Dining Trends to Focus on This Holiday Season

We all know that most holidays produce strong restaurant sales. According to Bizfluent research the winter holiday season is typically the second busiest time of the year (after the warm weather/vacation season) because restaurant guests tend to travel, celebrate with friends and family and look for social opportunities to dine out. According to Dave Bennet with Mirus Restaurant Solutions, all the holidays during the pandemic have produced spikes in restaurant traffic starting with Easter and steadily increasing to peak on Labor Day. Now we are adding the current spike in the COVID-19 Pandemic to the mix at the height of holiday celebrations. 

What should restaurants expect from the 2020 holiday season and what can they do to capitalize on every available opportunity to increase holiday sales? 

To answer these questions, we commissioned a 10-question online survey and garnered approximately 500 respondents. I won’t bore you with the detailed results (although I’m happy to send them to anyone who asks), but I will give you a summary of the answers to the key questions we identified.  Here are the highlights:

  1. Approximately 44% of the respondents either dined-out or ordered off-premises during a typical holiday season. That number is expected to drop to 38% during this holiday season. So, less people will utilize restaurants this holiday season. No surprise there. Order accuracy is key (5)
  2. The research also yielded another no-brainer. The majority of people who will utilize restaurants this season will do it through off-premise carry out with this number actually increasing by 5.5% over prior years.
  3. The real opportunity this holiday season is to capture that additional 5.5% of take out customers. Guests are looking for a few key things:
    • Food quality & service – offer all your off-premise options, either heated or cold, with very well thought-out heating instructions so that the food quality is maintained.
    • Order accuracy – focus on your systems and make sure that they include a quality control step to ensure that the customer is getting EXACTLY what they ordered.  Spend the time to add the newer modules to your POS and take-out technologies to help support your staff efforts.Order accuracy is key (6)
    • Safety first – clearly communicate verbally, graphically and physically that you are adhering to the highest standards of COVID protocols.  30% of respondents stated that health and safety is their highest priority in making dining & food decisions during this holiday season.
  4. Remember those dining in. Don’t forget about the guests who still want the full-service dine-in experience in the restaurant. They still account for almost 13%, and their check average and gross margins are typically much higher than off-premise business.

We’ve received many horror stories about customers making the decision to dine-out because they long for the social experience, only to end-up with a terrible ordeal because the restaurant is so focused on its’ off-premise business.  

If you don’t have the staff and the systems to successfully handle both, close the restaurant for dine-in business and put everything into your off-premise operations.  No restaurant today can afford to give a guest less than remarkable dine-in experience, even with restrictions. 

To quote the old  rubric  “You may not have it all together, but together you can have it all.” Do everything you can, from adding limited time offers to highlighting your remarkable side dishes, so that customers crave and rave about something from your restaurant on their holiday table.  It doesn’t have to be the whole meal, but if you can find a way to be part of your clients’ new holiday traditions, you set your restaurant up for strong sales and an enhanced reputation as we move into 2021 and out of this terrible pandemic.

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