstring you financially quite like having to sit on 10,000 unsold trucker hats because you got way too bullish.


On the sales front, be sure to approach retail merchandise from multiple angles:

  • In-restaurant sales: This revenue channel should be your top priority. Make merch seamlessly available during checkout flows and prominently displayed around your venue. Train staff as walking billboards who upsell branded products with the same zeal as desserts.
  • Branded ecommerce site: Invest in a dedicated online portal that extends availability beyond just in-person restaurant sales. Enable ecommerce functionality though the likes of Shopify or Wix for apparel, packaged goods, gift cards, etc.
  • Third-party marketplaces: For certain merchandise categories, it may be worthwhile listing products with alternative online retailers like Amazon. 
  • Social media: Make the most of social media marketplaces and the likes of X/Twitter to promote and sell your products. 
  • Pop-up activations: Short-term pop-up shops at event venues, retail complexes and the like can expose your merchandise to droves of new prospective buyers during promotional periods.

More information

The underlying current here is ubiquity. Make your merchandise conveniently accessible and on-display wherever your customer base is congregating, both physically and digitally. Merchandise should never be an afterthought. Incorporate it as a central component of all your branding and sales strategies from the jump.

Restaurants that successfully sold merchandise

Seeing is believing, and here are a handful of restaurants that have seen success with a merchandise line. 

  1. Bao: The Taiwanese cult restaurant Bao has experienced increased merchandise sales. Known for its innovative approach to Taiwanese cuisine, Bao’s merchandise offers another way for customers to connect with the brand.
  2. Top Cuvée: A restaurant and wine shop in North London, Top Cuvée has found that there’s a better margin on selling T-shirts than on a plate of cooked food. This insight has led to a focus on merchandise as a significant part of its revenue strategy
  3. Ikoyi: Located in London, Ikoyi has pivoted and re-invented itself during the pandemic, offering minimalist merchandise like totes and T-shirts. This approach has allowed the restaurant to maintain a connection with its customers and generate additional revenue
  4. St. JOHN: A British institution, St. JOHN offers a selection of characteristically fun and iconic T-shirts and prints. Its merchandise reflects the restaurant’s ethos and provides fans with a way to show their support
  5. Dishoom: Known for its Bombay-inspired cafes, Dishoom has ventured into merchandise with a unique offering: a compilation album featuring tracks that resonate with the restaurant’s vibe. 

Summary: Merchandise

From branded apparel and packaged foods to limited-edition collectibles, restaurant merchandise opens the door to lucrative ancillary revenue streams and priceless brand reinforcement. Elevate beyond just food service and cement your restaurant’s empire’s cultural relevance.

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