COVID-19 has impacted almost all aspects of customer behavior. Heightened fears of the pandemic, along with social distancing requirements and continued lockdowns, have shifted customer preferences.
Last year’s holiday playbook is irrelevant and to capitalize on the digital surge, restaurant owners must invest in the right technologies and begin planning earlier than before. They must focus their efforts on understanding and catering to changing customer’ behaviors to prepare their restaurant for the Holiday Season in 2020.
Start Early, Plan Ahead
& Advertise Aggressively
Remember, getting the word out or publicizing your efforts, holiday offers, specials, and events are as important as planning and preparing your restaurant for the holiday season.
Prepare Your Restaurant for Dine-in Guests
The main challenge facing restaurants at present is to assure customers that dine-in is a safe option and the owner/manager is going above and beyond to ensure the safety of the customers and staff. Restaurant owners should re-evaluate and adapt the dine-in experience considering the social distancing norms. Remember, you can bring back dine-in customers by accommodating customers’ need for safety at each of the touchpoints from digital menus, contactless payment options to curbside pickup.
a. Rethink Seating Plan
You may want to rethink the seating plan in accordance with the capacity requirements in your area. Make adequate distancing arrangements for customers in the waiting area.
Don’t forget to Decorate Your Restaurant to set the holiday mood.
b. Follow Safety Precautions
Ensure that you are following the guidelines set down by the state and taking all possible measure to ensure the safety of your guests and staff.
- Lay down detailed guidelines for your Service Staff and Kitchen Staff.
- Establish a disinfecting protocol.
- Schedule cleaning time.
- Ensure that your restaurant is as clean as possible. (Note: You can get a list of approved disinfectants on the EPA website. Regular soap is equally effective.
- Sanitize all surfaces that come in contact with food such as dishware, utensils, workstations regularly.
- Consider installing physical barrier/ plexiglass shields at registers/cashier stands/ between seating booths.
- Limit the number of customers to 75% (in accordance with state guidelines)
- Consider the reservation /call ahead process so that you can adhere to capacity and distance requirements.
Publicize Your Efforts
Your customers are not going to know about all the extra effort that you are taking unless you tell them. Advertise your efforts through all possible channels; in-store posters, posts on your social media channels, videos, and ads.
c. Have A Clearly Defined Reservation Policy
Taking reservations well in advance can help you avoid large crowds in the waiting area and also help you adhere to the social distancing requirements.
- Besides taking reservations over the phone, you could also get onboard an online platform to take reservations.
- Your restaurant staff should be familiar with your reservation policies.
- Take reservations for parties of six or less ( or in accordance with the guidelines laid down by your state).
- Make sure to communicate that you recommend making reservations to avoid long waits during the holiday season.
- Get the word out by putting up posters in-store and advertising through online channels.
Leverage Digital Platforms
a. Get Online
As holiday promotions gear up, restaurants will need to be more proactive in addressing customer expectations via digital channels. You have to consider that due to the pandemic a large section of your customers are using digital channels to order food for the first time and are struggling to adapt to this new way of ordering food. Your goal, therefore, should be to provide a seamless online ordering experience; menu suggestions based on order history, ability to save orders, and fast checkouts can help you retain customers.
If you have just started offering online ordering, you need a well-defined marketing plan to attract customers to your online ordering platform. To capture the attention of existing and potential customers you need to develop a multi-channel promotional strategy which should include;
- Email marketing
- Social media updates
- In-store posters
- Links on menu
- Online Advertising
- Contest and offers to promote your online ordering platform
b. Offer Delivery
Delivery orders are expected to surge this holiday season. Customers will prefer to order from restaurants that offer a seamless delivery experience from start to finish and deliver with speed.
You should ensure that customers have a great delivery experience by creating a delivery-specific menu that only offers items that can travel well. Ensure that you package delivery orders in good quality containers.
Plan Holiday Specials
a. Plan Your Seasonal Menu
Seasonal food and drinks can add the holiday flavor to your existing menu and help attract new customers to your restaurant. It is also a great opportunity to connect to your local community by highlighting locally sourced fresh ingredients.
Plan your seasonal menu well in advance, and have a clearly defined go-to-market strategy to promote the new additions to your customers. Start promoting your seasonal menu in-store through posters, table-tents, menu-insets at least 2-3 weeks in advance. Leverage your social media channels and email marketing to reach new and existing customers. Train your staff to upsell your seasonal menu items and capture your customer’s attention by mentioning any locally sourced fresh ingredients.
b. Family Meal Trays and Offers
This is the time of the year when families get together to enjoy the holidays. With guests in house and holiday entertaining, your customers may be looking for family-style meals trays.
Come up with family-size meal trays and offer them on your takeout and delivery menu. As the focus has shifted to online and take-out orders- you could also come up with combo offers for the holidays and or discounts on online orders. Take a cue from some of these offers:
- 10% off to customers who make reservations for Christmas Day
- Get a trick or treat by ordering the Halloween combo
- 15% discount on online orders
- Free Kids meal on takeout orders above $30
Promote Offers and Specials
- Update your website and digital/physical menu
- Share the new menu additions/offers/specials on social media.
