PREPARING FOR HOLIDAYS
Ten years ago, it could be said that more restaurants each year were staying open for the holidays. Now, it’s the case that more restaurants each year call the holidays their busiest days of the year. More families seem content to let you do the cooking, serving and cleaning. In the past, the busy holidays were limited to a few days a year—perhaps Mother’s Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving in some cases. Now, there are enough busy holidays for many restaurants that there always seems to be one that just passed and another just around the corner.
The level of business that comes with holidays places a huge emphasis on getting them right for many stores. These are red-letter days. They are that rare opportunity to shine for the largest possible audience; to win over new guests and raise the your operating standards. However, holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and Mother’s Day can bring with them challenges you and your staff will never face on other days. How then to attack these all-important opportunities to have a huge day for your business while impressing droves of new clientele?
The most important step is early preparation. Thinking about busy holidays ten weeks in advance is a good guideline. That means beginning to prepare for Thanksgiving in early September. Sound extreme? Maybe, but it’s worth it to account for the lag time that comes with this business. We all have had days that pass when you’re swamped with new tasks, prohibiting you from attacking your daily agenda. Leaving a few extra weeks to get caught up, if necessary, will ensure that you and your staff can’t use the excuse of the holidays “sneaking up on us”, as they so often do.
Start with any menu specials or changes. Many restaurants incorporate buffets or brunches into their offerings. These items should be costed out well in advance, with the appropriate vendors notified of any ordering changes. Your reservation book should be planned, or plotted, or otherwise mapped out so that it’s foolproof for any employee taking a holiday reservation. With effective preparation comes organization, and your staff can only demonstrate these essential qualities when the management team sets the tone.
In busy restaurants, holidays can signal an “all hands on deck” policy. That means extra staffing, which means keeping your valuable employees away from their families—parents away from their children and children away from their parents. Hopefully, you’ve addressed this during the interview process for new employees and during regularly scheduled staff meetings, so there are no surprises. Since you’re all there together when many would rather be elsewhere, make it a priority to keep it fun. Have a contest, joke around, order pizza, or make a family meal at the end. Keep smiling and keep your staff smiling. There’s no better time to remind your employees that you are all a family. Remember that holidays can be longest days many of your employees will have in your building. It’s worth it to do what you can—even little things like pats on the back or a few extra bucks—to ensure that they know you appreciate them.
Ultimately, there are no substitutes during the holidays for energy and experience. High levels of energy are essential before, during and afterward. The biggest pitfall I’ve seen with respect to holidays is when the end is in sight. Service can get sloppy, presentation can suffer and good moods can falter. Restaurants that incorporate buffets during holidays are very vulnerable to lapses in stocking and cleanliness. Never forget the first impression your business (and your employees) are making to the last guests to arrive on a holiday. Again, this energy starts at the top. Employees who see their management team smiling and working as hard as they did when the doors opened will be more likely to match that high energy.
Experience wins in the end, and the excelling restaurants have it. If your staff has slugged out a few holidays, they already know the drill. As a management team, take copious notes: what worked, what didn’t, mistakes and successes. Catalog them in the form of post mortem notes that you keep safely and refer to in advance of future holidays. This is how the successful teams eliminate mistakes over time, by recording them and never repeating them.
If you are an operator starting a new business, it’s likely your restaurant cannot thrive without excellence on the holidays. In many cases, holidays can refer to specific events that attract large crowds, like spring break in Florida. Getting them right can create new platforms that can catapult your business to success.