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13 Tips for a Profitable 2023 Holiday Season

In the US, Christmas is not a day. It’s an entire season. And if it seems to be starting earlier and earlier every year, that’s because it is. Whereas Black Friday used to be the day when stores would begin lighting up with their holiday decorations, these days, the gift-pushing season begins the day after Halloween—or sooner.

For restaurants, this means you need to begin decking out your dining room and planning your holiday menu earlier than ever to stay relevant.

Consumers have settled into a new normal in the last few years. They’ve gotten comfortable with the idea of QR codes, contactless menus, and digital digital storefronts; they’ve become accustomed to the convenience of delivery, and like second nature, they’re turning to social media for much of their information. The 2023 holiday season is a time for restaurants to double down on all of these nuances of the industry, and we’ve outlined some useful tips to help you wrap up profits into the most wonderful time of year.

Gen Zers Flexing Their Spending Muscles

While millennials are in their peak earning years and still at the top of the holiday spending heap, Gen Z consumers are on the cusp of expanding theirs, expected to spend 15% more in 2023 than in 2022, the widest percentage increase of any age group.

Gen Zers like to browse for gift ideas both in stores and on social media. When making a purchasing decision, this group widely prefers turning to social media for comparison shopping and learning about sustainable companies. While Gen Zers don’t tend to belong to customer loyalty programs as a group, those who do belong tend to outperform other age groups, making their consumer loyalty available for brands to cultivate.

More Stats to Consider

  • Consumers will increase spending by a healthy 7% this year, allocating an average of $1,530 for gifts, travel and entertainment.

  • 40% of consumers plan to spend more overall than they did in 2022.

  • Consumers with household incomes of $120,000 or more will exceed an average of $3,000.

  • Over 70% of restaurant sales come in the last two months of the year.

  • 72% of Black Friday shoppers visit a restaurant while doing holiday shopping.

  • 28% of Americans visit a restaurant or order on New Years Day.

  • 89% of shoppers do their own researching on their phone ahead of dining.

13 Ways to Jazz Up the Holiday Season

1. Plan Ahead with a Holiday Marketing Calendar

The holidays come up fast, and pass by faster, so give yourself a break and plan ahead with your own holiday calendar. Keep track of what ads and promotions you’ll run, the amount of staff you’ll need, and the dates you’ll want to change seasonal decor. Don’t wait til December to plan your Christmas and New Year's Eve menus.

Decide which holidays work best for your establishment based on your prior years’ sales (not including 2020.) Think about which holidays your community celebrates and start marketing at least three weeks in advance.

Is your restaurant more family-friendly? Invest less money into New Year's Eve promotions and more on New Year's Day, for example.

With Hanuukah falling early this year, if your restaurant is in an area where this holiday is relevant, this timeline is already upon you. Unlike Christmas, this holiday’s date changes every year, based on the Hebrew calendar. Chanukah (Hanukkah) 2023 starts at nightfall on December 7, 2023 and ends with nightfall on December 15, 2023, beginning on the Hebrew calendar date of 25 Kislev, and lasting for eight days. With Hanukkah beginning just 2 weeks after Thanksgiving, your Jewish customers have probably already started to shop, so, plan accordingly.

Your campaign strategy should include social media channels, email marketing, holiday menu items, coupons, loyalty programs, and gift cards, so mark your calendar and be prepared.

Mark Your Calendar

Thanksgiving - Thursday, November 23

Black Friday - Friday, November 24

Hanukkah - Begins December 7, 2023 at sundown and runs for 8 nights

Christmas Eve - Sunday, December 24, 2023

Christmas Day - Monday, December 25, 2023

New Years Eve - Sunday, December 31, 2023

New Years Day - Monday, January 1. 2024

2. Be Digitally Prepared

With the convenience and accessibility of a digitalized restaurant industry now woven into the nation’s fabric, consumers expect restaurants to have a greater digital presence. With industry leaders predicting an enormously busy in-person shopping season, restaurants can be a haven for shoppers to get a stress-break, so it’s important to make your dining room a pleasant place to escape the crowds. Up the ante by providing customers with quick ordering options while they’re busy shopping.