- Reach out to your customers through emails
- Run ads on social networks to reach more customers.
c. Plan out the events you want to organize
Every year you may be planning events or contests for the holiday season
- Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals
- and Christmas specials
However, this year things may pan out differently. Planning an in-store event on a large scale may not be possible due to restrictions on social gatherings and social distancing requirements. You should focus on events that enable customers to participate while maintaining social distance. Online events/ contests can also help you generate a buzz around your brand.
- In-store Halloween Costume contest: Offer a discount or freebie to customers visiting your restaurant in Halloween costume. With the permission of the participants, you can take their photos to post on your social media pages.
- Set up an Angel tree
- Ugly sweater contest. Organize an ugly sweater party with fun prizes to give your customers an opportunity to show their creative and fun sides.
- Christmas Raffle Decorate your restaurant for Christmas. Plan a lucky draw with restaurant gift cards for winners. This will also help you collect customer email/phone numbers for future marketing campaigns
Here are some contest ideas for the upcoming holiday season
- Online Halloween Photo Contest- Encourage your followers to share their Halloween costume/decoration photos. The photo with the maximum likes gets a gift card.
- Encourage Customers to Share food Pics from your restaurant: Give away a complimentary dessert/coffee to participating customers who post a picture of their Christmas meal from your restaurant.
d. Promote Holiday Parties and Catering
Almost everyone is planning to entertain guests during the festive season. Office holiday parties, club meet-ups, and family gatherings are often a big draw for restaurants that cater. For restaurants, this is an opportunity to promote catering packages and leverage themselves as the go-to place for customers to celebrate. However, this year people will be hesitant to gather in large groups so you should focus on small gatherings and catering orders.
- If you have a place that you rent out for parties or private family gatherings, you can offer it for small family/official gatherings.
- Come up with a catering menu and move the holiday food ordering process to a seamless, online transaction available for pick-up or delivery.
e. Offer Gift Cards
Gift cards are a popular option during the holiday season. In addition to being an immediate source of revenue, gift cards encourage repeat visits and help you reach new customers. Several studies show that 65 percent of gift card holders spend beyond the value of the card.
- Considering the current situation you should opt for e-gift cards.
- There are several service providers that are working to provide restaurants with digital gift cards. Compare and select the best available option (for example, you can join the OpenTable Gift program ).
- Display gift cards prominently at the checkout counter and store entrance.
- Run an introductory offer on gift cards.
- Train your staff to up-sell gift cards to dine-in customers.
- Advertise gift cards on your website and through email marketing. You could also have a pop-up intimating customers about the gift cards on your order online platform.
Partner With The Community
a. Plan Co-Marketing Activities
The holiday season is a great time to collaborate with local businesses. Come up with a value proposition that will be appealing to your customers as well as your partner’s customers. Identify strategic partners with whom you can work to execute co-marketing activities. Takes look at the following examples;
- If you are procuring fresh ingredients from a local farmers market. You could promote the market’s products to your customers and in exchange, the local market could promote your restaurant to its customers.
- If you run a salad bar or a health food restaurant you could partner with a gym to provide discounts on each other’s products.
Take a cue from how these brands are doing it.
b. Local Marketing Initiatives
The holiday season is also a great time to partner with local organizations as most of them are planning events during this time. You could use these events to interact with the local residents and turn them into regular customers.
- Reach out to local school churches in your neighborhood to check if they are hosting any events for the holidays.
- You can sponsor prizes or provide gift certificates for any contests or see if they could distribute coupons from your restaurant at these events.
- You can look for catering opportunities at these events
c. Give Back
There’s no better way to build goodwill with your customer base than by contributing to a cause that reflects your business’s values.
- Identify a local charity that your customers associate themselves with and approach them to organize a fundraiser. For example, work with the local Salvation Army or Toys For Tots to raise funds for kids/toys.
- If possible involve your customers – for example, explore the option of involving your customers in organizing a Thanksgiving feast at a local soup kitchen.
- Start a donation drive by telling your customers that you will be collecting non-perishable food items/ toys/books for Christmas for donation to a local charity. Offer a discount to anyone bringing in items for donation.
Spread the word about your ongoing efforts through digital channels and announce the amount that you manage to raise through these efforts. This not only helps your cause but also provides you an opportunity to connect with your customers in a meaningful way.
Get, Set & Go!
a. Hire & train staff:
You are likely to receive more dine-in guests and online orders during this time. Slow and inefficient service can impact the customer experience and ruin your brand’s image. You should consider hiring seasonal staff to manage the holiday rush.
Given the seasonal nature and high competition, start the hiring and training process early on as you want to put the best foot forward, and highly trained and motivated staff is what you need during the holiday season rush.
b. Inventory Check:
Given the pandemic situation, the movement of goods and services is restricted or limited in areas. You may not be able to procure menu items at a short notice. Work out your inventory requirements and procure them in advance based on your sales forecast for the season.
Conventionally, we refer to last year’s sales report and analyze the historical data to come up with a forecast for the upcoming season. This may not be possible this year. However, you can make a reasonable estimate based on data from the past few months. Make sure you make an allowance for any events or menu additions that you have planned.
2020 has not been an easy year for restaurants, and preparing for the holiday season won’t be either. COVID-19 has only accelerated the arrival of the digital era. It’s time to adapt and leverage digital channels to get a leg up on the future.