4 Tips for Successful Restaurant Holiday Promotions

December 13, 2016 • 7 min read
Ahmad El-Najjar

Ahmad El-Najjar


The holiday season is the hardest time of the year for the restaurant industry. While retailers are cashing in on with holiday promotions and their biggest sales of the year, those in the restaurant industry are tightening their belts. Restaurant sales across the country are traditionally at their lowest during the months of November, December, and January, with drops in sales of as much as 5 percent. A 5 percent drop may not seem all that bad to most people, but, to a restaurant already operating on the tightest of margins, that’s the difference between profit and loss.

While this may all sound a bit gloom and doom for our intrepid restaurateurs, the reality is there’s never been a better time to own a restaurant. Better yet, the tools to boost sales during the lean times are all within reach.

Looking back to 1970, restaurant industry sales were at $42.8 billion. Seems like a lot right? Well, not when we compare that to twenty years later in 1990, when they topped $239.2 billion. That’s almost a 500 percent increase over two decades. And, it gets better. The projected sales for the restaurant industry in 2016 are expected to come in at just over $780 billion. That’s a lot of money that hungry diners are spending to keep our restaurants open and growing.


courtesy of

There’s a lot of sociological data around the changing nature of how we consume food, but it all boils down to the fact that eating out is increasingly accessible. Eating out (or delivery, if you prefer) has become such a popular pastime that, in 2015, for the first time in US history, spending at restaurants overtook grocery store sales. One reason is that eating out isn’t the costly experience of days of yore. Today, you can grab a bite on the go or sitting down at any price point.

There’s an old New York City adage that’s going national. Namely, that you could eat at a different restaurant in the city every day of your life and still not make it to all of them. Simply put, there’s endless options.

Still, while more money is being spent on eating out in general, restaurants still dread the holiday season, when they take their biggest hit. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a dark time for an independent restaurateur, and there are some fairly easy ways to boost sales during the winter slow times. There are really only four ways to increase sales at any restaurant: get existing customers to come in more frequently, get new customers, increase how much customers spend, and get customers in and out quickly.

Here are four tips for making those most of those methods to boost restaurant sales during the holidays—without taking a big hit on your bottom line

1. Offer community-based holiday promotions

As an independent restaurant in a sea of chains, you have something special that the chains don’t: you’re a member of the local community. To attract new customers this holiday season, take a moment to connect in person or on Townsquared with your business neighbors to co-market your businesses. It can be something as simple as leaving flyers with local retailers that offer their customers holiday promotions like a discount or a free mug of boozy eggnog with a meal at your restaurant. Or, it can be as complex as working with your fellow restaurants to create an eating and drinking map for your neighborhood, and asking retailers to share it with their customers.

The basic idea here is that you’re all part of a neighborhood and you’re in this together. The more customers that are attracted to your community, the more wealth there is to go around. The best part is, you don’t need to be a design whiz or a marketing guru to get programs like this going. There are countless free and easy-to-use resources like Canva that make designing a flyer simple.

2. Let your customers be part of the holiday charity spirit

festive decorDespite the increasing affordability of dining out, shopping and eating out isn’t something everyone can afford to do. Every holiday season it’s important to keep in mind those who go without. You can set up something as a simple as a donation drive at your business. For example, have your customers bring in a non-perishable food item, warm winter clothing, or toys for kids in exchange for a discount or other benefit of your choice. This is a generous way for customers to support those less fortunate and support your local business at the same time.

There are a number of non-profit organizations that facilitate making your restaurant a drop location for items of need. Toys for Tots in one such organization, specializing in toys for children. You can also search for community food banks and charities in your area to find a local one that will be more than happy to work with you to bring cheer and joy to those in need. In NYC, for example, where the winters get rough, there’s the NYC Cares annual coat drive, which is always in need of local businesses to act as drop-off locations.

3. Make sure your operation is running smoothly

It’s the holidays and, as much joy as there is, it’s also stressful. Many of your new customers and even regulars might be a little low on patience, so it’s especially important that you’re giving customers the best possible service.

You can ensure this by having regular staff meetings during the holidays to keep everyone educated and aware of menu changes, gift card purchase procedures, managing the flow at the front of the house, and keeping the back of the house operating at optimal efficiency.

If you’re looking to keep the flow going and clear your tables as efficiently as possible, you can explore options like mobile POS. Adding a mobile POS allows your wait staff to take payment directly at the table, rather than swarming your fixed POS station and causing delays in settling customer bills. If you’re a smaller restaurant with a simple menu, you can likely use a service like Square for your needs, but, if you have a more complex operation with a changing menu and high-volume table service, TouchBistro might be your go-to for table-side bill paying.

holiday promotions4. Let your offerings reflect the season

Whether it’s a reindeer burger (sorry, Rudolph) or a Christmas tree cocktail (yes, this is a thing) or the ubiquitous pumpkin spice [insert food or beverage of choice], get in the spirit! Holiday promotions can include special drinks and dishes.

While pumpkin-spiced anything may be a restaurateur’s personal hell, but, come the holidays, it’s not about you. And, if the people demand pumpkin spice then, by George, pumpkin spice they shall have.

Also, make sure your seasonal offerings are clearly displayed on your website, social media accounts, your sandwich board, your menu, your chalkboard, and basically anywhere you can promote your offering during the holidays.

There you have it. To achieve holiday season excellence, just follow these tips: work with your neighbors, give back to your community, run a tight ship, and get in the spirit!

Cocktail image by Tom Ipri, Flickr

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