By Linda Duke
How can restaurateurs make the most of the upcoming holidays and 4th quarter sales? With the Presidential election less than 50 days away, consumers have been “waiting to see” what will happen and have pent-up demand to SPEND on cars, electronics, and going out to eat, for all these months. Restaurant sales across the country have suffered in recent months and with well planned activities operators can reap the rewards.
Central California restaurant brand, Big Bubbas Bad BBQ, hosts Toys for Tots during the holidays by asking their guests to donate toys for less fortunate children and in return, get a free bull ride on their electronic bull! They also do extra special holiday decorations that get great results. They merchandise Big Bubbas t-shirts, BBQ sauce, mugs and promotional items so well that the gift baskets fly off the shelves!
Time constraints for consumers during the holidays will once again play a big part of growing gift card sales. Be prepared to sell gift cards by posting signs, adding something in a check presenter at the end of the meal, have a server contest to motivate staff, and add an offer. Big Bubba’s uses their cowboy theme to promote gift cards by offering REWARDS for purchasing theirs. For a $25 gift card, the guest gets a free bottle of BBQ sauce, with a $50 purchase of gift cards, they offer a free stack of their signature stack of onion rings, and for $100 purchase they get a free entrée!
Here are some other 4th quarter tips for holiday planning:
- Pre Orders –do you sell enchiladas, tomales or lasagna? How about offering a large pan of your signature menu items as a holiday party special. Create an order form and talk it up with guests! These trays can be prepared the night before and offer a good large to-go order with lots of profit!
- Special Desserts –How about offering a special holiday deserts. Using flavorings or unique condiments you can create peppermint chocolate or popular pumpkin spice flavored ice cream. Small dessert shooters are great too!
- Gift Cards and promotion—create a crew contest, create an offer, and promote in-store with signage and display.
- Dinner to-go – Make it easy for guests to order and pick-up a whole dinner package during the holidays. If you offer roasted chicken or turkey with sides and dessert for a special price to-go, pre-orders for holidays will help drive sales!
- Large catering orders – Black Friday started because retailers didn’t want their staff to leave at lunch the day after Thanksgiving. Every big box retailer (Best Buy, CostCo) and Car Dealer in the U.S. order food for their staff. Create a Black Friday offer, an order form and visit and drop off to area prospects. Watch the catering orders roll in!
- Holiday Events & Banquets – Have a big dining room or a separate party room? The name of the game is BOOK EM!!! Create a holiday event package and target large area businesses to take your menus and details for planning their event at your restaurant!
- Product Catalog – Do you make special cakes, pastries and holiday items to sell during the holidays? Create a small catalog that guests can pick up at the register and you can put into to-go and catering bags. Offer your hats, t-shirts, gift cards and menu items you can sell!
- Merchandise-Gift Baskets – If you have your own merchandise such as t-shirts, mugs, sauces or spices, create gift baskets and display them in the area where guests pay and can make last minute purchases. Be sure to have clear pricing and signage to reap the rewards!
- Gift Ideas –Flemings Restaurants offers their top spending patrons a special holiday gift each year for the holidays. Guests who use their AMEX card and spend over a certain amount of money, are sent a etched wine glass for customer appreciation. Offer your guests a custom mug and coffee, cocoa or tea!
- Sampling – It’s no surprise that consumers eat more during the holidays and by offering samples of your signature menu item at various events and functions (Chamber open house), you can remind guests about how great your food is and get them to dine in.
- Up-sell desserts and wines – Create a contest for your servers to add on sales. From offering wine and beer to up-selling desserts, it can be a fun and lucrative contest for your whole team!
- Employee contest – Do a TRADE for gift cards or food with your local businesses like a car wash for fun incentives for staff that up-sell. Offer cash prizes or movie passes! Set a goal and motivate the team thru the fourth quarter.
- Holiday Pre-Fixe Special – Create a special holiday meal guests will love to share for two with beverages and desserts for a set price. Be sure to promote it on Facebook, in store and send a press release to the local news media!
- Signature Item Holiday Twist – Serve menu items with a holiday twist. Pies ( pecan and pumpkin), and cakes (fruit cake, Danish rings and Cheese cake), spiced ciders and cocoa, and after dinner drinks with peppermint and chocolate! How about milk and cookies for guests to take home for Santa!
- Fundraisers toy/food drive – Partner with your local food bank and ask guests to bring in nonperishable food items to donate and help those less fortunate in your community. Host a fundraiser for local nonprofits during the last months of the year when they are ALL looking for donations!
- Holiday tasting event – Invite your best guests and area movers and shakers, chamber members and host a holiday tasting event. Give each guest a clipboard with order forms for catering, holiday trays and gift basket orders and in one evening you can BOOK BUSINESS!
- Wine & Beer Flights – Check with your beer and wine vendors for special products during the holidays and ask their representative to come do a pouring during your tasting event! Promote wine and beer flights (3 for a special price).
- Special Uniforms – Get your staff excited with something new to wear for the holidays. Perhaps it is a new colored apron or t-shirt with a holiday message. Try it! They are walking billboards!
- Decorations – Right now is the time to be thinking about fourth quarter decorations. Simple and elegant flowers and candles can work and of course painted windows, lights and tinsel can get everyone in the spirit!
- Direct mailer-Ads – The fourth quarter is a great time to wish your guests happy holidays. Friends and family connect with each other during the holidays via the US Mail. It’s the one time of year when postage costs can actually make a difference with a direct mailer that gets to customers mail boxes. Guests are looking for their holiday cards in the mail and by receiving a restaurant card with a special greeting and offer can pay off greatly!
Start your holiday planning now! Create special holiday desserts, beverages and sides to offer guests.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Linda Duke, CEO and founder of, Duke Marketing, LLC. a 25 year old full service marketing firm specializing with restaurant chains and multi-unit retailers, and author of Four Star Restaurant Marketing Cookbook—Recipes for Restaurateurs™” a marketing resource for restaurant operators to drive sales using local store marketing tactics. Visit: www.dukemarketing.com for more information.