As the leaves begin to change and the air gets crisper, many people can’t help but to get a bit excited for the approaching holiday season. Usually a time spent enjoying lots of delicious foods and drinks with a plethora of people, holidays during the coronavirus pandemic will undoubtedly look very different this year for business owners and patrons alike. The restaurant industry has been hit especially hard during COVID-19. As a restaurant owner it’s crucial to continue to rethink your business model and offerings during these trying times in order to maintain a consistent and positive revenue stream. The upcoming holiday months present a unique opportunity for restaurants to test their creativity by offering themed menus and dishes, over-the-top décor, outdoor dining options, and safely distanced holiday celebrations and gifts.
We’re sharing a variety of tactics that restaurant owners can test as they navigate how to adapt to the fall/winter seasons that are a traditionally difficult time of year for the industry, even pre-pandemic.
Add a side of holiday spirit to your menu
Delicious food is synonymous with the holidays for most people, so it’s a smart move to add these staple dishes to your restaurant’s takeout/delivery and catering menus. The more seamless and stress-free of an experience you can make ordering peoples’ favorite holiday dishes for them, the more apt they are to ditch the cooking this year and support local restaurants.
Thanksgiving: Add a “Turkey Dinner” option to your catering and takeout/delivery menu that includes turkey with gravy, stuffing, cranberries, mashed potatoes, and roasted veggies. Depending on your customer demographic you can also test offering a vegetarian and/or vegan option as well to entice even more orders. Featuring a seasonal dessert such as pumpkin pie for a limited time can also get people in the holiday spirit and more likely to indulge.
Celebrations: No matter which holiday a person chooses to celebrate good food is often the focal point around which everyone gathers. As a restaurant owner it’s smart to showcase a variety of takeout and catering options (if possible) that can span a wide range of holiday fare. For example, potato pancakes, latkes, slow-cooked brisket, and matzo ball soup are all enjoyed at a traditional Hanukkah celebration. Try adding a special meal of these holiday-focused dishes to your menu and offer desserts such as jelly doughnuts (sufganiyot), Hanukkah gelt chocolates, babka, and loukoumades. Shareable appetizers like challah, halloumi, and gefilte fish cakes make the perfect to-go bulk menu items that people can order to enjoy with their family.
Also, keep in mind that the demand for seasonal catered food options during Christmastime is sure to spike and it’s important that local restaurants be ready to capitalize on this opportunity. Offer up varying meal packages that include traditional dishes like glazed ham, turkey, roast chicken, stuffing, and salad. No meal is complete without delectable desserts such as yule logs, fruitcakes, puddings, and gingerbread cookies.
New Year’s Eve: When curating your catering and takeout/delivery New Year’s Eve menu, there’s no better time to let your most popular and “wow factor” dishes shine. Since this holiday is not typically associated with a hyper-specific type of food, you can have a bit of fun and showcase what your restaurant does best. Think special occasion foods like lobster, crab, and steak mixed with your signature items such as stuffed mushrooms, bacon-wrapped dates, and toasted ravioli.
Curate seasonal kits and classes
If catering ready-to-eat dishes is not a viable option for your business, explore the idea of building holiday-inspired meal kits. Determine which types of meals can be assembled from ingredients you may already have on hand and create a branded recipe card to include with your kit. For example, if you own an Italian restaurant, consider bottling your family-recipe pasta sauce, packaging your handmade pasta, and including all the necessary ingredients for your popular lasagna dish. This way, customers can make and enjoy an authentic meal from your restaurant at home during the holidays with their loved ones. A savvy tip is to offer designated pickup days/times where your customers can come to collect their pre-ordered kits.
Similarly, evaluate the option of selling seasonal cocktail kits that can also be available for pickup. Tap into everyone’s favorite fall/winter flavor profiles and create holiday libations such as bourbon eggnog, cranberry punch, white chocolate peppermint martinis, and hot spiked mulled apple cider. Include all the ingredients, liquor, and accoutrements in your kits at varying size options so the entire family can enjoy a piece of your restaurant. If meal and drink kits aren’t something you feel comfortable taking on, consider selling à la carte ingredients and smaller food items that are popular during the holidays like spices, gravy, freshly baked bread, cranberries, and fragrant herbs.
Finally, test out hosting a digital cooking class through your social channels or Zoom that your customers and followers can purchase tickets and ingredients for in advance. Have a set grocery list posted a week or so prior to the class, so that people can sign on and be ready to cook with you or your chef on the day of. This is a great, low-stress activity that families and friends can enjoy together while social distancing. Plus, it presents a killer opportunity for you as a business owner to market and promote your restaurant, while being sensitive to everyone’s varying comfort levels during coronavirus.
