The holidays mean something different for each person; some imagine the tinsel-wrapped joy of Christmas, while others anxiously await the onset of Halloween and spooky season. Yet, no matter your favorite holiday, there is one thing that’s shared in our industry - the holidays can get crazy. Now, it’s worth noting that not all businesses work the same, and some (especially those in tourist or summer destinations) may be far slower during the holidays.
Nonetheless, there are a few things that restauranteurs and their staff can do to prepare their restaurants for the holidays. From crafting a special holiday menu to setting your holiday hours and inventory, a few small bits of preparation are often forgotten - but not this holiday season!
Now - here are the best ways to prepare your restaurant for the holidays.
Setting the Holiday Mood in a Restaurant
First things first, we need to talk about decoration and ambiance. These are absolutely crucial factors to building that cozy vibe that customers crave during the colder months. Once we’ve discussed the required aesthetic changes, we can move on to the more technical preparations.
Decoration and Ambiance
This is one of those things that’s pretty hard to pin down, as it will vary based on where your restaurant is established. Places on the beachfront will have a far different set of needs than those in the rural Midwest, for example. Ultimately, though, the truth of the matter is that creativity is key here. Letting your crew of employees loose with tinsel, craft paper, and **fun pattern scissors** may seem odd at first, but let me ask you something.
How many times have you gone into a business in the dead of December, only to see a few sad-looking ornaments and partially deflated reindeer figures? It’s not fun, is it?
While you may not consciously realize it, this is why creativity is so important. Wait for your slow times (we all have them), and set your crew loose. Tell them to make something unique, to show individuality, and vitally - tell them to have fun!
This simultaneously creates the holiday vibes you need while allowing your employees to be, well, humans! Let them have fun, and your customers will catch on.
Inventory & Menu
Next are the two most integral parts of any restaurant (right after the employees that make it run, of course) - your inventory and menu.
This is where things will vary more based on your specific business than any other tip. There are two main options that you have here:
1. Create a new holiday menu or specials.
This is especially on-brand for more seasonal-style joints. Places that already have a rotating menu or specials will be on this immediately, but they aren’t the only ones that should try out the holiday menu fad.
If your business slows down during winter, this is the place for some ingenuity. Look at your inventory and see what you can improvise as a seasonal offering. Some joints take a simple approach of turning out a heartier, heavier menu; others, in contrast, will create something that evokes nostalgia (think sugar cookies or a regional holiday classic).
Businesses that offer online ordering and delivery will see more significant revenue spikes from this (usually). However, it’s worth noting that catering in the winter months can be pretty lucrative if you can tailor your standard catering menu into a holiday menu.
2. Pare down for the slow season.
If a holiday menu isn’t in the cards (or just unrealistic), that’s okay. Take a look at your menu and inventory and think about what you want to eat in the middle of December. If you have mainstay menu items that are lighter (or just expensive), consider giving them the temporary axe.
Items like gazpacho, fruity salads, or wraps are super tasty… in the summer. But when the cold months roll around, and snow hits the pavement, be honest - do you really want that summer salad or light, low-cal chicken wrap? No - you need meat and potatoes, gravy, stew, and other hearty, filling alternatives.
And you know what’s really cool about traditional winter meals? They’re incredibly cheap to make. This is by design; after all, most produce can’t grow in the winter, so we need to make do with what we have. Things like shepherd’s pie, pasties, and roasts are cheap, easy to make, and will sell far better than your “light” summer and fall offerings.
Community is an integral part of the holidays. No matter which ones you celebrate, each is centered around the concept of sharing time and food with those you hold dearest. This is awesome because that’s kinda what restaurants are all about, too, right?
While we’re not saying to give away the golden goose, the winter months are an excellent time for what marketing and public relations professionals call Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). While that can mean quite a few things, it boils down to this one definition.
CSR is the idea of businesses (both large and small) giving back to their community through fundraising, volunteer hours, and general acts of kindness.
Before you start, yes - this will cost you money. And if you can’t swing the cost, that’s okay. Seriously - nobody will decide not to eat at your restaurant because you couldn’t afford to give out free cups of hot cocoa.
But (and this is a big but), if you can afford to give back to your community, do it.
Whether this means offering discounts and specials for locals, community service, or something more creative, you’ll find that customers respond to businesses that support their community.
Before we move on to the next bit, I wanted to offer a few ideas that we’ve seen local businesses pull off to great success:
- Stock up on gift cards.
This is obvious, but people give gifts during the holidays - make sure you’re stocked on gift cards. And if you want to be more philanthropic, consider donating a few gift cards to your local social workers, houseless shelters, and first responders.
- Donate food.
Soup kitchens are overrun in the winter, and it’s absolutely no surprise. No matter your feelings about houseless individuals, just think for a moment. They’re stuck outside during the coldest months of the year with minimal shelter and food. You own a professional kitchen, and soup is incredibly cheap to produce - do the math.
- Offer small snacks at local markets & events.
Give away hot cocoa or toasty tea during the winter months outside your business, at local farmers' markets, or Christmas tree farms. The trick here is to sneak a small (5-10%) discount coupon for your joint with each free cup so they come back…
- Merch is king.
If you already make merch, think about holiday offerings. Things like blankets, sweaters, beanies, and socks are fantastic. They’re in high demand for donation to in-need families just about everywhere. This means that they get stuff they desperately need, and you get free marketing. That’s the definition of a win-win.
Each of the above points is just a jumping-off point; get creative and think about how you can use your business’s identity to give back and earn business simultaneously. Hell, if virtual food festivals can work, I bet you can get something equally cool up and running.
And now, it’s time for our final point - staffing.
Depending on your restaurant, holiday hours may be the difference between success and just scraping by. As with any other part of the year, monitoring your restaurant’s analytics by fiscal quarter is vital. There are two main ways that you can do this:
1. Traditional Style
By “traditional,” of course, we mean pen and paper. This is not at all encouraged, but if you can’t swing the more modern approach, that’s okay. What matters is that you know what hours are busiest during the holidays, which are slowest, and which actual holidays are worth keeping the doors open.
2. The Modern Approach
Alternatively, you can use the more modern method - Cuboh. While there are numerous services out there that offer similar tools, none of them can compete with Cuboh’s analytics toolkit. It allows you to track your business's most crucial KPIs and metrics, manage your online ordering system, update your menu for the holidays, and more - all from one easy-to-navigate dashboard.
While you can certainly pay for spendy accounting and analytics software to accomplish the same task, those are single-problem solutions. Cuboh, on the other hand, is your one-stop-shop for managing and growing your restaurant, holidays or not.
This all boils down to a straightforward idea. During the holidays, you need to know what to expect; monitoring daily, monthly, and quarterly sales along with labor costs will allow you to adapt as needed.
Perhaps there are a few weeks during the (normally dead-slow) early January months where a consistent spike in business occurs. If so, you can plan ahead and hire to accommodate. And if you realize that (seemingly) the entire town visits your bar for Thanksgiving, but New Year’s is a ghost town, you can take steps to be prepared.
The holidays are notoriously stressful, but they really don’t need to be. Understanding what steps to take (and when) is crucial to keeping the holidays as they should be - fun! The advice above is designed as a starting point for restauranteurs during the holidays, so take it and run.
Ultimately, though, there are only a few things to keep in mind to prepare for the holidays: decorate and get in the spirit, understand your busy and slow times (and staff accordingly), and don’t be afraid to shake things up with a holiday menu or reduced holiday hours, if needed. And don’t forget that Cuboh is here, waiting, with a top-tier toolkit to ensure you can spend your holidays with the family rather than at your restaurant putting out fires.