The holidays are a busy time for the restaurant industry as guests look for opportunities to celebrate with family and friends. They also feel more likely to indulge in little luxuries like a decadent dessert or fancy cocktail, driving up check averages, albeit temporarily.

You have your big three holidays between November and the start of the new year: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day. Whether you’re thinking of offering a full buffet spread or pre-selling popular sides and other menu items to-go for people to take to parties or enjoy at home, you should certainly create a plan around each. But there are other opportunities to increase traffic with special holiday events, and we’ll look at three of them.

Donation Drives

This time of year, people are looking for a way to give back. Connect with local nonprofits to organize a gift drive at your location for valuable supplies. Some charitable organizations report being inundated around this time of year and receiving items that are not in high demand for the communities they serve; make sure to connect with an organization in advance to identify the needs and find a thoughtful way to support the cause.

  • Connect with a nonprofit that needs something—food banks, foster youth support organizations, women’s shelters, animal rescue shelters, etc.
  • This could be one day, a weekend, or even a week- or month-long event
  • Culminate in a party with food and drink specials and invite a special guest from the nonprofit partner to address your guests. Have someone from your staff address your guests letting them know why this organization is important to you and your staff.

Pictures with Santa

You may not think of a restaurant as the go-to location for Santa pics with the kiddos, but with mall traffic in the decline, restaurants are actually a great place for this kind of activity. Having a Santa on-site and a festive environment can be a huge draw for families who want to combine the Santa activity with enjoying a meal out as a family.

  • Hire a Santa! It probably won’t surprise you to learn that there are several websites that place Santas at jobs across the country, but what may surprise you is that this is a real investment. A good Santa (and I shudder to think about a Bad Santa) could be anywhere from $200 to $500 an hour! Some services bundle photography into the cost, and for some, that is an additional expense.
  • Hire a photographer if one is not included, and together, create a visual photo moment to capture images and then determine whether you will print on-site or send digital links.
  • Offer food and beverage specials and encourage folks to stay and dine.
  • Send a server to the line to offer beverages, including a special treat for kids, such as a candy cane.
  • Or, skip the line altogether and offer 10-minute reservation windows that people can schedule in advance because, let’s face it, standing in line for Santa with your children is not very fun. Appointlet is a good app for this.

Guest Appreciation Night

This might be a good time to offer a Guest Appreciation Night to let your best customers know how much you value their business. This can be for regular guests as well as catering clients.
You can make the event invite-only with electronic or paper invites, or you can make it more casual with a Facebook event page where guests can invite friends.
For an invite-only event, it’s appropriate to comp food and maybe give one or two drink tickets with a cash bar available.
For an event with more guests and the ability for guests to invite people from their network, it’s fine to simply offer excellent food and beverage specials and a comped menu item sent to select tables.

Basic Steps for Each Activity

Complete a staff information session and training (if necessary) so that FOH and BOH staff are aware of and on-board for these activities. They will be more successful if you have buy-in and enthusiasm from your staff.

  • List the event on your website.
  • Reach out to local media with a press release and an invitation.
  • Create a Facebook Event page (if you have a nonprofit partner or special guest, make them an admin so the information goes out to their network as well).
  • Share the event multiple times with your newsletter subscribers and social media followers. On social media, you should start promotion about a month in advance and ramp up mentions as you get closer to the event. Add images, menu details, and other information to the “Discussion” tab on your Facebook Event page. This sends a push notification to guests who have said they are coming or are interested in coming to your event.
  • Create table signage promoting the event.
  • Share photos after the fact. People love tagging themselves in photos, and that can be a great way to improve your organic reach on Facebook!

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