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10 Holiday Restaurant Marketing Tips

The folks at MustHaveMenus.com were kind enough to share some great marketing insights from John Foley, editor of The Restaurant Blog.  Must Have Menus is your source for food menu templates, event flyers, restaurant menu software, and restaurant marketing ideas.

1.    What are some easy, inexpensive ways to drive customer traffic to your restaurant during the holidays?

Without any question, Facebook, Twitter and email blasts to a targeted customer list are all ways to communicate with people, expand your footprint and entice people to come to your restaurant.

2.    People like to be indulged during the holidays. What are some indulgences you can serve that can increase sales or attract new customers?

Many restaurant owners keep their eye on the big party or catering event. One joyous thing to do during the holidays is to pick a theme and offer it one night each week. In my restaurant, we loved a “Dickens of a Christmas.” We served a variety of roasted meats – turkey, chicken, duck and Cornish game hen – buffet style, along with stuffing, vegetables and puddings. My staff would dress up in tattered, Dickens-styled clothing, act a little like the Dickens characters. In addition, we offered an array of old-styled cocktails. Many people, who didn’t have a large enough staff for a catered Christmas party, would reserve large tables. Eventually, I had to offer the event two nights a week between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was a huge success.

3.    Are there any service considerations during the holiday season?

Nothing changes at Christmas when it comes to service. People demand and deserve the same service whenever they go out to eat. And, there is no excuse for frazzled servers, as there are thousands of very professional restaurant employees begging for work.

4.    If you notice sales are slumping, what should be the first steps you take?

Slumping sales are like a cold. If you don’t catch them quickly, they could lead to something much worse before you even realize it. I believe that if a sales slump lasts a week, it’s either the economy, the stock market or a new television series. If it lasts two weeks, kids are going back to school, income taxes are due or it’s vacation time. Anything longer than three weeks? It’s time to review your menu, your pricing and your competition.However, slumps during the Holiday may not be a reason to panic. The holiday season is very deceiving. Everyone fantasizes about being busy and festive, yet most people are either going to parties at other people’s houses or are attending events. In many cases restaurants see an uptick in volume, but most already know how busy they are going to be. The time to think about the slump is now, before the season really begins. Once the season is upon us, it may be too late to counter a “slump.” That being said, an email blast with a “special holiday coupon” is a great way to fill a dining room on a slow night.

5.    What are some tips to make your staff feel appreciated during this busy time?

Owners should always be aware of the staff’s feelings and mood. And, the stresses the staff goes through should always be taken into consideration. It’s a festive time and owners and managers need to convey that.Contests are a great way to boost staff spirits. Base the contest on your servers’ strong points. If one server always sells the most desserts, design a contest around that. Other ideas: the most wine sold and the most after dinner drinks, etc. Be sure to make the prizes worthwhile. It is the holiday season and a bit of extra cash helps everyone. A $25 bonus for each of the contest winners is a great prize. Also, go to a neighboring restaurant and trade some gift certificates for $25, so they can give your certificates to their staff and theirs to yours.

6.    What is the best holiday offer you’ve ever seen? Why did it work?

The best holiday offer I have ever seen was a kitchen whisk with a small Santa Claus inside the wire ball, completed with a a bow and a tree ornament hanger. We placed it in a gift-wrapped box and mailed it to 50 of our best customers. My wife came up with the idea, which may be why I think it’s the best holiday offer. The card inside simply read, ‘We are whipping up some delightfully delicious holiday specials to cater to your festive needs. Stop by for a libation, a glass of cheer or call us and we’ll help you plan that perfect holiday event. We hope to see you throughout the holiday season. But if by chance we don’t, have a Merry Christmas.”  We put the logo of our restaurant on the card and attached it with ribbon. Results: Out of the 50 people who received the gift in the mail, we catered, dined with or saw each of them throughout the holidays. Most booked parties and brought many guests. The following year and each year after that, people requested our different kitchen ornament gifts.

7.    How can restaurants leverage community events to increase sales (i.e. fundraisers, flea markets, etc?)

Giving back to the community is a tremendous way to promote business, but it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a long time to develop relationships and to get them to work for you.

8.    How can restaurants get the word out and garner holiday party or catering business from local businesses?

Nothing beats the free lunch program. The first year I decided to do catering was on Lake Minnetonka in Deephaven, Minn., where I had a small 20- seat café. The catering season was getting off to a very bad start. However, one Thursday afternoon I had an impressive variety of ladies lunching and lounging in the cafe. So, I decided to do a bit of self-promotion.I prepared a skillet with butter, garlic, chives and white wine. I added a large portion of snails and topped those with toast points. The aroma from the skillet was heavenly. As I walked from the kitchen, through the café, to the front of the room, I was loudly asking my wife if this was the dish Mrs. Pillsbury (Yes, that Mrs. Pillsbury) – might like on  her dinner party menu. My wife looked at me as though I was crazy. On the way back to the kitchen I left a sample of the escargot and toast points at each table.Catering calls increased within three days. People couldn’t stop talking about how the new guy in town was catering the Pillsbury’s party. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a call from them that year. The next year, however, we catered the Pillsbury Christmas Eve family party and numerous other events for them. Senator George Pillsbury came to my wedding.

9.    We loved your idea about having a catering salesperson for each shift. How do you prep that person?

Having a shift leader or designated server know about catering is an effective way to increase sales. To do this, you first need to develop a compensation plan for the server in case they develop a lead for a catering event. It could be as small as 3 percent or as much as 10 percent. The catch is they only receive compensation if they get all of the contact information, fill out a catering information form, and the event gets booked. Don’t fall for “Yeah, Mrs. Johnson wants to have a dinner party.”Secondly, the server needs to know the basic catering menu and operation. They don’t need to quote prices, as those should vary with the season, the dish and the market. Plus, you never discuss price until they are sitting at the table with your catering director, chef or yourself. Finally, the server needs to mention one of your successful past events. They also need to trow in the name of the person who booked it. Make sure its someone in the community or neighborhood people might know.

10.    How can you use your menu and social media outlets to increase sales?

The world has become coupon crazy. Last month alone, more than 22 million people visited the two largest coupon sites in the country. If you are efficient in social media, use it consistently to make offers, give discounts or promote bounce backs. Emails should be more than just “thinking of you, love to see ya.”  Offer a discount. Announce a cost-saving special. And, you should always highlight menu items and recipes.

One Response to 10 Holiday Restaurant Marketing Tips

  1. azmilsyahmi September 14, 2011 at 1:41 am #

    I fully agree with the author. Giving back to the community is a great way to market but it takes time. After two years of doing community service and visiting people. I can finnaly see the reults of my actions

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