Don’t Be Afraid of Holiday Business

“I’m too busy to make more money.” No restauranteur has ever said that, right? WRONG.

Every year restauranteurs approach the period from Black Friday to New Year’s Day thinking they will be so busy they can’t possibly accommodate everyone. They limit the number of private events, they limit the number of reservations, and they limit the size of parties, all to make sure they have space for everyone who wants to dine with them. Year after year they lose sales because they are afraid to book it.

If you look at the data, regular dining trends don’t apply during the holidays. The first two weekends after Thanksgiving are when most people host their holiday parties.  If guests are not invited to an event at your restaurant, they are more than likely at a party somewhere else. You can book some big events and make great money those two weekends, but you are still left with few walk ins and a lot of unused real estate.  Each week that you get closer to Christmas, lunch sales pick up and dinner sales decline. Finally, the week after Christmas settles into a steady pace all day long for lunch and dinner, ending with a bang for New Year’s Eve.  If you embrace these sales trends, you can manipulate them to your advantage and maximize sales.

Begin by Understanding Your Footprint  Map out everywhere you can build large parties in your dining room.  It is a good idea to physically push tables together building ten and twelve tops. This allows you to visualize the open floor space created and allows you to bring in extra tables and chairs to fill those spaces.  Once you have this plan, build large party reservation sheets for every day with start and finish times for each party and then use those sheets to sell the space. Do not be afraid to lead people toward start and finish times as part of their contract.

Maximize Traditionally Slower Times  Everyone who calls to book a holiday party wants to book it at 7 pm on Saturday. Your goal is to get people to book at 5 pm on Monday.  Just like we suggested you map out your space, we also suggest you map out the days and times that are hardest to sell and then build your sales pitch.  For example, offer reduced venue fees or food and beverage minimums for time slots that are harder to sell. Create “early bird” value menus for people who book their events to start at 4 or 5 pm.  And for those parties that book at 7 or 8 pm, you can lead them toward a cocktail gathering in the bar the hour before, allowing you to get one turn out of their tables before their event begins.

Book the Hours That You are Closed  So many restaurants are closed on Mondays. That means you are free to take any size party at any time you want on Monday. It is probably not worth it to open for regular walk in business but it is the perfect time to book the entire space for large events. If you are closed for lunch sell lunch parties, if you close between lunch and dinner sell happy hour parties, and if someone wants to book a holiday breakfast at 7 am, welcome them with open arms.

Create New Spaces for Regular Diners  As you build large groups around the dining room look for new places to seat regular guests.  Group two tops and booths together into their own little dining room.  Pull tables toward the front of the dining room and push parties toward the back. Most of all don’t forget the bar, use it for regular dining.  Make pleasant spaces for two and four tops and pamper them to ensure they have great experiences, but remember the data tells you that you don’t need as many tables as you normally do for these walk in guests.

Enhance Your Sales Opportunities  The holidays are not just about maximum use of the space, they are also about maximizing sales and profits. Start with holiday cocktails and appetizers that can’t be missed. These are menu add ons that build check average. Engineer these items to be profitable and sale them to all private events as well.  Evolve some of your signature items into large format take out items like whole desserts and tenderloin by the pound.  Market these as great additions to in-home holiday meals and parties. Partner with local charities to create fundraisers that also generate sales. Make your space more festive with carolers from local schools and market their performance through their parent teacher associations. Create fun events like breakfast with Santa. Most of all, sell gift cards everywhere you can. Use contests to turn servers into gift card selling machines, contact all the companies in your events email list to offer them bulk purchase deals, and set up booths with warm cider and gift cards at local holiday events. No one needs to do all these things, but you should evaluate the additional revenue streams that can generate the most money and execute those to perfection.

Have a Marketing Plan  Once your plan is clear, market it in every possible way. Mobilize your social media with a posting calendar and great pictures. Send out email blasts, use table toppers, put messages in check presenters, advertise locally. Finally, don’t forget to engage the community. Get churches, schools, and non-profits involved; they have their own networks to engage and will double the exposure.

Income from a successful holiday season can turn around a less than impressive year and gift card sales can set you up for a busy January and February. You just need a plan, and that plan should be ready to execute by the first week of November.  Most of all you should build that plan without fear. Look at the data and build your strategy from there, not from the way you and your team “remember” the past five holiday seasons.

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