The holidays can be a make-or-break time of year, and many operators get so busy—banquets on the weekend, large family tables to seat nightly, office parties to cater, entertainment to book, gift card sales to manage, etc.—it’s hard to know what’s working and what’s not in the heat of the moment.
But tracking results is essential to prevent your business from being haunted by the ghost of holiday failures past. Our team of Gordon Food Service experts say operators should start planning for the next holiday season right away, while the successes and challenges are top of mind. They have plenty of advice on measuring your holiday success and using that information to make the next holiday season brighter.
No matter how busy the days and nights, your POS system contains a wealth of information, says Milton, Ontario District Sales Manager Jim Kapetanos.
“There are many ways to compare and measure metrics,” he says. “You can track week-to-week or month-to-month sales and compare them to how you did the previous year—and you can break them down to track individual parts of the business, like gift cards and LTOs.”
Fabio Pizzolato, a District Sales Manager in Vancouver, recommends comparing statistics on an even broader scale—season to season.
“One big party or one large group can make monthly numbers jump so much that they’re hard to compare,” he says. “If you pull back and look at the overall season, you may find better average for comparison.”
Any data you collect helps you track trends and improve your business. Melani Quinn, a District Sales Manager in Milton, says this data may signal the need for increased staffing on certain days or shifts.
“Having your service perfectly timed for customers makes a good impression and keeps them coming back,” she says.
Kapetanos says data can also control the size of your menu. “Because you’re so busy during the holidays, streamlining the menu is a big help,” Kapetanos says. “If you know which items are most successful, you can limit the menu to a more manageable number of items and speed up guest orders and time spent assembling dishes in the kitchen.”
For all the great information data provides, Pizzolato reminds operators to be careful when they interpret numbers. If food costs go up and your restaurant raises its prices, the results may look good, but not necessarily indicate a better year.
“Sometimes it’s best to compare the number of customers served or the number of items ordered to gauge success,” he says.
Even looking at data on portion sizes can be valuable. If guests aren’t ordering desserts, maybe the entrée portion sizes are too big. Data is the key to tracking all of that information, he says, and sometimes it has very little to do with tracking dollars and cents.”
Those closest to the action—your host, servers and kitchen crew—can tell you what went right (or wrong), and listening to them not only builds morale, but it can improve shortcomings next time around.
“Any service that worked needs to be repeated for the next holiday,” says Sheldon MacDonald, a District Sales Manager in Nova Scotia. “But you’ll only know what you can improve upon when you ask.”
If your host is too busy to greet people nearly as soon as they walk in the door, you need to have a backup plan to welcome guests. If you overbook your tables, over-promise on your specials or overextend your kitchen, your staff may have ideas on ways to improve. If you’re not listening, one thing is certain, customers will notice.
“Not all customers will like all foods, but they all know how they like to be served—and they want it to be memorable,” MacDonald says.
If emails, texts and social media blasts are a big part of attracting guests during the holiday season, then don’t overlook them afterward, says Ken Booth, a District Sales Manager in Calgary.
Use a social media survey, or watch what review sites are saying about your restaurant,” he says. “You’ll get some positive and some negative feedback, but all feedback is good.”
Vancouver District Sales Manager Nattalia Vance agrees, pointing out that you’re getting a lot of free information about ways you can improve and a lot promotion when you succeed.
Rebooking holiday parties is a good measure of your success, Pizzolato says. You'll know people were satisfied if they call you up early in the year to schedule their next holiday event.
"Don't be shy about contacting them first, either," he says. "You want to make sure the parties that we successful have a place on your calendar before it fills up, otherwise you could lose their business."
To do this, Vance reminds operators to keep customer contact information on file. And when you contact them to reserve dates during the Christmas season, let them know you also celebrate other special occasions, like Mother's Day, Easter or summer barbecues.
The gift cards you sell during the holidays are a great way to bring customers back in the door in the slower post-holiday weeks. But cards sold in December and redeemed in January will offset your food costs for the month, MacDonald says.
It's easy to measure success by comparing cards sold from season to season. It's also possible for cards to generate fresh revenue in the new year.
"When you're promoting gift cards before Christmas, offer an incentive like $10 off for the purchase of a $100 card, or a free dessert if it's redeemed by a certain date," MacDonald says. "One incentive invites the card buyer to come in and spend a bit more; the other one encourages use of the card during a set period."
Gordon Food Service offers other ways to measure your holiday success as well as ideas to consider when planning for next year.
"One big thing operators need to do is plan for next year," Booth says. "They're often so busy running their day-to-day business that they forget to ask for help."
He suggests talking to a District Sales Representative about everything from learning how Inventory Manager can help track products to booking seasonal LTOs or conducting staff training.
Vance says, "GFS Connect can review purchases from year to year. When you know the volume of products and whether they met your expectations, you can set goals for the upcoming holiday season."
Another thing Booth suggests is to invite your District Sales Representative to become a secret shopper.
Have someone visit your restaurant during the holidays and observe everything from a customer's perspective," he says. "It's a good way to get honest feedback on everything from the staffing to the food, and hearing from an independent observer helps engage better with customers no matter what the season."