16 Ways to Boost Your Restaurant’s Holiday Sales

November 15th, 2018 by Ted Leave a reply »

Ahh, the holidays… for businesses they’re the perfect excuse to try new things to boost holiday sales.

Black Friday (and to a larger extent the entire holiday shopping season) is a critical time for retail businesses. In fact, some companies do 30% of their business during the end of the year holidays.

Christmas setting on restaurant table

There are nine federally recognized holidays:

  • New Year’s Day
  • Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Washington’s Birthday
  • Memorial Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Columbus Day
  • Veterans Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas Day

This is just a small piece of the holiday pie. These don’t even include Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, the Super Bowl, etc… Check out this footnote for 238 holidays.

For now, we’re thinking primarily about these holidays:

  • Thanksgiving
  • Christmas
  • New Years

Two Critical Factors for Boosting Holiday Sales (or really any sales)

Since the holiday season is so critical to businesses let’s look at two things you need to focus on ensure this holiday season is a success:

  • Increasing Traffic
  • Increasing Sales

This may seem obvious but I put it at the beginning because all of the strategies and tactics we’ll look at will fall under one of these two.

1. Traffic is King

The restaurant industry is primarily a retail business. How well your sit-down restaurant does is a direct result of how many people visit you.

NOTE: Don’t get thrown off by businesses that are primarily delivery (like a pizza joint) or drive-thru (like fast food). There’s still a direct correlation between the number of customers and gross sales. When customers go up, sales go up, and if you’re structured your menu pricing properly, the more revenue you make should equal more profit.

2. Sales are Queen

Getting folks in the seat is step one. The next step is getting them to purchase the items that will make you the most profit. But it should be noted that you can increase sales without increasing traffic. It’s not as easy to do. But it can be done.

You know that not all diners are created equal. Some spend a lot and some spend a little. If you could fill your restaurant with folks who always ordered appetizers and desserts you’d make a lot more. So

16 Holiday Sales Ideas

1. Stay Open Late

This may seem more like a New Years Eve strategy, but it can work for Christmas as well. Competition from other restaurants will be low. The hardest part of this tactic is finding folks to work late during the holidays. In addition, if your customers aren’t used to you being open late you might find yourself all alone. So if you choose this option make sure you let folks know about it. There’s a pancake house in Oklahoma City that’s open 24/7/365. When New Years rolls around they get a huge surge in traffic shortly after midnight. They’re one of the only games in town and a lot of people are looking for a solid meal. Everyone else misses out on this opportunity because they close early.

2. Focus on Being the “Stress Free” Option

The holidays are stressful. From hosting visitors, purchasing gifts, troublesome family, traffic, etc… if you can position yourself as a “stress reliever” you’ll win. One of my favorite phrases is “Let us take care of all the details”. In this case those details will include: menu selection, cooking, cleaning, serving, decorating, entertaining, etc… and if you provide a customer with a stellar experience they’ll come back year after year. After all, they can buy food anywhere. But they can’t get the experience you offer anywhere but you.

3. Be Unusual

The very popular game, “Cards Against Humanity” have, a few times, done something really unusual for Black Friday.One year they actually raised their prices for Black Friday. Another year they offered a product that didn’t include anything. Customers were given the option to pay knowing they’d get nothing in return. Because they were doing something so unusual they got a lot of free press which no doubt boosted businesses. I can’t pretend to know what “unusual” would mean for your specific restaurant or customers. You’ll have to come up with that. But if you can you may find a hidden goldmine of revenue everyone else is missing out on.

4. Coupons

The coupon may seem old school to some but it’s as popular as ever. 96% of Americans are coupon users. In fact, digital coupons have been growing in popularity. You probably have some restaurant apps on your phone that allow you to order on the go and even take advantage of loyalty rewards.

5. Holiday Themed Dishes

The most well known holiday themed dish has to be the Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks. It’s so popular the cool kids call it the PSL. And they probably even hashtag it. What types of holiday themed dishes can you offer your customers? As main dishes of course, turkey and ham are at the top of the list. But don’t be afraid to offer something special that folks can only get from you. Do you have a killer diner roll recipe? Use it! My sister makes a dynamite mashed potato. She makes it every year. It may seem unlikely but can you come up with the next PSL in your area?

6. Holiday Themed Drinks

The most common holiday drink is probably eggnog. Some people love it. Some people hate it. If your restaurant serves alcohol there are dozens (maybe hundreds) of holiday drinks you can have for a limited time. And you know it works because multi-million dollar companies like Sam Adams makes their Octoberfest beer every year. One of the easiest, family-friendly holiday drinks is hot chocolate with whipped cream and red and green sprinkles or drizzle. Easy, cheap, fun.

7. Limited Time Only

The LTO option is a tried and true marketing tactics that works year round. For example, if you don’t normally serve pumpkin pie, Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to make an LTO pumpkin pie.