Embrace the cold and the bold
If your outdoor setup allows, winterize your patio to make it a cozy and inviting space for customers. Consider updating the décor to feature plush pillows, fluffy blankets, and oversized furniture to entice guests to get comfortable and stay a while. Especially with indoor dining restrictions constantly shifting due to the pandemic, it’s crucial for restaurant owners to maximize outdoor dining opportunities for as long as possible. For more ideas on how to prepare your restaurant for outdoor dining during cooler weather amidst the coronavirus pandemic without breaking your budget, check out our blog.
Another innovative idea is to evaluate the possibility of teaming up with local business owners — jewelry stores, craft shops, clothing boutiques, and homewares sellers — to do an outdoor holiday market. Your restaurant can supply the patio space as well as a set menu of holiday-inspired food and drinks for purchase. Feature mulled wine, hot chocolate, and hot toddy drinks, paired with easy-to-eat foods such as macaroni and cheese balls, hot pretzels, and caramel apples. This is an effective way to bolster your relationship with nearby businesses while also drumming up buzz and profit for your restaurant during traditionally slower months.
The holidays are all about fun, bright, and over-the-top decorations, so tap into this aesthetic by decorating your restaurant in a way that’s sure to catch passerby’s eyes. Try stringing up colorful lights, featuring a large ice sculpture, your own personal Santa bartender, and other winter-inspired decorations throughout your spot. Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries and make it a bit gimmicky in order to stand out from your neighboring competition. In fact, some restaurants have received impressive PR and news mentions from using this strategy.
Create custom gifts and experiences
Celebrating the holidays during COVID-19 may leave many people scrambling to find a gift that can show how much they care, while also respecting each of their loved one’s boundaries and concerns during this unpredictable time. Restaurant owners can consider putting together branded holiday gift baskets that they can sell at their establishment, online, and through their social media channels. This is an auspicious avenue for restaurants to showcase their most popular and unique ingredients and menu items. Evaluate which of your products will travel best and offer different packages for purchase. Possible items may include homemade sauces, seasonal spice packets, cured meats, artisanal cheeses, and candied nuts, along with jams, mustards, and pickled vegetables that are made in house. You can even add in branded items such as sweatshirts, hats, tea towels, and bottle openers to further reinforce brand recognition.
During these challenging times for the industry, many patrons are looking for ways to support their favorite local restaurants besides dining in or ordering delivery/takeout. So, try taking the gift basket idea a step further by selling customized wine bottles for the holidays complete with branded glassware and wine stoppers. Come up with fun and holiday-focused names for your wines and possibly work with a local artist to design an equally exciting label design. Market your branded goodies via email, your website, social media, and in your restaurant for maximum exposure and return. Utilize the data in your POS system to determine your best-selling wines to poise your efforts for success from the start. Owners can also offer a discount to those customers who buy multiple bottles to encourage bulk buying.
As the holidays approach, many families, businesses, and workplaces are aiming to get creative with ways to bring everyone together for a celebratory night, while essentially keeping them physically apart. Restaurant owners can capitalize on this movement by supplying virtual holiday party set menus that allow each person (within a designated radius) to order the same type of meal to be delivered to their door. This way, people can share in the same meal via a virtual gathering allowing them to feel close to one another during these isolating times. Similarly, restaurants can join the New Year’s Eve celebrations by offering complimentary branded mini champagne bottles and plastic champagne flutes (for customers 21+ years old) the week leading up to December 31 with the purchase of any order over a specific dollar amount. This festive tactic can serve to bolster end-of-year sales and brand awareness.
Seek out creative solutions
As another wave of COVID-19 begins to surge across the United States, restaurants will need to implement innovative strategies to fuel steady business and revenue. Creating holiday-focused menus, increasing catering and to-go options, while embracing the cold weather and festive spirit of the season can lead to increased brand awareness and sales for your restaurant. Pair these ideas with timely promotions, unique gifts, and virtual offerings, and restaurant owners can have the ability to garner new customers and a consistent revenue stream during a typically slower time in the industry. It’s no secret that the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic has prompted all businesses, but especially restaurants, to think more outside the box than ever before when it comes to finding sustainable and safe solutions for their customers, employees, and bottom line.
Be sure to regularly visit our free resource section dedicated to advising restaurants on how to navigate the changing rules and regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic.