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Ultimate Guide to take the Holiday Season By Storm

by Jackie Prange

Are you ready for the storm of holiday customers headed your way?

Each year during the holiday season, the restaurant industry sees a massive number of people choosing to eat, drink, and be merry.

Just how many, you ask?

In 2014, food and drink spending totaled nearly $50 billion across the U.S. in the month of December alone. The last month of the year offers restaurateurs huge potential to drive additional sales, attract new customers, and grab their piece of the holiday profit pie.

Restaurants that plan ahead, prepare a holiday strategy, and invest in tools to help promote their business are the ones most likely to successfully cash in on this annual flurry of diners.

Whether your seasonal restaurant strategy is on the ball or behind the ball, 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 holiday hustle 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 holidays promotions
  • Tips for hosting events and private holiday parties

Get Your Holiday Hustle on Right Now!

This time of year tends to creep up pretty quickly. You take a breath after Halloween and before you know it – the holiday season is in full swing and you’re feeling anxious about if you’ll pull it off this year. 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. While you’re at it, get out the decorations and spruce up the place. Make your restaurant warm, comforting, and inviting, catering to bustling shoppers, busy workers, and lively families seeking to escape the cold weather and enter a holiday haven.

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.

While you have them on the phone, check in to see if they are offering any promotions, discounts, or are interested in co-marketing opportunities. This can help you with planning on-the-fly or weather-timed specials, as well as last-minute holiday parties.

3. Shout It From the Rooftops

Get on your social media accounts and let your customers know that you have dates open for events, must-try seasonal menu items, and gift cards available for their office Secret Santa. Dial up your sidewalk sign and get the word 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 toasting at a holiday table

Spruce Up Your Staff

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

It’s important to prep staff and schedules as early as possible to accommodate all of the events, parties, and busy nights ahead. 

Know What to Expect 

In order to correctly project a staffing plan for the holidays, start by reviewing last year’s sales data so you can forecast how many staff members you will need. Pay special attention to the specific days when your restaurant sales experienced a spike. Was it because of an event, a busy weekend of parties, or a major holiday like New Year’s Eve? Look for patterns and then have a conversation with your permanent staff about expectations 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 and parties. In order to avoid unnecessary stress for yourself and your staff during the holidays consider these four tips. 

  1. Post employee schedules 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 key staff members you want at specific events and parties, pull them aside and express why you feel their presence is valued before scheduling. This will save you time and the headache of scheduling them, then possibly having to replace them. 

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 permanent 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 seasonal employment. 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 fast, is to utilize a staffing agency that has a database of trained and experienced hospitality workers ready to work whenever you need them. With most staffing agencies, the option is 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, menu, and value propositions. Proper training and service means that your customers – new and regular – will most likely have a positive experience, become repeat customers, possibly host future events at your venue, and best of all – recommend your restaurant to family and friends. 

Pre-Party Huddles 

Set your staff up for success by setting aside five or ten minutes before each event and holiday party to go over what’s to come. Brief them on the group’s arrival time, the menu or food they’ve ordered, any pertinent details, and your expectations. Keeping your staff in the know means they will be empowered to consistently execute successful parties and events. 

father and son at a holiday table

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 your venue, 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. 

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. Leave room for non-alcoholic drinks too – an easy add-on for busy mid-day shoppers that need to stay focused, or parents eager to take a break but that have a long to-do list. 

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. 

Prix Fixe Menu 

A prix fixe menu is a great option for your restaurant 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. 

Creating a prix fixe menu for the holidays 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.
family and friends 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 events and offerings.

Holiday Cards or Email

For your regular patrons, send out personalized holiday postcards. 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 the past nine years gift cards have been the single most requested gift in America. The gift card industry is expected to reach sales of $160 billion by 2018 in America alone and the most popular gift cards given are restaurant related. If your restaurant isn’t offering gift cards you’re missing out on a gold mine. They also have the added benefit of bringing customers back to your restaurant after the season ends.

Promote on Social Media

Your social media pages are a great place to promote all of your upcoming events, promotions, and holiday menus. Host a “social media contest” to get more shares. For example, maybe you want to promote your Thanksgiving dinner menu and encourage people to book their reservation online in advance. You can say, “Everyone who shares this post will be entered to win a free Thanksgiving meal for two, redeemable on November 24th.”

Make Holiday Video Recipe How-To’s

Create a few holiday videos where your head chef or bartender instruct 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

According to the National Restaurant Association, one in ten Americans will eat out on Christmas Eve and eight percent of Americans eat out on Christmas Day. This means if you market your venue and menu properly, you can experience higher than usual foot traffic and revenue during days you might normally close your doors. 

Get Jolly with Events

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. If your events are well-planned and executed, your restaurant will develop a reputation as the place to go for events and parties.

Get Organized

Start by customizing different pricing plans for potential customers. Your holiday packages should include information such as: menu selection, food service style (passed around, buffet, sit-down, or combination), alcohol (beer, wine, cocktails, or combination), and extra fees like a venue fee (including how many hours customers will have the venue for), staffing fee and auto-gratuity, and decorating fee. Also make sure to include what’s required for a deposit, and cancellation policies or penalties.

A standardized 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 customers looking for an event space to host their 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 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 2015 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. 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. But how can you stand out from the frantic buzz of New Year’s Eve competition?

Get competitive: Look at what everyone else is doing and do it better. Is the other joint in town hosting a two-hour open bar? Offer a three-hour open bar and a DJ. Or do the opposite: If all the spots around are going for a glam black-tie shindig, go basic and welcome all who want to wear plaid to ring in the new year.

Get creative: How will you incentivize people to spend their evening with you? What does your customer base want? Perhaps this means hosting a local band or holding a competition for the best New Year’s resolution with a prize, such as a three-month gym membership. 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 event via your social media pages, on customer receipts, and with printed materials like display cards on every table as early as the first week of November. Make sure to include information on ticket purchases and what’s included in the event – for example, free apps and a glass of bubbly.

And To All a Good Night!

While the snow is falling and silver bells are ringing, 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 so you can turn the holiday season into a successful and promising new year!

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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