Is your restaurant holiday-ready? Now’s the time to finalize your plans for grabbing a greater share of business from the people out, about and hungry during the fall holidays. Our Gordon Food Service experts weigh in with tips for a successful holiday season.
Getting an early start on holiday planning is essential. Québec City-based District Sales Manager Isabelle Lavoie suggests meeting with your District Sales Representative in September to plan out the holiday period and review menus for it. For large-scale operations, she suggests a business review with a corporate chef at one of the Gordon Food Service culinary centres.
This is not the time to expand your core menu, according to Fabio Pizzolato, a District Sales Manager in Delta, British Columbia. In fact, you may want to trim your menu offerings. “During slow periods, there is more time to prep multiple items and make elaborate dishes. During the holiday rush, quick execution is key for quick turnover—and happy customers.”
On the other hand, you do want to offer something special and celebratory. Ken Booth, a District Sales Manager in Rocky View County, Alberta, suggests you make use of limited-time offers (LTO). “Think of things you don’t normally offer, dishes that play into the comfort and nostalgia of the season. Braised items, for instance, make many of us think of home-cooked family meals.”
Create a featured dessert of the season, Booth suggests. Incorporate a seasonal flavour such as peppermint, eggnog or gingerbread. “Again,” he encourages, “you can price it higher than your other selections.”
Need LTO and dessert ideas? Brad Knorr, a District Sales Manager in Kelowna, British Columbia, urges operators to attend their nearest Gordon Food Service Fall Food Show. “Held in October, they’re a great way to see new products, get seasonal inspiration and even learn of specialty pricing opportunities, all in one place.”
Staff training, always critical, takes on added importance at the holidays. Customers will spend up to 25% more of their disposable income to dine out during the holiday season, reports Edmonton, Alberta-based Sales Manager Jim Morris. So in addition to training staff in the fundamentals of good service, coach them on how to upsell your most profitable menu items.
The season of giving is the best time of year to promote gift cards. Just don’t expect them to sell themselves. “Advertise them on your menu; it’s the only spot your customers are guaranteed to see,” Pizzolato says. “Servers should also mention gift cards to customers at the end of each meal.”
Jimmy Kapetanos, a Sales Manager in Toronto, Ontario, gave customers an additional incentive to purchase by donating a portion of each gift-card sale to charity. Nattalia Vance, a District Sales Manager in Delta, British Columbia, suggests another tactic: “Give customers something extra—like a $10 gift card for every $100 in gift cards they purchase.”
Catering, inside and outside your restaurant, represents a huge holiday opportunity. Again, promotion is critical, and Vance reminds us that it’s easier to increase business from an existing customer than a new one. “Keep a database of customers who’ve booked your services during past holiday seasons,” she advises. “Reach out to them ahead of time, offering first chance at holiday reservations. This works really well for large-party bookings and also makes customers feel recognized and valued.”
“A quick-meal menu can be very appealing at the holidays,” Pizzolato says. “If customers are shopping or need to catch transportation, they might just want a quick bite. Often they won’t tell you they’re in a hurry until it’s too late. A short, quick-meal menu or an icon on your regular menu will help your time-restricted customers.”
Operators can boost sales, brand perception and loyalty, Morris maintains, by supporting a local charity at the holidays. One example: “Offer a reduced cost to customers who bring in a toy for a children’s charity or a nonperishable food item,” he suggests. “Advertise it in your restaurant, on flyers and through social media. You won’t believe the interest that can generate.”
“Decorate your restaurant to give it that warm and fuzzy holiday feeling,” Morris recommends. “Play holiday music. Have staff dress up a little—just take it up a notch.” Lavoie agrees. “Use different-coloured napkins, tablecloths, decorative containers and Christmas-themed items,” she advises.
“More and more, menus have to address the preferences of each generation and meet these needs” says Québec City-based Corporate Chef Stéphane Renaud. The dishes have to strike the right chords.” Examples of ways to satisfy holiday diners of various generations include:
Baby Boomers: High quality, freshness, prepared on-site.
Generation X: Authentic, high quality, somewhat exotic dishes.
Generation Y: Local, fresh, no additives, organic.
Generation Z: Organic, sustainable, non-enhanced.
Be very distinctive and maintain your reputation
While superior food and service are critical to every segment, fine-dining establishments face even more pressure to be perfect at the holidays when diners are especially focused on gatherings that produce memorable moments. “The customers who go to your establishment expect an out-of-the ordinary experience,” Renaud says. “That is why they are willing to pay premium prices. Don’t disappoint them!”