Restaurant Holiday Promotions for a Successful Season

By Jackie Prange

Holiday place setting

Each year, restaurant holiday promotions bring people together to eat, drink, and be merry. With everything from corporate parties to family reunions taking place, the last month of the year traditionally offers restaurateurs huge potential to drive additional sales, attract new customers, and grab a piece of the holiday profit pie.

Of course, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and extra safety precautions such as social distancing, the restaurant holiday rush will look a little bit different for restaurants this year. However, if you plan ahead, prepare a holiday strategy, and invest in the right tools, there are still plenty of opportunities to cash in on this annual flurry of diners (even if those diners are enjoying your food from the comfort of their own homes).

Whether you’ve started thinking about your restaurant’s holiday promotions or not, we’ve got some great tips to help you plan ahead. This list might not tell you who’s been naughty or nice, but it will definitely prepare your restaurant for success this holiday season, including:

  • Top priorities for starting your restaurant holiday promotions early
  • How to manage and hire staff for this busy season
  • How to spruce up your menu to attract new customers and delight loyal ones
  • Ideas for marketing your holiday promotions
  • How to boost off-premise sales during the holidays
  • Tips for hosting safe events and private parties

How to Get Started with Your Restaurant Holiday Promotions: Top 3 Priorities

The holiday season always creeps up quickly and this year it comes with some extra challenges that might have you feeling anxious about whether you can pull it off. But fret not, you can hop on the holiday train today in three quick steps. 

1. Create a Festive Environment

First things first: turn on the tunes and turn them up! Nothing puts people in a festive mood more than some seasonal sounds – even if they’re just popping in for pickup.

And if indoor dining is an option, get out the decorations and spruce up the place. Even with proper safety precautions in place, you can still make your restaurant a warm, comforting, and inviting space.

2. Call Your Suppliers

In order to avoid any mishaps, you’ll want to contact your suppliers and confirm if they’ll be closed or delivering on different days due to time off or holiday business hours. Keep in mind that COVID-19 may also have caused some supply chain issues, so make sure everything you need will be available.

3. Shout It From the Rooftops

Get on your social media accounts and let your customers know that you’re open for business this holiday season – even if it’s just for takeout and delivery. Post about your holiday hours, must-try seasonal menu items, and your stocking stuffer-friendly gift cards. You can also dial up your sidewalk sign and get the word out to street traffic.

Now that you’re on a roll, let’s move on to a more in-depth look at making the most of this special time of year.

Friends around a table raising their glasses

Spruce Up Your Staff

Limit your stresses this holiday season by getting your staff organized in advance. Whether it’s rehiring restaurant staff, training new employees, or just scheduling your current ones, making sure you have all hands on deck during the holiday rush is a must. 

Remember, it’s important to prep staff and schedules as early as possible to accommodate the busy nights ahead. 

Know What to Expect 

Normally, the best way to make a staffing plan for the holidays is to start by reviewing last year’s sales data so you can forecast how many staff members you will need.

Though this year likely won’t line up exactly with last year, you should still pay special attention to the specific days when your restaurant sales experienced a spike. Even if fewer diners are coming in, certain local events or major holidays like New Years Eve may still lead to a surge in takeout and delivery orders. Look for patterns and then have a conversation with your permanent staff about expectations for this year and availability. 

Scheduling Tips 

Scheduling during the holidays can be hectic and stressful for owners and managers due to time-off requests and ongoing holiday events. To avoid unnecessary stress for yourself and your staff during your restaurant holiday promotions, consider these four tips: 

  1. Post employee schedules at least two weeks or a month in advance to provide adequate time for employees to plan their holiday activities around their schedule. Working this far in advance will give you greater control over covering shifts and planning for shift swaps. 
  2. Give scheduling preference to your employees who are not taking time off to show your appreciation to them. 
  3. Remember to be flexible – don’t schedule the same employee for double shifts all week unless that employee specifically asks for the additional hours. 
  4. If you have essential staff members you know you’ll need more than usual, such as delivery drivers, pull them aside and explain why you’ll need them to work more hours before creating the schedule. This will save you the time and headache of rearranging shifts and finding replacements if they’re not open or available for an increased holiday schedule. 
Sheet of paper on the table with the restaurant schedule template on it net to a cup of espresso
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Manage Time-Off Requests 

Speaking of scheduling, ask everyone who is planning on taking time off during the holidays to submit their time-off requests as far in advance as possible. Offering flexibility is a gesture that can go the distance when it comes to your staff members, but be clear with your expectations too. Think of offering options like, whoever works on Christmas Eve can have New Year’s Eve off, or whoever works on a holiday gets a free meal. 

