In the past 5 years, Google searches for “restaurants open on Thanksgiving” and “restaurants open on Christmas” have steadily increased. And where visiting a chain may seem overwhelming for local consumers looking to eat out during the holidays, a local business could seem a heck of a lot more inviting.

Make Holiday Hours Abundantly Clear

So when consumers are searching for your business during this busy time, make your holiday hours abundantly clear.

Key places to update your holiday hours and dates:

Bulk Up Staffing

Restaurants are notorious for hiring additional holiday staff, because duh – things are about to get busier.

Avoid the urge to bring on team members who have less experience than your typical employee, because the holidays are anything but typical. They’re chaotic and stressful. New, greener employees may not be able to handle the craziness, and you’re more likely to end up understaffed when they fail.

Pay close attention to prior employment experience, and ask if interviewees have ever worked during peak seasons or holiday rushes before. Sometimes a server or line cook with experience during slow times won’t be able to live up to your holiday season standards.

Some holiday season interview questions you might ask:
  • What’s the busiest rush you’ve ever worked through, and how did you handle it?
  • If a customer’s being particularly difficult during the holidays, what do you do to ensure they’re happy?
  • How do you greet customers differently during the holidays?
  • What do you change about your service routine during the holidays?
  • What do you do for guests if the kitchen gets backed up?
  • How do you handle working with a new team during the busiest time of year?

Adjust Your Staff’s Service Routine

Even if you typically deliver a more formal dining experience, adjusting the service routine is key to making things run smoothly during the holiday rush.

  • Incorporate a special holiday greeting into your servers’ typical routine.
  • Recommend seasonal specials, and promote these on any signage or menu inserts you have printed.
  • Direct staff to bus tables more frequently and quickly, so you can turn tables over faster.
  • Have servers bring bills promptly after the last dish has been cleared (but not before any drinks, cocktails or wine have been finished, of course).

Worried about making customers feel rushed or unwelcome? The key here is to be vocal about why things feel like they’re happening faster than usual. Over-communicate that you don’t expect customers to leave more quickly than normal, you’re just preparing for an increase in volume.

Consider Shrinking Your Menu

Think about things that typically slow your kitchen down and get you into the weeds. Aside from getting slammed at unexpected times, one of the most common kitchen hurdles is catering to an expansive menu with tons of different ingredients and preparations.

Create a special menu during the holidays, using the most popular dishes from the non-peak season. Then, add a holiday twist here and there. By doing this, you’ll reduce back-of-the-house complexities that come with offering a broader menu, but it will seem more like “limited-time specials” and less like “limited options.”

But Don’t Shrink Your Inventory

Just because you’ve simplified your menu doesn’t mean you should order less food or stock less inventory. Err on the side of over-ordering, and donate anything leftover at the end of the night to food banks or shelters that will be in dire need during this season.

Promote Your Gift Cards

Gift cards are a great way to expand your brand’s reach without having to promote your restaurant in traditional marketing channels. And during the holidays, they’re one of the most popular and convenient gift options out there! You’d be crazy not to take advantage.

Starting now, promote your gift cards with current customers. How? One of the most compelling ways is to offer on-the-house perks and incentives when customers purchase a card for a family member or friend.

A few quick ideas:
  • “Get a free dessert on the house when you purchase a gift card before the end of your meal!”
  • “Receive a complimentary $10 gift card for yourself when you purchase a second gift card for $50 or more.”
  • “Enjoy 10% off your next visit when you purchase a gift card today!”

Prepare your servers to offer gift cards upon checkout, or include a printed insert with customers’ bills that explains the promotion. Then, set up a few gift card displays at your host stands and registers for added visibility.

Get Yourself in the Holiday Spirit

The holidays are stressful for everyone. So now’s the time to be a little more understanding when a server falls behind or keys in an order incorrectly. Instead of overreacting, be prepared to help address the error quickly, and step in to make personal apologies to your guests if something goes wrong.

By extending your patience just a tad during the holidays, your staff will be more likely to get right back into a good rhythm and keep doing their job. And customers will be more likely to forgive and forget.