Make sure your online ordering systems are working at top-speed before the rush begins. If you haven’t already, get on board with user-friendly POS systems that let customers order and pay quickly and conveniently. Let passers by know they can run in and out quickly by promoting your digital systems with signage or window clings. A well-placed QR Code featured prominently on your storefront, for example, can attract holiday shoppers and entice them to stop in for a cup of coffee or hot chocolate while they’re out and about.

And don’t forget to promote on social media. Consider running ads on Google that will show up in front of customers who are in your area across Google’s various ad platforms.

3. Create Seasonal Hashtags

A little excitement goes a long way and even the simplest seasonal specials can be a great driver of new and repeat traffic. Build a sense of anticipation by offering holiday-related menu items available for only a limited time.

Every year, ​​Starbucks sells over $110 million worth of Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Through consistent campaigns run year after year, anticipation that begins in late summer has created excitement for this fall favorite every year. Hashtag #pumpkinspicelatte has created a whole new holiday season of its own for the coffee giant, so why not create your own brand’s big item and reap the benefits?

4. Level Up Your Loyalty Program

Consumers tend to enroll in more loyalty programs around the holiday season, so now is a great time to level up and promote your program.

If you don’t already have one, use the holidays to launch a campaign gifting your loyalty program customers and attracting new customers to enroll by offering giveaways like free seasonal drink specials, free meals, entrees, or sides. Choose a low-margin item that’s popular with your customers, like soft drinks or fries.

Promote across social media platforms, targeted email marketing campaigns, push notifications, on-premise signage, and in-app marketing plans. If you have the budget available, consider using paid social advertising platforms like Facebook Ad Manager to run retargeting ads using lookalike audiences to convert 3rd party customers.

5) Gear Up on Gift Cards

Still one of the most popular holiday presents, gift cards offer an easy way for your customers to share your delicious food with their loved ones. Digital gift cards are growing in popularity more than ever. Giving an e-gift card is excellent for hybrid or remote work teams; babysitters, dog sitters, and delivery people; and far away family and friends.

Create a design that utilizes the same logo and theme as your other marketing and promote them across social media. No longer seen as just a last minute gift idea, gift cards have become one way to show someone you care about that you know what they like. Sell your gift cards at every POS in your restaurant and include them as a menu option in your online ordering systems. As the holidays approach, add a little reminder at check-out.

An easy method to improve gift card sales during this time is to offer customers an extra incentive with the purchase of a gift card.

Think about selling cards at a discounted rate such as a $50 gift card for $35 or offer a free $10 gift card with every $50 gift card purchase.

Don’t forget to promote your gift cards to businesses. Gift cards are excellent gifts for employees and clients. Everyone loves to eat, so think about running a limited offer for bulk orders such as “Buy $100 worth of Gift Cards for Your Staff, Get an additional $100 for 50% Off” or “Buy 10- $10 Gift Cards, Get a Free $25 Gift Card for Yourself, Good After January 1st.”

6) Bring the Holidays to their Door

The last few years have changed the way many consumers celebrate. For customers that prefer to celebrate at home, offer meal kits they can order from your restaurant for either pick-up or delivery. The meal kit should include portioned out ingredients they'll need to make a delicious dish from your menu right at home with their loved ones. Don't have the time to assemble meal kits? Offer a holiday cocktail kit for delivery or pick-up!

8) Plan your Holiday Menu

As your customers begin to plan how they will socialize with family and friends and businesses start to coordinate corporate events, now is the time to start making plans with your chef and kitchen staff to create new menu offerings that are a fit for the holidays.

  • Add seasonal items: Create menu items that bring in flavors of the season such as peppermint, pumpkin, gingerbread, vanilla, hazelnut, and cranberry.

  • Create dinner bundles: Everyone craves the classic dishes served during the holidays, but few relish the time and effort that goes into preparing them and cleaning up the mess. Your restaurant might not normally offer items like mashed potatoes and gravy, candied yams, or pumpkin pie, but this is one time of year where making an exception is likely to pay off with reservations or takeout/delivery orders.

  • Limited-time offers: Take your seasonal menu up a notch by creating limited-time offers that customers will want to visit to try “while they last!”

