The gift of holiday planning


Thinking ahead can help restaurants end the year on a high note.

The autumn aroma of pumpkin spice latte season has barely arrived, alerting restaurant operators that it’s time to dive into holiday planning.

In a tough economy, November and December figure to be make or break months more than ever. A smart strategy can make all the difference, says Gordon Food Service Culinary Specialist Bill Barker.

“When expenses go up, the first thing people cut is their entertainment budget,” he said. “But people still want to celebrate, and restaurants can find ways to reach them.”

Barker touched on five areas of holiday planning critical to ending the year on a high note.A graphic showing consumer preference for limited time offers

Rethink catering

Family holiday outings may be down this year. Capturing corporate party business is one way to pick up the slack. Contact the local chamber of commerce for a list of area businesses and connect with them about hosting or catering their holiday parties.

“I think many corporations feel like they owe their employees a celebration this year,” Barker said. “Events can happen in your restaurant or, if you are equipped, catered off-site at a banquet hall or even at their offices.”

Operators must assure catered food fits their brand and isn’t jeopardized by supply-chain issues. Work closely with your Sales Representative to avoid products affected by supply chain or cost issues, Barker urges. And your catering program also should stress safety to reassure people with pandemic concerns during the emerging winter cold and flu season.

Take on takeout

Holiday planning should include a healthy dose of off-premise dining, promoted by a solid social media marketing schedule and staff awareness.

“Let people know your plans on your website, Facebook, Instagram or wherever,” Barker advises. “Also make sure everyone on your staff is well aware of holiday plans, so they can answer questions when a potential customer calls.”

Don’t overlook packaging as a brand ambassador. The GFSImpress program allows operators to affix restaurant logos and messaging to containers. This reminds everyone at private holiday celebrations about your business.

“Some operators will say packaging is expensive, but if you are serving customers at home, you don’t have the expense of washing china or cleaning tables,” Barker points out. “Now you can afford a more upscale takeout program.”

Market appetizers, LTOs

To excite off-premise and dining-room customers, Barker suggests holiday appetizers and limited-time offers (LTOs). Flavours from the many Mediterranean nations remain popular, and mezze plates are perfect for sharing.

Fresh takes on charcuterie boards are an ideal LTO, Barker says. “It doesn’t need to be meat or cheese. We’re seeing breakfast boards, but it can be seafood, vegetables or sweets if that’s your brand.”

Charcuterie-style boards can be packaged and sent off-premise with instructions for assembly at home or at an office event.

Craft a cocktail menu

Seasonal beverages are another holiday fave, and retro cocktails are in vogue, Barker says. Signature drinks or to-go batch mixes (if your liquor laws allow) with prep instructions are a sales builder.

Don’t overlook mocktails for those who prefer zero-proof drinks.

“A lot of people don’t drink or are designated drivers, so you can build drinks that look and taste like cocktails so people don’t feel out of place while everyone else is drinking,” Barker said.

Grow gift card sales

Gift cards are a holiday staple, so promote them early. They put money in your operation now, much of which won’t be redeemed until January, if at all.

“The redemption rate on gift cards is never 100%,” Barker said. “If an operator sells $10,000 in gift cards and only $8,000 is redeemed, it’s like free money. And guests who do use gift cards often exceed the card amount.”

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