With the holidays rolling about and the leaves slowly changing colors, we’re finally making it into fall. Most people look forward to the holidays for time with family, good food, and gifts galore (and don’t forget the candy), but this is also one of the best times for restauranteurs to get creative.
While restaurants offer unique opportunities for outreach and promotions during the holidays, the later months of the year are also often the slowest of the year. This puts restauranteurs in an awkward position: do they cut hours and bare down for the holidays, or do they get going on holiday promotions?
So today, we’re talking about restaurant marketing during the holidays. There are plenty of holiday marketing opportunities simply waiting - you just need to know they exist!
Before we get into the more technical approaches, there are a few super simple things you can do to prepare your restaurant for the holidays. We’re going to assume that you know to set up decorations - that’s business ownership 101. But what else can you do to create high-quality holiday restaurant promotions?
One of the easiest things to start with is your menu. I mean, you are a restauranteur after all… right?
First off, the food. When you think of the holidays, ask yourself - what is the food that first comes to mind? Which drinks do you dream of over the warm summer months, picturing yourself with a cozy sweater and friends about as you sip?
Whether it’s a lovely mulled cider or a regional cold weather dish like pasties, the holidays are an excellent opportunity to be the spot for locals - and it all starts with food and drinks.
More often than not, holiday meals and drinks come in two forms:
While this will obviously vary based on where you are (Californians and Minnesotans have a very different idea of what December looks like), it’s an excellent place to start. Chances are that just like you’ve been dreaming of that pumpkin spice latte (don’t lie to me - you love it), so have your customers.
Ultimately, this all boils down to one thing - figure out what just screams “holidays” and make it. Use your social media presence and regulars to figure out what specials may sell well - and, importantly, ask for ideas. While you don’t need to rework your entire menu, having a small seasonal specials menu of tasty holiday drinks and hearty, filling, hot food is a great first step.
While special holiday nights (detailed below) were a common pre-pandemic occurrence, they’ve become harder to pull off. Social distancing and health concerns have made people more conscious of gathering in public - but that doesn’t stop them from gathering in private. And, believe it or not, most people don’t want to cook for a dozen people, traditions or not!
This is where you come in. Your customers don’t want to cook, and your staff cooks for a living - it’s really a win-win.
Whether you do a themed box with a ready-to-eat Thanksgiving meal or offer little cocktail packages (with or without liquor, depending on your local regulations), meal kits and holiday specials are a great way to promote your restaurant during the holidays. And best of all, you can tie this into our next point - promotions.
And if your restaurant does catering, this is an opportunity to promote that service. Offer discounts or special holiday catering menus, and you achieve two things. First, you get a happy customer, but second (and arguably more importantly), you gain the opportunity to get a happy returning customer for future catering.
Restaurant promotions can come in many forms, especially during the holidays. While there are a few tried and true methods (detailed below), this is another chance for you to get creative. You’ll see more options in the following subsections, but the basic concept remains the same. Give locals something to:
The most common methods that you’ll see are pretty simple. Holiday special promotions (buy one, get one free!), discounts, or special “nights on the town” near holidays are each excellent ideas that are (relatively) easy to execute.
When Halloween rolls around, offer a special so good it’s spooky (in other words, offer discounts and let people celebrate the holiday with you). And for Thanksgiving, doing meal kits or a special dinner in the days leading up to the holiday allows friends and family alike an easy place to gather and share without needing to slave over the stove.
The same goes for Christmas, New Year, and every other major holiday during the coming months - they’re about community. Offer your locals a place to gather and eat good food; you’ll watch as they roll through the doors.
Create a small Christmas-themed prix fixe and advertise it on your social media. Sell tickets to get in the door and, if you’re feeling like less of a Scrooge, dedicate ~5% of ticket sales to a local orphanage, houseless shelter, or soup kitchen.
Build a small list (5-10) of unique Halloween cocktails and appetizers. Decorate your restaurant for one night (or a weekend if you can swing it) like a medieval tavern and get into the spooky spirit. Bonus points if you reach out to local game shops to see if they want to host a tabletop or board game night in your restaurant.
Have your staff dress up as fancy as possible and host a fancy NYE cocktail party. Once again, charge a cover fee to get in - but this time, require a dress code. Get live music, if possible, and let customers drink and dance for a night. Do your best to pretty it up - and post photos on social media.
We all know and love gift cards at this point. They’re super simple to set up and allow customers to bring you new clientele for free. And the holidays are the best time for restaurant gift certificate sales - after all, it’s already the giving season!
You can go in so many directions with them, too. Offer discounts on them (get a $100 gift card for $90), raffle them off during the events we discussed above, or even get charitable with them. Whether that means offering to match gift card sales for a week and donate the proceeds to a local charity, giving free (small) gift cards to regulars, or gifting them on social media, it’s the season of giving - so share!
Now, we covered the big stuff, but other small bits are often glossed over. Depending on the holiday, how you approach things will change.
If you know about Trunk-or-Treating, you see where this is going. Halloween can be stressful for parents - letting kids approach strangers’ homes alone is generally not the best practice. So, talk to their owners and managers if you’re near other restaurants or small businesses. See if they’d be willing to do a restaurant trick-or-treat day during slow hours and give the parents gift cards or coupons.
Encourage staff to dress up and host a costume party. Charge a cover fee to enter, provide drink tickets, and let the night unfold. This is especially good if you regularly host other events like raffles, trivia, or game nights.
If you can make baked goods, Christmas should be a busy time of year. The holidays are known for many things worldwide, but one thing that remains across all cultures is that people love sweet baked goods during the cold months. Try making the usuals like pumpkin pie, but branch out and see if the locals like anything special that you can make.
We’ve mentioned this a few times, but Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a thing that’s discussed in marketing and public relations. It boils down to one thing - businesses need to give back to the communities that support them. While you can get creative with this, the holidays are an excellent time to get charitable, no matter how you choose to do so.
If you don’t have social media or loyalty programs:
Reach out to Cuboh. We offer multiple services that allow you to manage your online presence, promote your business, and monitor its health. And best of all, it’s super simple to use, meaning you won’t have a massive list of tasks to finish.
If you do have social media and loyalty programs:
Promote your business! Make regular posts about holiday deals and promotions, and take advantage of that reach. You can also use your mailing list (which you should absolutely have) to send digital promotions for events, discounts, and whatever else your little heart conjures up.
At the end of the day, the holidays can be stressful for business owners - but they don’t need to be. Taking advantage of the resources you have (especially when using Cuboh) can increase sales and foot traffic and even get your business some good faith from locals!
Whether you’re trying to figure out Christmas marketing ideas, how to host Halloween events, or what small steps you can take to increase brand recognition, Cuboh is an excellent first stop. So swing on by and see what we can do to help scale your business today.