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Preparing Your Restaurant for the Holidays

By: Stephanie Ganz of the Apple Cart 

holiday restaurantThe holidays present excellent opportunities for connecting with the community, from benefit dinners and canned food drives, to bringing additional traffic from holiday shoppers. It’s important to create a plan of action early in the season so that the influx of customers is manageable for staff and so that guests who are new to your establishment have a positive experience. Fortunately, shopping patterns and guest needs are pretty predictable from November through the New Year, and that makes it relatively easy to put tools in place to manage them.

Once you have a plan, schedule one or two meetings with staff to remind them of your policies, share new information, and motivate them to make more money and have a great holiday season!

1. Clearly define your reservation policy to staff and customers

Booking reservations well in advance can help managers determine staffing needs and other special arrangements, such as ordering extra food or linens, reserving private rooms or even preparing the dining room by moving tables and alerting hosts.

It’s important to review your reservation policy with staff. Even if you use an online platform to take reservations, servers and hosts should be familiar with your policies because they will be fielding questions from guests in person and over the phone.

Make sure staff are clear on the following:
  • How many people can reserve a table? Two-tops welcome? Parties of six or more only?
  • What do you need to know to best communicate with and serve guests -- name, phone number, dietary restrictions, special requirements like preferred seating or the need for a highchair?
  • Do you take credit card numbers in advance and bill no-shows? How long will you hold tables for late arrivals?
  • Must all parties be present to be seated?

Once you’ve gotten staff up to speed, make sure to communicate with your customers that you recommend making reservations early, as the holidays are a busy time and no one likes to wait. Put the word out on social media and in your newsletter, and consider adding the information to guest checks.

2. Offer takeout, delivery, and family-style portions

With shorter, more demanding days comes an increase in guests looking for convenient takeout options. If you currently offer takeout and delivery, consider adding online ordering to make it even easier on the guest. If you don’t offer delivery already, explore what it would take to add it during the holidays. Services like GrubHub and Uber Eats can simplify the process, eliminating the need to hire drivers, and there are local options in each city, from bike delivery services to food delivery apps.

You may want to tailor your menu to be more delivery-friendly or to anticipate the needs of holiday shoppers. Create a takeout/delivery-specific menu that only offers items that hold up well through travel so that guests get the very best of what you offer, even at home. Make sure you package takeout and delivery food wisely--wrap saucy dishes in plastic wrap because no one wants a mess in the bag, or worse, in their car. And remember, you may need to order more disposables if you see an uptick in takeout sales.

With visiting family and holiday entertaining, guests may be looking for family-style portions of familiar menu items. Offer individual and family-size pricing on your takeout menu to make those options clear.

3. Hire seasonal help

In terms of stress reduction and guest satisfaction, it is better to be overstaffed than understaffed as you go into the holidays. Consider adding BOH staff to help execute catering orders to avoid placing additional burden on already maxed-out cooks. Hire seasonal FOH help and be sure to give the same level of training that your existing staff experienced.

If catering sales increase dramatically for your restaurant at this time of year, consider hiring or designating a catering manager who can field customer inquiries and communicate easily with the kitchen staff. Train this person thoroughly on your catering menu and policies so that he or she becomes the go-to resource for all things catering. If your catering manager has set weekly hours, communicate that on your catering menu: “For catering inquiries, call our Catering Manager between the hours of X and X, Monday through Friday; or leave a message and he/she will return your call.”

holiday restaurant 24. Use your newsletter
You’ve got plenty of things you need to communicate during the holidays--from special hours and closings to promotion of catering options and gift cards. Use your newsletter thoughtfully! At least once in November and once in December, send out a newsletter that is image-driven, concise, and informative.

Encourage guests in the restaurant to sign up for the newsletter so they are the first to find out about holiday offerings, special dinners, and discounts. Make sure visitors to your website can clearly see how to sign up for your newsletter. These (as opposed to your followers on social media) are the only contacts you directly own, and how you interact with them is important.

Don’t over-communicate with weekly emails. Wrap up four or five points of interest in one monthly or bi-weekly newsletter with strong photography and calls to action (ie. “book your party now” with a link). Don’t force newsletter readers to pick up the phone and call you for more information. Most won’t, and it’s a burden on your staff anyway. Offer online options for people to make reservations or to order food or gift cards.

5. Queue social media
Now is not the time to get bogged down in having to manage social media. But, it’s important not to completely drop off the face of the earth just because you’re in the weeds in the dining room. During the early weeks in November and December, set aside a few hours to queue posts on Facebook, Instagram, and any other social media platforms you use.

Facebook allows you to create and schedule posts months in advance. Take advantage of that, and use it to share your holiday menus, photos from past holiday celebrations (especially if you offer catering or private parties), and other promotions like gift cards. Consider boosting a Facebook post with a special gift card offer: “Buy one $100 gift card, and receive a free $20 gift card.” Just make sure you’re clear about how long the promotion will run, as promoted posts can linger in peoples' feeds for weeks.

Instagram allows users to save drafts of edited, captioned posts so that all you need to do is push “share” when you're ready. You can set calendar alerts to remind you to share those posts because, let’s face it, that might not be the most pressing issue in that moment. Suite management systems like Later will queue posts AND send a push notification to your phone, making it nearly impossible to forget to share that content!

Make it easy on yourself. Determine your frequency of communication on social media, and then take a couple of hours to set it up in advance. You can still post in the moment if you feel like it, but the point is, you won’t have to if you’re too busy. And you will be.

Remember, it's the holidays - make it fun! Incentivize your staff with bonuses or competitions to see who can sell the most gift cards, etc. This can be a stressful time for everyone, so it’s up to you and your managers to keep morale high. Be clear with staff about your expectations over the next few months. Check in with staff and let them know that you appreciate their time, especially over the holidays. That makes everyone's season a little brighter.