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RB’s 2021 Restaurant Holiday Gift Guide

Pajamas, vodka and lip balm. Chains have everything for that restaurant lover on your gift list.

Nothing brings out the crazy restaurant chain marketing ideas quite like the holiday season. Some time ago it was decided that people needed things like bacon-scented candles and rugs that look like an elderly southern colonel. And now we get hit by an endless supply of bonkers branded merchandise.

I say this lovingly. This Thanksgiving, attendees of the Maze Family Thanksgiving Shindig will pour gravy from a White Castle “Cravey Boat” over their Cheddar Bay Biscuit stuffing. My youngest will probably still be wearing a fried chicken onesie from KFC.

Fast food is my life, apparently. And so, it rests upon my shoulders to provide you with this important service, Restaurant Business’s annual Holiday Gift Guide to chain branded gifts. The restaurant chain lover on your holiday list—or, you know, maybe just yourself—could use a lot of these things.

This is probably particularly true with the first entry.

vodka fries

Arby’s fry-flavored vodka

Look, Arby’s just wants you to relax, OK? This is the same company that in 2020 brought you a pillow shaped like a deep-fried turkey that you put over your head, after all.

This year, the company has released the type of hard liquor you will inevitably need to get through the holidays.

Arby’s vodka, distilled from potatoes by Tattersall Distilling, comes in two flavors that may or may not taste like fries. “Curly Fry” is distilled with cayenne, paprika, onion and garlic and “preserves the distinguished and authentic flavor profile of the traditional Arby’s Curly Fry.”

The “Crinkle Fry Vodka” features kosher salt and sugar “to honor the rich tradition of salted potato shapes.”

The booze costs $59.99 a bottle and you have one more chance to get it on Monday from ArbysVodka.com.

white castle shirt

The White Castle Dumbgood shirt

Ugly holiday sweaters are so 2015. I want a shirt adorned with a photo of a boxy fast-food restaurant.

Thankfully, White Castle and Dumbgood are here for this. The button-down shirt features a full-color photo of a White Castle restaurant, perfect for wearing completely open while you troll the slot machines in Vegas at 2 a.m.

There are plenty of other options available at the “House of Crave” website, like the aforementioned Cravey Boat so you can serve gravy like me. There is also the holiday sweater, mugs, a pint glass, keychain, boxer shorts, checkered sweatpants and a tumbler.


Sonic’s Cherry Pajama set

At some point in the recent past, someone decided to do a video of their family all wearing matching pajamas and now you can’t get away from those matching pajama pictures.

Mine will be the last family on earth that does this, no matter how much my wife begs, and even if those matching pajamas are ratty tshirts and boxer shorts.

That said, if you are in the mood for branded pajamas this is definitely your year, as plenty of chains are offering them. The version from Sonic looks almost sensible. They cost $70 at the “Sonic Swag Shop.”

Or you can get socks or tshirts, sweatshirts, beanies or pins.

angel food cake

Smoothie King Angel Food Lip Balm

This lip balm sounds awesome. It is supposedly flavored like Smoothie King’s most popular smoothie, the strawberry-and-banana flavored “Angel Food.”

Unfortunately, I would use it twice and then lose it. I have 1,000 tubes of lip balm, which collectively have been used about 400 times, hidden in various nooks and crannies throughout my house. I can find none of them.

The FBI couldn’t find them if they raided my house. But they’re all there. Laughing at me or doing whatever tubes of lip balm do when we’re not looking.

But, for that brief moment when I would use it, my lips would taste like a smoothie all day and that’s not bad.

Smoothie King has lots of other products on its gear site. Because it caters to the healthy set, those items include a yoga mat and a towel.

gift card

A parade of gift cards

Restaurants love gift cards. Love them. Because when we get a gift card, we do one of two things:

  • Run out IMMEDIATELY and buy more than what’s on the card.
  • Put it aside and never use it at all.

In both instances, the restaurant profits because either somebody gave them money for nothing or it got someone into said restaurant quickly. I have collected many gift cards over the years and, unlike lip balm, I know where all of them are—in a box just inside my back door to remind me of their existence every time I leave.

Suffice it to say, restaurants are offering all kinds of gift cards this year. BJ’s will give you a $15 bonus if you buy a $50 gift card on Cyber Monday. Cameron Mitchell Restaurants will give you an extra $25 if you buy a $100 gift card. Red Lobster is giving 10% discounts on its online purchases of gift cards.

kfc chicken mitten bucket

KFC’s Finger Lickin’ Chicken Mitten Bucket Hugger

True story: When KFC sent out its release announcing this product, I wrote the story primarily so my colleague Joe Guszkowski would have to read the phrase “Finger Lickin’ Chicken Mitten Bucket Hugger” on our daily podcast, RB Daily. I put it in there twice for good measure.

That’s just the type of person I am, putting challenges in front of my editors so they push themselves for greatness. And by all accounts Joe succeeded.

The bucket hugger is a knitted sweater, complete with mittens on either side, for KFC’s chicken buckets, to keep your hands warm. You cannot actually buy the sweaters at this point, because it was a giveaway for bucket orders this month.

But we add this as a nod to KFC, which never fails to provide us with some sort of product to chuckle about every holiday season—whether it’s a fire log that smells like chickenor a bearskin rug with Colonel Sanders’ head on it. We sometimes wonder what they serve in the test kitchen in Louisville.

This also ends our annual holiday gift guide. Please go out and hug your buckets responsibly.  

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