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By Alice Lesch Kelly
| November 15, 2016
With the holiday shopping season officially kicking off next week, consumers are ready to spend $655 billion in holiday cash. And it’s not just on presents. They’re also planning holiday parties, family celebrations, and meals out with friends. Is your restaurant prepared to take full advantage of all the opportunities the holidays present? Restaurateurs and industry experts say there are lots of ways to make sure your business lights up this season.
80 percent of companies throw holiday parties, according to Challenger, Gray, & Christmas, Inc. Get a piece of that action by marketing your restaurant as the perfect location for corporate celebrations. “Holiday parties are one of our big thrusts for the end of the year,” says Roger Berkowitz, president and CEO of Legal Sea Foods.
Legal’s nearly 50-year-old brand name helps, of course, but it doesn’t just rely on that to draw a holiday crowd. It offers a range of customized menus and experiences for holiday parties, from sea-themed celebrations with a raw bar at the restaurant’s Harborside location, to elegant tasting events in the Park Square location’s wine room.
Spread the word about your restaurant’s holiday party offerings by marketing directly to local businesses. Create a direct-mail sales letter, e-mail outreach, and a website landing page that show exactly why your restaurant is the best place for holiday parties. “Paint a vivid picture of the experience companies are going to have when they come to your restaurant. Don’t just send prices and menus. And back it up with a powerful guarantee,” says Nick Fosberg, president of Bar Restaurant Success in Chicago. “Create urgency by offering a $100 or $200 credit for booking quickly.” If you advertise via Facebook, the Power Editor tool can help you target companies in your restaurant’s neighborhood.
Remember that guests don’t just come to your restaurant for a meal. They’re looking for an enjoyable experience where they feel welcomed by friendly, knowledgeable servers in a festive holiday mood. Make sure your staff is ready to put on their holiday-spirit best for diners. “Have a couple of meetings with the staff to make sure they understand how to take care of holiday customers,” Fosberg recommends.
Berkowitz said it’s vital that servers know their work is not just about tonight, but also about making the customer want to come back tomorrow night. “Every dining experience should be presented as an event that is good enough that it makes people want to return,” Berkowitz says.
Spice up your menu.
Diners love menu items and specials that incorporate holiday flavors. “They want something new, something fresh, something seasonal,” Fosberg says. Last year, national chain restaurants added hundreds of seasonal food specials built around traditional holiday flavors, according to Joe Garber, marketing coordinator for Datassential, a food industry market research firm. Popular holiday ingredients included peppermint, eggnog, gingerbread, gingersnap, cranberry, chestnut, turkey, stuffing, and, of course, the ubiquitous pumpkin spice.
Diners flock to menu items that have a connection to foods’ natural seasons, as well. “We try to be true to what’s currently running from a seasonal perspective,” Berkowitz says. Legal holiday specials are more likely to feature swordfish, cape scallops, and other sea foods that are abundant in fall and winter.
Patrons enjoy seasonally inspired cocktail specials such as gingersnap martinis, cranberry margaritas, candy cane mojitos, and always-festive champagne cocktails. And in case you haven’t noticed, they also warm up to craft beers and spirits, which are hugely popular with consumers right now. According to the National Restaurant Association, craft and artisan brews and locally produced beer, wine, and spirits are the two hottest alcoholic beverage trends in 2016. Many produce holiday-themed brews that you can feature on your drink menu.
Throw your own party.
Legal Sea Foods often teams up with wine and champagne makers to host wine-pairing dinners available to all patrons. “These are very popular. We create special menus that pair well with the wines being served,” Berkowitz says. Legal recently hosted a champagne dinner at its Park Square location that featured a four-course dinner accompanied by Taittinger champagnes, along with a talk by Nicolas Delion, Taittinger’s U.S. brand ambassador.
Bars can also get the party started by pairing with local brewers, such as Ipswich Ale Brewery, for product tastings. Ipswich Ale is happy to send brewery reps to restaurants and bars to give patrons free tastes of featured brews, according to Jamie Green Klopotoski, tour and event manager at Ipswich Ale.
Sure, an Amazon or iTunes gift card is easy. But is it personal? There’s a good reason why restaurant gift cards have been the most requested holiday gift for nine years in a row, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). People buy gift cards for restaurants more often than any other kind of retailer, NRF has found.
Take advantage of customers’ affinity for gift cards by making them simple to buy. Use table tents and other signage to promote gift cards. Offer them on your website, and post reminders on social media. And consider offering gift givers a tasty incentive to choose your gift card over someone else’s. At Legal Sea Foods, spending a certain amount on gift cards rewards the giver with a free lobster dinner.
It may be better to give than to receive. But if giving means you receive a lobster dinner, that’s the ultimate win-win.
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