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Restaurants Try To Eat Into Holiday Retail Sales

Monday, 3 Dec 2012 | 1:26 PM ET
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Not having success finding holiday gifts at the mall? You may want to try the food court.

Restaurants are trying to whet your appetite for gift cards to dine out, mugs, candy and coffee, by throwing incentives your way.

Take Taco Bell, it has an offer where you buy $20 in gift cards and get any item free. At Starbucks, there is a "12 Days of Gifting" offer, and some items will even get you a free coffee.

These kinds of promotions are coming during the season considered to be the Super Bowl for retail. Typically, restaurants co-exist with retailers during this season, according to Matthew DiFrisco, a senior restaurant analyst at Lazard Capital Markets. Not this year.

"Normally, this is the one month they don't advertise a lot because you find that consumers are out and about and you can't control where they go. They are shopping at retailers," DiFrisco said."But, this year, oddly enough, the last month of the first quarter will likely have more advertising than the first or second month at the beginning of the quarter."

Having a destination at the mall is the key to attracting holiday shoppers.But, it's not the only thing restaurants have going for themselves right now. (Read More: Shopping Malls Grow Appetite for Restaurants)

"You can get a Darden's Olive Garden, Red Lobster or LongHorn gift card at almost any drugstore these days. It is driving double-digit growth now year over year," DiFrisco added.

In fact, more than a third of holiday shoppers plan to buy restaurant gift cards this season, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, the world's largest retail trade association. That trend has been holding steady over the past three years. (Read More: Black Friday's Latest Victim: Restaurants)

Anne Harrigan, a 32-year-old Albany, N.Y., radio station program director, is one of the shoppers helping to drive this trend. Restaurant gift cards are near the top of her Christmas shopping list.

"If I give you $50 to a restaurant, you can get a full meal. A $10 gift card in most coffee places will be used," Harrigan said."Sometimes, I fear with stores, will the cards get used or will it end up being like getting a discount. Will they really shop there?"

For Harrigan, the answer is easier than deciding to dine in or eat out.

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com. Follow Stephanie Landsman @StephLandsman

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