With the holiday season fast approaching, now is a pivotal time for operators to make needed adjustments and prep for winter trends. It is important to think about what can be done in order to attract more customers and transform the atmosphere into a warm and cheerful place to dine. Preparation is crucial for the upcoming change in season, which typically includes updating menus, creating new recipes, and adding new promotions for customers, such as gift cards and seasonal packages.

There are a few key steps that can help make the seasonal transition run smoothly and ensure that your bar or restaurant is prepared for the changes that will come as the holidays get closer.

Proactive vs. Reactive Approaches

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to plan, you are preparing to fail.” No one knows the importance of planning ahead like those within the hospitality industry. A well-defined plan increases the likelihood of success and minimizes the risk of failure. As we enter a new season, proactive planning helps ease the pressures that come with the sudden shift in business. It also creates opportunities to build an extensive customer base and boost profits.

There are many ways that you can prepare for this, such as modifying the menu to add more seasonal food and drinks and creating a cozy atmosphere within the restaurant. These changes should be made accordingly, allowing at least 90 days to prepare. Another way to be proactive is to keep track of data over the course of the season. According to the National Restaurant Association, 55 percent of consumers plan to go out to eat, and 50% of consumers order takeout or delivery for the holidays. Focus on unique days, such as Halloween, Black Friday, Christmas, and New Year’s, to help understand how traffic will impact the business.

Due to the fast-moving, constantly changing nature of the business, many operators have become conditioned to managing their restaurants day by day, shift by shift and even hour by hour. Being able to be nimble in the industry is a plus, as being able to react and adjust is often required in this challenging landscape. However, by planning 90 days in advance, operators can seize more opportunities to increase market share and drive profits.

For example, one of the busiest times for restaurants is the winter holiday season. For restaurants that know they will be busier during this time, it’s important to take full advantage of the uptick in business and keep operations running efficiently by planning out the staffing schedule well in advance. Operators will want to consider additional factors like staff returning from college, who are looking for more or fewer hours, and who is taking time off. In addition, consider that some businesses will inevitably experience more staff sick days due to the flu, COVID-19 and other general colds that tend to circulate during this time.

Another opportunity for boosting profits lies within the menu. Consider running seasonal specials to drive excitement and extra profit. Operators may also want to consider using menu engineering tactics to highlight profitable items, remove lower-performing dishes and create an analysis system to review and optimize the offerings. To do this, organize all menu items into four menu engineering categories based on the profitability and popularity of each dish. These categories include “Stars,” top performers with high profitability and popularity; “Puzzles,” which offer high profitability but low popularity; “Plowhorses,” which have low profitability but high popularity; and “Dogs,” lowest performers with low profitability and low popularity. With this in mind, organize menus to highlight stars and puzzles and consider how to shift traffic from plow horses to puzzles and phasing out the dogs.

Finally, communication is key when it comes to proactive planning. Make sure to communicate changes and ideas with managers and staff members. Allow them the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback. Just as a head coach of a team, you must game plan, practice, execute and adjust as needed to win your market share.

Enticing Diners During the Holiday Season and Beyond

There are so many holidays throughout the fall and winter seasons, which calls for celebration within the restaurant. Each holiday is just as important as the next, and provides an opportunity to create new promotions and specials.

Offering limited-time offers on menu items is not only a great way to stay on trend with your customer base, but it also presents an opportunity to drive additional gross profits. When changing the menu for fall and winter, adding some seasonal food for specific holidays is important so customers can stay festive while dining. The same thing goes for the drink menu, which can be customized for each holiday. If you add Baileys, Peppermint Schnapps, Frangelico, and cocoa mix to your coffee offerings, you now have a Marvelous Mocha and can sell it for $7 and yield $5 in profit. Fall beverages, such as craft beers and pumpkin ales, are very popular to add to the drink menu. With it being a limited-time offer that drives excitement, repeat sales will drive a higher profit contribution. Seasonal food and drinks set the scene for the perfect holiday outing.

A promotional gift card campaign should be designed to drive and steer the traffic where you need it. When you see companies promote “buy $50 in gift cards and get $10 free”, most often, the $10 free is not a $10 gift card. Instead, it is a coupon used to drive traffic where they need it, usually within the weeks between the first of the year and Valentine’s Day. If someone were to buy $50 in gift cards as a gift, they would most likely keep the coupon for themself—now the business has created the opportunity to increase traffic through two different party interactions. 

When it comes to holiday catering, private parties etc, the customer is looking for convenience just as much as quality. As you plan how to win your market share with these parties during the holiday season, think about what services you can provide to create convenience for customers. For instance, set up and breakdown services, delivery, bill and hold, service, bartenders, etc. These parties are for celebrating time together, so find a way to give the customers that opportunity, and you will win the business.

In order for restaurants and bars to be successful throughout the next few months, planning in advance is the best way to provide excellent service and keep customers satisfied. Modifying the menu, managing day-to-day practices, and promoting new specials based on data from years past are just a few ways to get ahead of the rush during the busy holiday season.

Russ Spencer is the Senior Director of Restaurant Success at Craftable, a cutting-edge technology company that empowers restaurants, bars, hotels, and hospitality businesses, both big and small. Bringing over 30 years of experience as an accomplished multi-unit operator working in day-to-day hospitality operations, Russ has a strong understanding of the benchmarks needed for a restaurant’s financial success. In 2015, he began consulting with independent restaurants to find profitability within their operations. Through COVID-19, Russ was part of a team of specialized consultants focused on using government legislation to help small businesses navigate the uncharted times by maximizing their pandemic relief benefits and setting up their businesses for long-term success. Using this information, he helps take early measures to address opportunities with tailored solutions to increase operations’ margins and efficiencies.

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