How to Ring Up More Holiday Sales

People holding fancy glasses

Many little things can add up to a successful season for your restaurant.

Is your restaurant holiday-ready? Now’s the time to plan ways to grab a greater share of business from the people out, about and hungry amid the end-of-year holidays. Our Gordon Food Service experts weigh in with tips for a successful holiday season.

Make a plan

“Start planning for the holidays sooner rather than later,” advises Jim Milliman, a Business Solutions Specialist in Tennessee. “Create a monthly/weekly timeline—marketing plans, menu ideas, catering strategies and restaurant improvements—that need to be accomplished before the end of October. Look back at what did and didn’t work in the past. What did customers ask you for last year that you had to decline?”

Get indulgent

“This is the time of year when people are looking to indulge,” says Brighton, Michigan-based Commercial Segment Specialist Doug Clayton. “Don’t tweak your core menu; create a separate holiday menu with a few decadent choices. People aren’t looking at prices so much at the holidays, so you can charge a premium and make a significant profit margin.” You can make holiday meals feel even more special by pairing them with high-profit wine, craft beer, or craft-spirit flights.

Serve seasonal flavors

Incorporate seasonal flavors—“pumpkin, cinnamon, cranberry, sage, ginger, peppermint, sweet potato, eggnog and, of course, chocolate”—into your holiday offerings, advises Jeff Goodwin, a Segment Specialist in Fort Wayne, Indiana. These flavors position your restaurant as a festive place.

Offer holiday meals to go

Takeaway holiday meals and desserts can be effective sales-builders.

“Focus on things that are easy for your kitchen to execute, then make it easy for your customer to order,” says Houston, Texas-based Business Solutions Leader Lisa Geagan. “You can offer regular menu items and dress them up with fancy to-go containers, or tweak the recipes just a bit with seasonal ingredients and flavors.” 

Catering

Ted Van Atta, a Commercial Sales Manager for the Lansing/Brighton region of Michigan, says catering easier when you create an easily executable idea so even last-minute calls won’t have you scrambling. “If you already cater off-site events, consider adjusting your menu to make it simpler and more profitable. Suggest added services to make parties go more smoothly—‘May we suggest adding two of our staff members to oversee your event?’” You want to be a knowledgeable, convenient resource for party planners.  

Make ordering easy

Consider offering online ordering and setting up a separate phone line for holiday orders, Geagan suggests. “Train order-takers to listen well and upsell; you want them to ask the right questions to lead the customer through the process and ensure nothing is forgotten.” Retirees, she notes, are a great choice for this temporary position. “They’re courteous and pay attention to detail.”

Promote gift cards

“The number of gift cards you sell is directly related to the business you’ll do in January,” suggests Tom Enyeart, a Commercial Segment Specialist in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. “Promote them early and everywhere as an easy holiday solution for friends, family, and businesses.” 

Clayton points out that a significant percentage of gift cards is never redeemed, “So that’s pure profit for you.”

Line up staff 

“In a tight labor market, finding people to fill staff needs for the holidays might be your top challenge,” Enyeart says. Stay in touch, he advises, with past employees, especially college students who may come home for the holidays. “Keep their email addresses and reach out to them well in advance to see if they’d be interested in picking up some hours while they’re back in town.”

Remember the basics

“Take the time to train seasonal help properly,” advises Burgess Chasteen III, a Commercial Segment Specialist in Dayton/Cincinnati/Charleston, Ohio. “Servers who are not as knowledgeable or attentive as your usual standards call for can really damage your brand.” 

Motivate staff

“Remember that there has to be something in it for your staff,” Van Atta stresses. “Whether it’s a sales promotion wrapped around a menu feature or a holiday party for hitting certain sales goals. You can even tier the party based on the results—from beans ’n wienies to a steak dinner. That builds camaraderie and fun into a hectic holiday season.”

Celebrate the New Year

“New Year’s Eve provides an opportunity to upscale what you usually do ... and charge for it,” Milliman says. “It can be the dinner before attending a party or it can be the party. There are high expectations for this night. Capitalize on them.” 

“This is your time to shine,” Chasteen concludes. “Be prepared—be over-prepared—and make sure every guest gets the special treatment.” That will create special memories and positive word-of-mouth that can generate increased business throughout the year.