Hire Seasonal Staff 

The easiest way to find temporary employees is through referrals. Ask your current staff if they have any friends or acquaintances with experience in the hospitality industry looking for work right now. Make it worth their while with a small hiring bonus or gift card for anyone who brings in a new face.

Another option for finding seasonal workers quickly is to utilize a staffing agency with a database of trained and experienced hospitality workers ready to work whenever you need them. Most staffing agencies have the option to hire workers on a seasonal or per-shift basis. 

Train Fast & Efficiently 

Your staff can make or break the customer experience so it’s imperative to make sure that your new, seasonal staff members are well-trained on your point of sale system (POS), online ordering system, menu, and values or mission. Proper training and exceptional service means that your customers – new and regular – will most likely have a positive experience, become repeat customers, and best of all, recommend your restaurant to family and friends. 

Pre-Shift Huddles 

Set your staff up for success by setting aside five or ten minutes before a big shift or private event to go over what’s to come. Brief them on the menu, how many orders are expected, any pertinent details, and your expectations. Keeping your staff in the know means they will be empowered to consistently execute even when things are busy.

Father and son dining together in a dining room decorated for the holidays

Spice Up Your Menu 

Your menu is the icing on your venue’s gingerbread house: it’s what keeps all the other parts together!

This year, get creative with your menu to increase your bottom line, entice customers to order, and to bring joy. 

Invigorate Your Menu with Festive Flavor 

Millions of Americans eat out during the holidays, so jump on this opportunity and add festive flavor to your menu to drive extra margin. Think about what seasonal flavors you can infuse into your current menu, or consider creative ways to modify some of your current menu items.

And remember to apply the same festive flare to your takeout and delivery menu as well. Make sure that you have some exciting holiday dishes available for off-premise dining to give customers plenty of ways to enjoy your food.

Create a Festive Drink Menu 

If you serve cocktails in addition to food, offer a few holiday drink specials too. After all, there’s no better way to get into the holiday spirit than by drinking spiked apple cider or a pumpkin and nutmeg martini topped with whipped cream. This is an especially great way to boost check sizes if your state or province allows you to offer alcohol for pickup or delivery.

Leave room for non-alcoholic drinks too – an easy add-on for those who want to take a break, but still have a long to-do list to get through. 

Co-Market with Suppliers 

Contact all of your food and alcohol distributors and ask them about holiday discounts and promotions. Maybe your wine distributor is featuring a kosher red wine bundle at a 30% discount just in time for Hanukkah, or perhaps your food supplier is providing free shipping on all holiday orders. 

Spread the Social Love

Don’t forget to promote your holiday menus on your social media accounts and website so customers know what you’re offering in advance. Encourage customer engagement by asking a question such as, “What’s your favorite holiday dish?” or, “Should we serve turkey or ham for our Thanksgiving menu?” By doing this you will have direct interaction from your customers, and may even get some good menu tips. 

You should also use your social media accounts and website to provide customers with need-to-know information about how they can order from you this holiday season. If you’re open for in-person dining, let them know your hours and whether they need to make reservations in advance. And if you’re limited to takeout and delivery, make sure customers know whether to order directly from your website, from a third-party delivery app, or by calling your restaurant.

Prix Fixe Menu 

A prix fixe menu is a great option for dine-in or takeout during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. With the increased demand to eat out during the holidays, a slimmed-down version of your menu can help keep your customers happy and your staff’s stress levels at bay. Your kitchen staff can better plan for the number of guests and you can guarantee set revenue from each table you turn or each takeout order you fill. 