  • Think family-style: Many families and groups plan gatherings over the holidays. Create family-size menus that serve 4-8 guests to tap into this customer base.

  • Create or optimize catering menus: Go bigger than family-size by creating a catering menu that can serve parties of all sizes.

  • Create a variety of catering packages: Create full-service catering packages for larger holiday events, but keep the individual in mind too. Many people would be happy to incorporate a few of your items into their holiday dinner spread to save on time and hassle, so be sure to advertise this option to give more customers a chance to consider it.

  • Get creative: Consider coming up with holiday-inspired dishes like a mashed potato or pie bar. Ask your kitchen staff for input to increase morale during the holidays.

  • Don’t forget drinks and dessert: Guests are in a celebratory mood during the holidays, so expect interest in desserts and beverages to be high - and plan accordingly. Seasonal flavors like pumpkin spice and peppermint, premium ingredients, and over-the-top festive presentations are among the ways to hit the sweet spot. Desserts to go like whole cakes, cheesecakes, pies, cookie trays, and other craveable pastries designed to feed a group are another way to drum up sales and provide convenience for customers. Drinks are a great way to increase order sizes. As you create food menus, add both alcoholic and nonalcoholic specialty menu items.

8) Get Ready for Holiday Reservations

Now is the time to start booking your dining room for holiday reservations. Consider the different groups that will be looking for reservations during the holidays.

  • Companies looking for private spaces for office parties

  • Large families and groups looking for tables to accommodate large groups

  • Small families and groups looking for a place to celebrate on the day of a holiday

Decide which type of reservations and groups you want to target this holiday season, and begin to put both policies and marketing initiatives in place to support those plans.

9) Make a Plan for Catering and To-go Orders

The holidays bring an influx of customers into restaurants as well as many customers who want to order take-out options.

  • Create deadlines for catering and large take-out orders and start sharing your policies and plans on your website and through social media.

  • Order additional delivery packaging.

  • Get help with delivery platforms like Sauce.

10) Get the Word Out

It’s not enough to set up holiday initiatives; you need to get them in front of your customers who are most likely to be interested in your holiday offerings.

Once you know what holiday initiatives you want to run this holiday season, it’s time to plan the marketing tactics that will help you promote your initiatives.

  • Create landing pages to promote your holiday initiatives.

  • Create a social media content calendar.

  • Use social media and email blasts

  • Use geofencing marketing to reach customers right around your restaurant.

  • Utilize cross-channel marketing

11) Get Back to Business

Immediately after Thanksgiving is when offices begin to get psyched about the holiday season. Attach your catering menu to every lunch order during November and December advertising your holiday specials for office parties. Contact office managers and human resource department managers at local companies via email, or go old school with direct mail or flyers.

12) Prepare your Staff and Holiday Scheduling Early

Between your normal delivery orders and catered events, your front- and back-of-house staff will be busier than usual. And now is the perfect time to check in with staff to make sure everyone is up to date on expectations and is ready to go for the holiday catering season.

Consider bringing on a few temporary staff members to ensure your restaurant is prepared for the holiday rush. Whether it’s washing dishes or serving food, the extra hands should help things run as smoothly as possible in your restaurant.

If you’re not sure where to look for help, try posting positions on college job boards. Students who are on break may be looking for ways to earn a little extra cash for the holidays.

13) Promote Alcohol Delivery Offerings

Make the most of the end-of-year’s biggest drinking holidays by creating a plan to offer alcohol delivery and pick-up for the upcoming festivities.

Alcohol makes up between 20 and 25% of a restaurant’s income, so it’s important to find new ways of moving it. For selling alcoholic beverages via online delivery or for click and collect on premises, a business needs a license from their local council. In the United States, most US jurisdictions also divide licenses by on-premises consumption (bar and restaurant) and off-premises (bottle) sales.

Before you begin delivering alcohol, you’ll want to make sure you’re in compliance with local laws. Check with local authorities about which off-premises alcohol sales and consumption rules apply to you, and obtain any required licenses and signage before sending out the spirits this season.

Draw customers in with special package deals, like Weekend Brunch Deals or a Holiday Special with mulled wine or eggnog. You could even create an online happy hour, setting discounts for drinks during the high-demand hours.

By Eileen Strauss

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