When the food arrives at the kitchen table, it tends to become sustenance, not experience. That’s why Bartaco radically expanded its merchandising program to bring a bit of the beachy lifestyle the brand is known for to the off-premises experience.

CEO Scott Lawton said it’s all about bringing turning the in-restaurant hospitality into something tangible at home. Humbly, he says the company has “played around” with it, but the company has sold out of lunchboxes and swimwear, and it can hardly keep up with cocktail shakers for its margarita kits or bottled salsas. Lawton said they may one day turn customer patios into a Bartaco facsimile.

Bartaco’s dragonfly shaker.

“It really does resonate with our customers. I think people have a relationship with Bartaco,” said Lawton. “I think we could even have outdoor furniture, there are so many things people like.”

Prior to the pandemic, he said the company played around with merchandise, selling shirts and other branded tchotchkes in locations. When dining rooms shut down and people were reluctant to go out, it became a higher priority to have that touchpoint with homebound consumers and that continues to this day. But it had to pass through the brand vision of relaxed, beachy cabana vibes without being some cheap plastic doodads.

“The bathing suits in partnership with Fair Harbor are great, they’re sustainable, they look good. It’s all stuff we’re interested in, it’s a perfect match,” said Lawton. “When they put it up for sale, they sold out immediately.”

The metal lunchbox is another example. It hits on the fun in-restaurant kids’ menu, but separates the kids’ meal from the rest of the to-go or delivery order.

“One of the things we’re really known for is the kids’ menu. We have a really healthy fun kids’ menu that parents are proud to feed their kid and the kids crave. With all this takeout, I was trying to find a way to connect with the kids, what’s something fun?” pondered Lawton.

Thinking back to the 80’s Happy Meal heyday, he said the lunchbox fit the brand and the focus on the kids’ menu. He ordered 5,000 and they all quickly sold out.

“We couldn’t believe the demand,” said Lawton. “So, we’ll keep playing with it.”

Up next, something for the old duffers who are ordering on their phones: Bartaco-branded reading glasses. There are also sauce packets for off-premises orders to create some semblance of the many tabletop sauces at the kitchen table.

He said, above all, whatever that merchandise is, it has to be a logical extension of the brand and keep the restaurant top of mind for the next visit, whether it’s at a restaurant or at home.

“It makes sense as long as it fits the overall definition of who you are, you have to have a really good sense of who you are. Customers will be drawn to it if it makes sense. That’s the key,” said Lawton. “We think about that with everything we do. Does it fit in that Bartaco gestalt? If you do that, it’ll resonate.”