Creating a prix fixe menu as your restaurant holiday promotion is a sure way to increase speed and efficiency. And it’s pretty easy to whip up. 

Here are some quick tips for creating a prix fixe menu:

  • Set Two Price Points: Consider offering a two-tiered prix fixe. Set a fixed price for a two-course meal, and another for a three-course meal. 
  • Follow the “3 of Each” Rule: There should be, at minimum, three varied offerings per section. For example, a well-rounded selection of mains would include a pasta, a steak, and a vegetarian option. 
  • Review Your Best Sellers: Review your sales and inventory reports from the last year, and look at your most popular dishes. You’ll want to offer something similar, to encourage guests to order without the fear of missing out on their favorite dish. Just make sure these dishes will travel-well if you’re offering your prix fixe menu for takeout.
Family and friends gathered around a holiday table

Spread The Holiday Cheer

Unless your venue has the ability to telepathically send messages to potential customers, you need to market and promote all of your upcoming restaurant holiday promotions.

Holiday Cards or Email

For your regular patrons, send out personalized holiday postcards or emails. Write a nice message like, “Dear Megan, Happy Holidays from all of us at Jack’s CrabShack. We appreciate your continued business and look forward to serving you again in the near future. Please enjoy a complimentary glass of Champagne on us when you spend $25 from December 23rd to January 1st.”

Offer Gift Cards

For years, gift cards have been the single most requested gift in America and the most popular gift cards given are restaurant-related. If your restaurant isn’t running restaurant holiday gift card promotions, you’re missing out on a gold mine.

Gift cards also have the added benefit of providing some short-term cash flow for your business and bringing customers back to your restaurant after the holiday season ends.

Promote on Social Media

Your social media pages are a great place to promote all of your upcoming restaurant holiday promotions. Host a “social media contest” to get more shares. For example, maybe you want to promote your Thanksgiving dinner menu and encourage people to order online in advance. You can say, “Everyone who shares this post will be entered to win a free Thanksgiving meal for two, redeemable this November.”

Make Holiday Video Recipe How-To’s

Create a few holiday videos where your head chef or bartender instructs viewers on how to make holiday-themed food and drinks. Then share the videos on your social media pages. This is an interactive and informative way to reach potential customers.

Consider Staying Open on Holidays

For many Americans, eating out on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day is an annual tradition. And even if dining out isn’t an option this year, those same families may still be looking for takeout and deliveryThis means that if you market your venue and menu properly, you can experience a higher than usual volume of orders and revenue during days you might normally close your doors. 

Go All-In On Off-Premise Dining

Depending on where your restaurant is located, dine-in service may not be a safe option this holiday season. But just because you’re limited to takeout and delivery, it doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to boost sales with off-premise dining.

Get Tech-Savvy

If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to invest in an online ordering system. One of the best pieces of technology to implement is online ordering software like TouchBistro Online Ordering. This type of system lives on your restaurant’s website, and allows customers to order takeout and delivery from you directly – 100% commission-free. This means customers get an easy way to order your food during the busy holiday season, and you get to pocket all the profits from those online orders.

Optimize Your Online Menu

If service is limited to takeout and delivery, you need to make sure that your online menu is just as tempting as your print menu. To encourage customers to hit that “Order Now” button, your online menu should be designed for easy navigation (especially on mobile) and upselling.

When building your online menu, keep the following in mind:

  • Photos: Use high-quality photos to make your dishes look just as mouth-watering as they would in person.
  • Descriptions: Written descriptions should be clear and concise, but also engaging. This is also a good opportunity to list any potential allergens or defining features like locally sourced ingredients.
  • Categories: Separate your menu into distinct categories like “best sellers” or “holiday specials” to make it easy for customers to narrow down their order.
  • Modifiers and Add-Ons: Make sure that each item includes a list of extras customers can add or upgrade, like festive side dishes.

Experiment with Your Offerings

One of the best ways to boost off-premise sales is by offering more than just meals. For instance, alcohol and pantry staples like flour and eggs are in high-demand during the holiday season, so offering these essential add-ons can be an easy way to boost average check sizes.

