The smell of pumpkin spice is in the air. Fall is here, and for chefs and restaurant owners, that means the holidays are right around the corner.

Start planning now to make the most of the holiday season and be sure you’re maximizing the profit you can be making during this busy time of year. With a little planning, the holidays can be exactly what you need to stay successful. Follow these four simple tips to start making the most of the holidays right now!

Put the Me In Menu

Customers are looking for unique, memorable experiences around the holidays, and they’re willing to stretch their budget if it means they’ll be throwing a top-notch event. Make sure your catering menu is simple enough for your customers to understand while still representing your capabilities. Chefs have a tendency to say things like, “we can make anything, just tell me what you want.” That can be overwhelming to most customers, and it ends up being more of a turn off than an asset. Instead, come up with great menu items that you know work for large parties and stick to them. If a guest asks for customized options, that’s when you can show them all the different skills in your kitchen and charge accordingly.

It can also be difficult for customers to understand how much food is right for their group. That’s where a good catering coordinator steps in and takes on the role of an educated sales professional who can explain to your customers what they’ll need and why. Consider hiring a catering coordinator who can spend time walking customers through the menu and pointing them toward menu items that make sense for their occasion. This position can be promoted from existing staff and given performance-based incentives or you can hire a part-time, seasonal employee who can come in and answer inquiries at specified times. If you do the latter, make sure to indicate on your voicemail and website when is the best time for customers to reach this person or create a thorough intake form that allows your catering coordinator to assess the inquiries and then get back to the clients with the answers they need.

Embrace Commitment

Right now is a great time to start booking holiday reservations and catering engagements. Create messaging to let customers know you’ll be taking reservations and what your parameters will be. Here are a few things to communicate:

  • How many people must a party have to reserve a table?
  • How many guests can you accommodate?
  • Do you offer delivery and setup?
  • Do you offer passed hors d'oeuvres or platters only, etc.?

During the months of October and November, offer an incentive to customers to book certain sized events and offsite catering before your schedule fills up. You can offer to comp dessert or linens, waive delivery fees, or include a gift card for a future visit. Take a credit card number and deposit and have your catering coordinator or other staff go over the job in detail with the client so that when ‘Go Time’ comes around, you’ll both be well prepared.

It’s also a good time to suggest bulk gift certificate sales by offering a discount on purchases of multiple gift certificates at one time. Another clever way to move gift certificates is to bundle them in with an extra item. Use existing restaurant merchandise or create something specific for the holidays, such a pint glass or set of coasters, with your logo.

Put Your Best Food Forward

Let your customers see your food before they buy it! Invest in some great photography—a handful of images that really show the potential of the amazing holiday spread that you can create. Think about getting images that show groups of friends at parties with several menu items, including seasonal specials and cocktails. These images are about setting the stage in your customer’s mind so that they see how your food makes their holiday dreams come true! Work with your photographer to come up with a list of must-have images. For example a busy holiday party, a group at a table toasting their champagne flutes, a romantic table for two.

Once you have a rock solid catering program and some incentives to book catering and events early, start spreading the word and using these photos! Find images that inspire you online, and organize an idea board in Pinterest or a Dropbox folder to share with your photographer. Host an event where you can show off your menu and service to event organizers, food media, and frequent fliers to try to get the word out among influencers.

Remember What It's All About

Kick off the holiday season with a greeting from your restaurant ‘family,’ and consider sharing some recipes or traditions that are special to you. Talking about family traditions can be a natural way to get a conversation started on social media. This would be a great time to pull out those old family photos of your chef or FOH manager as a kid on Christmas morning!

One way to make guests feel like they’re a part of your family is to create a holiday event showcasing your spin on the holidays. It can be a fabulous feast of the seven fishes; a special night of Hanukkah with latkes and sufganiyot; or a simple, family-style meal that reminds guests of home.

This is also a great time to align with nonprofits that help underserved populations. Food banks are a great way to give back around this time of year, but there’s also no shortage of family services organizations that could use financial support and increased awareness. Find a cause that matters to your business, and connect with them for a special night of giving. Or establish your business as a drop off for canned food, Toys for Tots, or a similar opportunity for community giving.

Make sure to capture your impact (over 100 cans of food and 30 jars of peanut butter donated to the local food bank!) so that you can let your guests know what a great thing you’ve been able to do for the community together.

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