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Food gift cards are expected to be popular this season

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Gift-card sales are expected to be hotter than ever this season. Cards plastic and digital top the list of most-wanted gifts for the fifth consecutive year, and the National Retail Federation said consumers will spend more on gift cards this year than since before the recession. Data compiled by the blog Gift Card Granny shows that cards for retailers Kroger and Costco Wholesale as well as restaurants McDonald’s, Subway and Olive Garden are among the top 20 most requested this year.

Meanwhile, many who want to give a little something to every person who has touched their lives this year are finding that their budgets won’t stretch that far, according to a survey by The survey shows that consumers are cutting more people from their gift list as money continues to be tight. Many said they feel guilty about not being able to give the way they used to.

Some additional survey findings:

  • More than 90% of respondents would rather give gifts to everyone on their list than meet Jennifer Lopez or George Clooney.
  • 85% said they would curb spending on themselves, and 55% said they would work extra hours to be able to afford gifts for their loved ones.
  • 85% said they can’t afford to give all of the gifts they want to this year, and 92% said they would give presents to more people if they had the money
  • Nine of 10 respondents said they would rather give gifts than receive them, and 95% said giving gifts makes them happy.

The results came as no surprise to CEO Cary Chessick, who in 2008 launched Feed It Forward, a program born out of the recession and aimed at spreading some of the happiness that comes with giving. In its fourth holiday season, Feed It Forward lets people send as many as 40 $10 restaurant gift cards to friends, family and even deserving strangers, all for free. “Feed It Forward was launched in response to the tough economic times with the understanding that there is a hidden emotional gem in giving to others,” Chessick said. “This is about celebrating the gift of giving.” covers the cost of the digital gifts, which can be sent any time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Senders can opt to send via e-mail, and many are sending via e-card on Facebook, the company said. Recipients log onto, pick from among 10,000 participating restaurants and print out a gift certificate. People have given nearly $44 million in gift cards since the program launched — 12% of them to nonprofits — and gifting grew from $430,000 the first year to $1.7 million in 2010. This year, givers got off to a big start, sending $1.2 million in e-gift cards to date.

The program might be as much of a win for restaurants as it is for gift givers and recipients. Consumers typically spend more than the value of their gift card, and the average check for recipients redeeming a $10 card is $35, a spokeswoman said.

Image credit: iStockphoto

Will your restaurant offer gift-card deals this season? Do you participate in Feed It Forward? Tell us about your experience in the comments.