How to create a more profitable Christmas for your cafe or restaurant

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The world has turned upside down, and while many hospitality businesses have had a decline in sales, others are doing very well with quality catering and takeaway options. This can mean great sales produced by fewer staff, adding up to healthy profits.

For this pandemic Christmas, people still want to celebrate, and they've become used to having events at home. Work out how to help them, and you will scoop up opportunities.

Update the Christmas Menus & Booking Options. In addition to the usual Christmas food and set-menu options, there's a new appreciation of what restaurants can sell beyond the traditional sit-down booking. Customers have also become used to firmer conditions for booking numbers and deposits.

Promote Gift Hampers and Vouchers for corporate customers and as gifts for 'friends who have everything'. Raffle one to bring it to everyone's attention. Even a $20 voucher will usually be part of a larger sale when it's redeemed. Do you have a Gift Certificate options on your website yet? COVID lockdowns have created new gift opportunities - the boss who wants to send Christmas packs to her 50 staff, or canapé boxes for everyone to enjoy with a Zoom party. Special touches make an impact - add a candle and a link to your Spotify playlist. Or branded napkins, chopsticks, a special platter or Christmas crackers.

Sell T-shirts, Jams and Souvenirs like a real gift shop. These can be easy add-ons with food orders, and solve the annual problem of what to give parents and partners. In your venue, merchandise and display the items with style and smart signage. Check how gift shops make things look exciting, and the way large e-commerce sites recommend and sell. So much is possible now with services like Shopify. See our Guide: How to add pickles, jams & sauces to your takeaway food range.

Maximise revenue on the most popular dates. Key Fridays and Saturdays in December, or whenever you know is most in demand. Set minimum spend for rooms or spaces, and stay firm. Do staff who take bookings understand?

Create special deals for off-peak times. These could be Sunday to Wednesday, or late November. Add extras as a bonus rather than discounting – such as party favours, wine or canapes. Set minimum spend for rooms or spaces, and stay firm. Make sure staff who take bookings understand why you do this.

Remove discounts in December. Keep the focus on special Christmas packages, which of course have a big focus on value. Make sure other coupons and deals don't undermine this peak revenue time.

Upgrade your ordering system: The pandemic has dragged most operators into the digital world. Now take it further with new menus and better website experience. Menu 'modifiers' and add-on items can make a big difference to the value of each sale – this is the new language of menu design. The good news is that most customers are now ready to order online, and accept that there are stricter conditions for pre-payment and cancellations. Use the promotional options available with your system – they usually have options to contact existing customers via email or SMS, for special deals or reminders,

Put safety at the centre of Christmas events. Assess your risks and government regulations on events, crowd size and distancing. Communicate these to customers and event organisers. Have staff trained and ready to manage sign-in registers, table spacing and customer behaviour. The Eventbrite Safety Playbook for Events is a very useful guide with excellent checklists.

Track down previous bookings. If you haven't heard from them, phone, fax or write – this year needs much more aggressive marketing. If you don't have someone on staff who is confident on the phone, ask a wine rep to do some part-time work for you – they know how to do it! Make this the season of list-building. Use our Guide to Finding Customer Contacts in your Cafe or Restaurant.

Find and connect with office party organisers. They're the hard-working people in every business who arrange the wedding presents, the farewell parties and the birthday cakes. Once they've booked, you may want to reward them with a small gift or voucher – treat them like your very best friend!

Promote community spirit with a charity donation. Groups such as World Vision and Oxfam promote gifts that build lives - school books, agrictural programs and water pumps. Opportunity International helps to lift thousands of people out of poverty with micro-finance. You may like to organise a group donation from your business.

Poke some gentle fun at the economy. A low-cost wine becomes the Recession Red, or design a Budget Banquet package that looks flash but keeps the cost affordable. Better this than rampant discounting.

Send out real Christmas cards to your regulars and suppliers - let them know Christmas opening hours and special deals, and hand-write a signature for the personal touch. UNICEF will print original cards very cheaply with your message. These can start to be hand-written now!

Give a copy of your Christmas menus to every customer – postcard size and cheap to print, include it with the table account and every takeaway bag. Link to the menu download in every email you send (add it to your footer).

Prepare 50 Christmas photos ready for non-stop posting on Instagram and Facebook – go hard, twice a day. Set up a day to shoot a variety of Christmas subjects, and use images from last year with a message overlay. Avoid stock photo cliches. The standard of food photography has risen dramatically – you can still do it with your phone, but it needs much more care and better lighting. This is also building a photo library to use in the future

Use Facebook advertising targeted to your local area, and to your 'Custom Audience' – these are Facebook people whose email you have, from your newsletter list. In September and October, make these advertisements very specifically for party bookings.

Consider your non-Christian customers. There may be a large number who don't celebrate the religious festival but want to enjoy time with friends. Fortunately, Santa has universal appeal!


Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

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