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How to Plan Ahead for the Holiday Season

How to Plan Ahead for the Holiday Season

This year, there are even more reasons than usual to plan ahead — namely, the labor shortage, supply chain issues, and inflation. If you start planning now, you can easily navigate the challenges and capitalize on a successful holiday season. 

Not all restaurants stay open for the holidays, and being operational around holidays like Thanksgiving Day, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day can mean a packed house and bigger checks. But being open on a holiday doesn't guarantee an influx of revenue. For success throughout the holiday season, you'll need to start planning now. Follow these five tips to make your holiday restaurant promotions a success. 

Plan Staffing Coverage 

For restaurant owners, the ongoing restaurant labor shortage impacts every business decision, and it's no different when it comes to holiday restaurant promotions. Look over sales data from past holidays where you've been open for an idea of what this year will bring and how you'll need to be staffed.  

Once you've decided on your hours, start by clearly communicating the days your restaurant will be open over the holidays to your employees. Find out your current staff's expectations around the holidays — some may jump at the chance to work more hours and make more money, while others may want extra time off. Get your employees' preferences early and make the schedule well in advance of the holidays. 

Utilize your digital labor management software to track assigned shifts, so there's no confusion about who's working when. And designate backup workers for each shift to account for the unexpected. If you need to bring in seasonal workers, give your permanent staff their shift preferences first. Set up a clear process for swapping shifts, if necessary, so there are no surprises and everything runs smoothly. Consider announcing some time off for everyone once the rush is over, so everyone on your team has something to work toward. It's important that your staff can emerge from the holiday rush feeling refreshed and like they got a vacation too. 

Develop Food and Drink Specials 

Creating a special holiday menu or highlighting a few special holiday dishes and drinks on a menu is a great way to get customers excited about dining and drinking at your restaurant. And if you do your menu engineering right, it can help you control food costs, and you can output dishes at a higher volume. 

Make sure to design a holiday menu with issues like inflation (especially around food costs), soaring fuel prices, and supply chain disruption in mind. If you're short-staffed, you'll want to lean towards dishes that require less prep. And to mitigate soaring inflation, find a balance with affordable and readily available ingredients while creating something "special" to attract customers. Buying locally can sometimes accomplish both of these needs — you'll reduce the risk of unavailable or overly expensive ingredients and get buy-in from diners who appreciate you supporting other local businesses, farmers, and growers. 

The pandemic has pushed many restaurants to adjust from in-person dining to takeout. The holiday season can be a great time to double down on your takeout business by creating a special holiday takeout and catering menu. 

Some families and friend groups may be more comfortable with takeout around the holidays. The holidays are a great time of year to capitalize on catering for parties of all sizes and types. Taking holiday meal and catering orders in advance (and having a strict cut-off date) can help you ensure you're staffed up to handle the stress on the kitchen and ensure your inventory is stocked and ready to go (from takeout containers to menu ingredients). 

Publicize Holiday Menus and Hours Early 

To make sure your restaurant holiday promotions are a success, you'll want to build excitement with both old and new customers. Put your holiday hours (and any catering cut-off dates) up on your website early and cross-promote with other local businesses, your local chamber of commerce, and the local travel office early. 

Many local newspapers and websites run lists of restaurants open on the holidays — make sure you're on them. Promote your holiday hours and special menus on social media and in your newsletter. Note your holiday hours on your hold message and voicemail message. Tuck flyers promoting your holiday menu and hours into takeout orders leading up to the holidays. Hang your holiday menu in your window as a tease. Whatever they are, use your tried-and-true methods of communicating with customers to boost your holiday restaurant promotions. 

Offer and Promote Holiday Gift Cards 

More than 60 percent of people were crossing their fingers for a restaurant gift card for the 2021 holiday season, according to the National Restaurant Association. And with supply chain issues and shipping snafus likely again throughout the 2022 holiday season, the local gift card market should be just as hot. Don't just offer gift cards; make them appealing. Create a special deal, like offering a $30 gift card for $25. Or give an extra $5 gift card with every $50 gift card purchased. 

Decorate Your Restaurant  

It doesn't cost much to add a little seasonal cheer. Sparkly lights, a few poinsettias, some lit-up icicles hanging from the rafters, a decorated tree, colorful balls in a giant wine glass on the bar — whatever direction you decide to take your decorations, make them festive and fun! Some local papers and websites run lists of festively decorated restaurants, so make sure yours is noteworthy and makes the cut. 

Another vote for planning ahead: When you publicize your specials early, you see how your customers react to your restaurant holiday promotion ideas and adjust before the big day. If most people choose a specific side dish as a catering option, it may also be a big seller in your restaurant, and you'll know how to order ingredients accordingly. If gift cards are hot for in-store sales, you may want to promote them on social media and make them an online ordering option.