8. Catering

Most of us have probably been to a holiday office party. These can be big money makers and they don’t have to interfere with your normal holiday operations because businesses typically hold their office parties before the actual holidays. So being aggressive about promoting your restaurants catering services for the holidays is a way of extending your holiday sales a few extra days.

9. Gift Cards

My dad loved the coffee from Tim Horton’s. So every Christmas and birthday we gave him some of that coffee. Me and my siblings may have spent more money at Tim Horton’s because we knew our dad loved it so much. Your restaurant can be that for your customers as well. And the holiday season is a perfect time to sell gift cards. They’re simple, easy, and your customers can cater (pun intended) their purchases to their tastes. ASIDE: The reality is that some gift cards are never used. This is a shame but it does happen. In fact, I recall reading somewhere that those rebates you often encounter from retailers on Black Friday are often not redeemed. You know the ones I’m talking about. They require you to mail it receipts, proofs-of-purchases, completed forms, etc… and then, for some unknown reason, they take weeks or months to send you the rebate. This is probably partly due to the fact that returning customers money is not a huge priority. But the complexity of the process also keeps a lot of people from even applying for the rebate. But… and this is the key, it doesn’t keep people from buying the product with the intention of getting the rebate.

10. Host a Party

The holidays are a great time for celebration. And who doesn’t enjoy a good party? But for a lot of folks hosting their own holiday party isn’t a reasonable option. This is where you come in. As a professional restaurant you can create and market a holiday party that your customers can enjoy. You know your customers so you can plan an event with their favorite dishes, decorations, music, etc…

11. Promote Everything on Social Media

If you have a big following on social media this is a great opportunity to promote your holiday offerings. If you don’t, this is the perfect time to step-up and begin using social media as a primary tool for driving business. You’re probably seen customers taking pictures of their food to share online. Do you do this for your business? Why not? People love pictures of food. And they love picture of holiday decorations. In addition, there are plenty of holiday themed hashtags you can use. Here’s a list of 106 holiday hashtags. And if you’re looking for high quality and free holiday images check out these Christmas images here.

12. Make Yourself Available to Nonprofits

For nonprofits the holiday season is just as important to hitting their goals as it is to your business. Here’s how you can support the nonprofits in your area: (1) Put a donation bin in your lobby area, (2) Arrange a party where part of the proceeds go to a local charity, (3) Donate food and time to a local food kitchen or pantry. And if you’re looking for more ideas I can guarantee that all you need to do is contact a local charity and they’ll be thrilled to give you plenty of ideas. I’ve worked for nonprofits and I know that they’re always so grateful for the help they get from individuals and businesses. It’s really the only way they’re able to achieve the goals of their nonprofit. You’ll feel good about yourself and your customers will love you even more knowing that you’re doing good in their community.

13. Encourage Fun Holiday Costumes for Employees and Customers

Businesses do this type of promotion for Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, etc… why not for the Christmas Holidays? Obviously, a cook who handles boiling water or oil shouldn’t be allowed to wear something that exposes them to more burns. But the front of house staff is more flexible. How about an ugly Christmas sweater contest? Or a fun holiday hat day? Or, like my dad competed in, an ugly holiday necktie contest? Not only are these fun, but customers can win bragging rights and you get tons of fantastic opportunities to promote these events on social media.

14. Holiday Music

You can create and share your own holiday playlist with your customers easily through Spotify. You can also ask your customers for their favorite holiday music. It’s true that some people love to hate holiday music that starts weeks even months before the holidays. However, holiday music hold a special place in most of our hearts as they remind us of precious memories. With that in mind, I’d encourage you to keep your holiday music selection classical. I don’t mean orchestral music per se. I mean classical performances of holiday classics. Performers like Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, the soundtrack for the Charlie Brown holiday films, Home Alone, etc… It’s tough to go wrong with classics like these.

15. Holiday Cards

Everyone loves getting holiday cards. Personalized snail mail is so rare it almost feels like a mini-holiday when you get a card from someone. And if you have the names and addresses of your customers this is a great time to let them know you’re thinking of them and want to see them during the holidays. This is also an opportunity to promote your specialty dishes, LTOs, and discounts.

16. Baked Goods

The holidays are a great opportunity to increase sales of your popular baked goods. Cookies and candies of every kind are easy and cheap to create and have a long enough shelf life that you can begin to sell them right away for parties that won’t be held for days even weeks. These also make very popular gifts. You’ll see pop-up stores in malls everywhere selling Christmas popcorn, meet and cheese trays, praline, etc…


Holidays are great for business. And they can be great for your business. You don’t need to do everything above to boost holiday sales. Pick one or two and give them a try.

The goal is to get started. Get off the bench and put these ideas into practice. After all, if you don’t do anything different this year you’ll probably get the same sorts of results you got last year. And probably even worse because your competition is looking for every advantage.

Do you have a holiday tradition that work well for your restaurant? We’d love to hear about them. Just comment below and we may update our blog to include your ideas.

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