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‘Tis the Season to Make Money

Many restaurant employees view the holiday season with the same ambivalence that most people view having Aunt Maude over for Thanksgiving dinner. Sure, it is nice to see good ‘ol Aunt Maude, but thank goodness we only see he once a year. The “I remember when I was your age” stories wear thin before the first slice of turkey. The holiday season presents the same conundrum for restaurant workers. While it is nice to have the extra cash lining our pockets, serving a steady stream of guests from when the doors open to when the doors close can bring even the stoutest servers and cooks to their knees.

Restaurant operators view the holidays through a much different lens. Just like their counterparts in retail, restaurant operators move from the perilous red into the joyful black for the first time during the holidays. The influx of guests means an infusion of cash that makes up for the slower months of the year. Many restaurant operators take a low-key approach to the holidays by not doing much to promote their business. However, the holidays represent the best time of year to launch innovative and aggressive promotions that indelibly etch your restaurant’s image into the minds of both regular and first time guests.

What started as a marketing strategy pushed by large restaurant chains, holiday promotions are now an integral marketing strategy for the operator who runs the corner café on Main Street. A vast majority of restaurant operators, from the CEO of Darden to the Chef-Owner of the corner café, have wholeheartedly embraced holiday promotions as the cornerstone of their marketing campaigns.

Proven Holiday Marketing Promotions

The best holiday promotions should be unexpected, unadvertised, full of energy, and most important, involve your guests. Most restaurants run holiday promotions around their food and beverage menus, such as offering a free glass of wine with the purchase of an entrée or a fixed price multi-course meal that features late autumn and early winter local ingredients. Savvy restaurant operators go beyond conventional promotions by creating unique holiday campaigns.

Christmas Party

The employee Christmas party is the one event that brings restaurant employees and operators together. Yet, there is one essential component missing: the guests. Why not combine employee appreciation with guest appreciation and throw a large, festive holiday bash. Invite all of the guests who have signed up for your email newsletter to join their “restaurant family” for a night of homemade dishes and signature cocktails. The goodwill created by this arrangement not only spreads through the restaurant staff, but it also touches every guest who partakes in the best holiday celebration in town.

Gift Cards

Restaurants count on gift card sales to help them navigate the choppy business waters that flow once the holidays end. Gift card promotions typically sustain restaurants until Valentine’s Day, when the inevitable income tax dive affects most operators. Since most restaurants offer gift cards for sale around the holidays, restaurant operators should think outside the box to promote their slow season saviors. You can bundle gift cards by offering five $25 cards for the price of four. You can run holiday related contests that reward the winners with restaurant and local business gift cards.

Themed Holiday Packages

Restaurants that have private dining rooms should promote the rooms during the holidays. Whether trying to attract a local business to hold their annual holiday event at your restaurant or book a family reunion, you can quickly fill the large party reservation book by offering themed holiday dining packages. For instance, one package called “The Hideous Sweater Contest” is sure to spread the gift of humor to everyone who attends. Offer a two-hour open bar, passed appetizers, and a multi-course meal in a brilliantly decorated private room. Brainstorm with your team to come up with unique themed holiday private party ideas.

Close the Restaurant

You may be wondering, “Has this guy been dipping into the egg nog?” Well, that is sure to come, but closing the restaurant means bringing the entire staff together to volunteer for one night at a local soup kitchen. You have no problem placing a “Closed for Employee Holiday Party” sign on your front window to alert guests. Why not place a “Closed to Help the Hungry” sign on your front window instead. Invite your loyal guests to come along and build lasting memories. Promote the event on the restaurant website blog, via a press release, and on social media sites.

T.G.I. Friday’s

The restaurant chain known for its high-energy, fun-loving atmosphere has raised the bar for running holiday promotions. Friday’s gives back to the people who make the restaurant a regular social destination by offering Best Buy prizes and gift card promotions. By partnering with an outside brand, Friday’s leverages its holiday promotion by expanding the base of potential guests who want to win one of the Best Buy prizes. Guests receive a special code that they check daily and weekly to see if they won gifts worth up to $20,000 in value. The restaurant chain also discounts gift cards after guests purchase a predetermined amount. While smaller independent restaurants cannot woo big box retailers to form a holiday promotion partnership, they can form collaborations with one or more local businesses.

Restaurant operators must plan well in advance of the holiday season what types of holiday promotions they plan to run. This means restaurant operators must decide what they want to accomplish with each holiday promotion. Is the goal to increase average check averages? Do you want to appeal to current guests or attract new guests that you develop into loyal, lifelong patrons of your restaurant? The success of your holiday promotions largely depends on meticulous planning and flawless execution that involves every member of your culinary and service team.