Another way to boost off-premise sales is by giving customers a creative way to take the restaurant experience home with them. Meal kits have exploded in popularity during the pandemic and make a great option for the busy holiday season. Consider offering holiday-themed meal kits big enough to feed families like ready-to-cook turkey dinners or DIY activities like gingerbread houses to encourage big orders from customers.

Get Jolly with Events

Traditionally, hosting events and renting out your venue for private parties is an excellent way to increase revenue, cater to current customers, and grow your customer base. And while COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing mandates may mean things look a little different this year, carefully planned private events may still be an option for your venue. If you are planning to host holiday events, here are some tips.

Get Organized

Start by customizing different packages and pricing plans for potential customers. For instance, you may offer private dining rooms for members of the same household or winter patio parties for small groups. Just make sure to check local restrictions on maximum gatherings before moving ahead with any events.

If you do decide to host events, each holiday package your create should include essential information such as: menu selection, alcohol (beer, wine, cocktails, or combination), and extra fees like a venue fee (including how many hours customers will have the space for), staffing fee and auto-gratuity, and decorating fee. Also make sure to include information about safety precautions (such as mandatory masks or collecting information for contact tracing), and any cancellation policies or penalties.

An event template and agreement will make you appear well organized, detail-oriented, and professional to potential clients, making them more likely to feel confident in selecting your venue for their party. It also protects you from the expensive cost of no-shows or late cancellations.

Get Booked

Incentivize potential groups looking to host their private event at your restaurant by offering them a discount for booking early. This will encourage them to lock down the date and give your venue ample time to plan, staff, and safely execute the event. Make sure you promote your event offerings through all your standard channels like outdoor signage, social media, customer newsletters, and most-importantly through word of mouth to your customers!

Give Back

Do you want to give back to your local community while making a profit and developing a positive brand image? According to a Cone study, more than 80% of people prefer spending their money on a business that is charitable and socially responsible. Running a charity promo over the holidays is a win-win-win for your restaurant – especially at a time when many people are in need. It can help boost your restaurant’s image, increase your bottom line, and have a positive impact on your local community.

So select your favorite charity and start planning. Maybe offer to donate a percentage of appetizer sales to a children’s charity during the Twelve Days of Christmas, or do a coat drive and offer a free side to anyone who donates. An ongoing donation campaign will encourage your customers to stop in and donate and return before the campaign is over.

A Merry New Year’s Eve

Sparklers and sparkling wine

The holiday season doesn’t end at the stroke of midnight on December 25th – you’ll also want to consider how to capture the New Year’s Eve crowd!

With the glitz and sparkle, New Year’s Eve is one of the most exciting – and potentially lucrative – evenings of the year. So even if most people will be spending New Year’s Eve at home this year, think about how your restaurant and your food can be a part of those celebrations.

Get competitive: Look at what everyone else is doing and do it better. Is the other joint in town offering champagne cocktails to-go? Go bigger by offering champagne and charcuterie board meal kits. Or do the opposite: If all the spots around are going for glam, go basic and double down on comfort food classics. 

Get creative: How will you incentivize people to spend their evening with you (or your food)? What does your customer base want? Perhaps this means hosting a local band on your winterized patio, creating a special takeout menu, or holding a social media competition for the best New Year’s resolution with a prize. Have fun with this and think outside the box!

Start planning and promoting as early as possible: People tend to make New Year’s Eve plans early. Promote your offerings and promotions via your social media pages, on your website, and with printed materials like window signs.

And To All a Good Night!

Whether you’re offering dine-in service or encouraging off-premise orders, you can capitalize on the busiest time of the year by engaging a new customer base, providing great service to existing customers, increasing revenue, and growing your restaurant’s brand.

Remember to plan, prepare, and promote your restaurant holiday promotions so you can turn the festive season into a successful and promising new year!

Photo of Jackie Prange
by Jackie Prange

Jackie was a Content Marketing Specialist and Social Media strategist at TouchBistro before moving into business development role. She covered the latest food, dining, and technology trends for the restaurant industry. A lover of all things coffee, Jackie’s hobbies include breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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