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Marketing your restaurant during the holidays

Published October 29, 2021

Is there anything better than entering a cozy local eatery on a chilly evening? The soft glow of lights and the promise of a festive cocktail can warm you instantly.

The holidays are a time to reunite with the family and loved ones you don't see often—and if those reunions can be at an intimate local restaurant, all the better.

The results for restaurants during this time of year, however, are mixed. While some experience a holiday rush during the winter holiday months, others experience up to a 60% decline in sales.

We might assume that customers are deterred from dining out by colder weather, familial obligations or a more hectic calendar. But what does that mean for restaurants during the holiday months? How can restaurant owners alter their marketing tactics to attract customers during predicted slow periods

Here are some tips on how to handle your holiday restaurant promotions.

Utilize your customer loyalty program to issue holiday coupons

People love getting holiday cards, and what better way to get your brand in front of loyal customers? Whether you send a physical card or leverage digital “paperless” cards via email marketing, sending a holiday message is an easy and inexpensive way to remind customers about your restaurant and show them you appreciate their business.  

Be sure to design the card in a way that aligns with your brand image. Consider featuring appetizing pictures of your signature entrees or featured holiday cocktails to really catch their attention.

To go above and beyond, consider including a coupon or special offer as part of the card to further motivate customers to visit your restaurant during the holiday season. Sometimes the simplest marketing ideas are the most effective.

Related: Increase loyalty for your restaurant with a robust incentive program

Spice up your menu and your décor

Customers today value the aesthetics of their food and drinks as much as the quality.

Take advantage of this enhanced customer value by adding a few festive, photogenic items to your menu and offering holiday-themed drinks. You might want to offer in-house specials of traditional dishes or incorporate unique cocktails into your drink menu. These changes can drive increased customer traffic to your restaurant.

When people are planning their work holiday party or group gatherings with friends, they'll prioritize restaurants that offer something unique and experiential.

Take your commitment to the holiday spirit a step further by adding decorations to your restaurant. People are drawn to holiday decor: twinkling lights, wreaths and the warm glow of a softly lit tree. You’ll be sure to attract the attention of passersby and bring in new customers as a result. Plus, you’ll be creating a great environment for loyal customers looking to book a holiday party in your group or event space.

Sprucing up your event space with holiday decorations for existing customers and private parties is a great way to ensure your guests have a positive dining experience. It’ll also make them more likely to spread the word to friends and return themselves.

Offer meal kits and catering specials

The holiday season is also peak party season. Almost every weekend includes a neighborhood soiree or an office party. As a restaurant, you can capitalize on the festivities by developing a curated catering menu of traditional holiday dishes.

On the nights that your restaurant doesn’t see as much foot traffic, you can supplement your sales with high-volume catering orders. Design a menu with clear options that can be tailored to different party sizes. This will make it easier for your customers to plan their events. Catering not only provides another avenue for sales; it can also serve as a perpetual marketing play. Happy customers will recommend your restaurant, and parties are a perfect setting to showcase your food to others.

Catering also provides the opportunity for future sales. It’s an alternative offering to accommodate customers who might not want to dine in a restaurant for myriad reasons around the holidays.

American consumers saw how popular meal kits became during the early days of the pandemic. They're still a great option for customers who remain hesitant of in-person dining. Adjusting to customer needs with unique service offerings can help your restaurant stand out as a preferred option during the holidays. 

Promote gift card sales

There are always a few people on your gift list that are difficult to buy presents for. The perfect solution is a restaurant gift certificate. Gift cards are an easy and convenient present for loved ones and they help give your restaurant exposure. Boost gift card sales during the holidays by offering customers an extra incentive to purchase. Sell your cards at a discounted rate, or offer a free $10 gift card for every $100 gift card purchase.

Consider creating holiday-themed gift cards with photography of your seasonal menu items. Gift cards are always a great way to market your restaurant.

Give back to the community

The holiday season has always been marked by the spirit of giving. During this time, customers might be more inclined to support your restaurant if they know their meal purchases are supporting worthy causes.

Consider selecting a charity that aligns with your restaurant's brand and dedicating the proceeds of a specific holiday menu item to that charity.

You could also choose to volunteer your restaurant for an organization. This could be by turning your eatery into a donation site for organizations like Toys for Tots or the United Way, so that when people come to drop off their donations, they'll be inclined to stay for a bite to eat. Or you can encourage your workers to volunteer on behalf of your restaurant as a team wearing branded shirts. 

Feel free to share the news of your restaurant’s involvement on social media, via email communications and through other marketing tactics. Customers like to see restaurants get involved in the community, especially during the holidays, so don't be afraid to broadcast what your business has done to support the neighborhood. Giving back to the community puts customers in the holiday spirit while also encouraging new business.

Leverage your social media accounts and email list

Things can be hectic during the holiday season, so leverage social media and email marketing platforms regularly to keep your customers informed about what’s happening at your restaurant.

Advertise your limited-time offers, catering options, gift card discounts, holiday menus and charitable partnerships across all of your digital channels. It’ll entice customers to visit. Creating and maintaining engaging accounts on social media just requires a little bit of time, effort and commitment.

Despite the winter holidays being a slower period for many restaurants, there are all kinds of creative tactics restaurants can leverage to combat the potential downturn in sales. Leaning into festive food and decor, offering specials on gift cards and catering services and partnering with local charities are all great ways to boost your restaurant’s brand recognition around the holidays.

Leverage social media to stay relevant and promote these offerings to new customers and business owners looking to book holiday parties. Any restaurant marketing ideas you can try during the holidays are worth the effort.

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