We may all still be in our shorts and t-shirts, and enjoying the warm summer weather, but in the restaurant and foodservice business, it’s time to start planning for the holidays. With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, followed by Christmas and New Year’s Eve, it’s never too early to consider new ideas and begin implementation.

The key to a successful holiday season is to be ready and prepared. Ensure that you have all your marketing materials in place, your staff ready to go, and all the items you need ordered.

Diane Chiasson, FCSI, President of Chiasson Consultants Inc., a restaurant and foodservice consultancy firm in Toronto offers the following advice to get your restaurant ready for the industry’s busiest season:

Prepare advertising

Start planning menus, advertising strategies and catering flyers to send out to people. Have a digital copy ready that can easily be revised later if you need to make any changes. Many corporations start planning their holiday events and parties as early as September, so it’s always a good idea to have something to present.

Contact your best customers early

By October, you should be ready to start getting in touch with all of last year’s customers who booked parties, catering events or functions from your restaurant. Use an email campaign to reach out to your customers on your database. For your VIP customers, call them personally on the telephone. Tell them what new promotions you have for this year. Even if your customers are not ready to commit so early, it’s still an advantage to remind them about your operation, and what you have to offer this year. Offer a discount if they secure a booking early.

Get involved in the community

The holiday season is a time for giving and charity. Get involved in your community to make the season brighter for others. Set up a food or toy drive, donate your time and resources to food banks or shelters, or host a fundraiser at your operation to support the charity of your choice. Send out press releases and get in touch with the media to let them know of your cause and to get more people to participate. If you care about your community, your community will give you back the business.

Get your gift cards ready

Make sure that you have ordered or re-ordered gift cards for your operation. Set up a big display area at the front of your restaurant, and package each gift card in a box or gift bag with a bow and ribbons. Make sure you include a blank holiday card with the gift card. Offer a promotion with the gift card – for example, if you buy a gift card for $50, you will receive a $20 gift card to use from January to March of the following year. This can help you boost business in the dreary, post-holiday winter months.

Set up your social media sites

Social media will definitely play a huge part in your holiday planning. Generate additional buzz by adding interactive games, contests and online promotions. Upload your holiday menu, catering menu and event booking forms. If you are planning a fundraiser or doing community work, upload videos of stories of how your operation has helped. Have your chefs offer recipes and tips for planning a holiday party.

Take this opportunity for add-on sales

The holiday season is the one time during the year that people will really go all out and splurge. Take this opportunity to increase sales and revenues in your restaurant operation by offering add-on sales. Consider bolstering your wine list with more expensive bottles of wine and champagne; offer specialty menu items, or additional gift bags and presents for company parties.

Organize your staff holidays

Have your staff fill out holiday request forms way in advance so that you are not stuck with half your staff taking the same days off. It is essential you manage your staff’s vacation days properly as you do not want to be understaffed on your busiest days.

Start hiring and training staff

One of the advantages of preparing ahead of time and securing early bookings is that you will know how much extra staff you need to hire. If you want to offer quality service during your busiest season, you must hire additional staff and train them properly. Many university students are home for the holidays and want to make some extra money before returning to school. Allow your top servers to focus on giving their guests top-notch service, and let your students do simple tasks like bussing tables, prepping food, delivering food, refilling water glasses, etc.

Author

Diane Chiasson, FCSI, president of Chiasson Consultants Inc., has been helping restaurant, foodservice, hospitality and retail operators increase sales for over 30 years. She is recognized as one of the best restaurant consultants in Canada and the U.S. Diane is an industry leader in providing innovative and revenue-increasing foodservice and retail merchandising programs, interior design, branding, menu engineering, marketing and promotional campaigns, and much more. Contact her at 416-926-1338, toll-free at 1-888-926-6655 or chiasson@chiassonconsultants.com or visit www.chiassonconsultants.com