We all know the seasonal fluctuations the restaurant industry experiences. For restaurant operations along the coastal corridors, summer can bring in peak demand, from travelers looking for their next great food experience to locals enjoying your outdoor patio. Then there are those establishments that find their tables full only after the first snow falls, and the snowboarders and skiers begin making their way to the mountains.
Some restaurants see a big holiday surge, from family gatherings to business parties. Others find that their customers tend to eat at home during the holiday season, particularly in the part of the world that experiences storms. Despite the vast difference in seasonality, we can all benefit from a few reminders—the steps to take as fall turns to winter.
View Historical Labor and Sales Reports
Leveraging data is critical during the changing seasons. Looking back offers key clues to staffing requirements and changes in inventory. This is the time to get out the magnifying glass and prepare in advance.
Prepare for Changing Weather
For those of you who live in the snow belt, you probably don’t need this reminder. However, every year, some operators seem to be taken aback by an early frost and icy conditions. Are you ready with all the items to keep your walkways and parking areas slip-free, like salt and a shovel? For those who use a third-party vendor for plowing and walkway maintenance, make sure to check in early to ensure the current labor crunch hasn’t left them short-handed.
I never expected to write those words when it comes to restaurants in the winter, except maybe for the lavish settings in Iceland where people dine in ice castles. However, like many aspects of the industry, the pandemic changed our normal operating model.
When social distancing was at its peak, many turned to unique outdoor venues to create more “safe” dining spaces. Some went all out, installing igloos with their own heat lamps and tent-like structures that invited guests to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors in winter while still keeping warm. These unique spaces were big hits for many restaurants that have since maintained their scenic outdoor areas year-round.
Consider Events to Quell Hibernation Tendencies
It’s easy to stay home when it gets dark at 5, the walkways are icy, and we have to add additional layers to keep warm. But then, we start to miss our favorite neighborhood eatery, which takes extra care to ensure we’re welcomed with a warm and inviting environment. Now’s the time to take a good look at your restaurant.
Some excellent additions this time of year are twinkly lights, festive winter decorations, and candlelight. The summer leaves little time for mingling, so consider taking a night or two and checking out other dining establishments. You’ll recognize the significant difference in atmospheres and which ones call you to return.
This is also a good time to consider special events that can budge your customers from their winter caves. Consider special tasting menus and winter comfort foods. Have you already changed the bar menu to reflect the changing season? Gingerbread martinis, apple cider margaritas, and apple honey bourbon hot toddies bring the spirit of the season to your establishment.
Some people settle in after the first storm. They have their favorite Netflix series scheduled and their grocery delivery form bookmarked. Unfortunately, you won’t be seeing them until the spring thaw begins. That doesn’t mean, however, that they can’t enjoy your delicious, crave-able food.
Now’s a great time to highlight takeout and consider a delivery service. If you don’t have a system already in place, a third-party delivery service can help you reach customers without implementing your own program. Make sure to do the math and calculate the remaining profits once they take their share. Some services offer lower commissions and fees.
Another change brought on by the pandemic was the advent of restaurant-turned-grocery stores and take-and-bake meals. Take-and-bake meals are a great go-to in the winter, providing a warm, scrumptious meal for your guests who don’t want to brave the colder weather. Increase sales by suggesting wine pairings for those restaurants where alcohol-to-go is still legal. The winter is a great time to take a deep dive into your menu and operational procedures that may need an upgrade.
How do restaurants prepare for winter?
If you’re located in the snow belt, now’s the time to prepare for bad weather. First, consider purchasing a generator to prepare for possible power outages. Next, develop a snow and ice plan removal for your parking lot and sidewalks, or signup with a responsible third-party vendor.
Welcome guests with a cozy space and consider creating an outdoor winter dining experience. Make sure you have a solid takeout and delivery system ready for your customers that tend to hibernate in the winter.
Does the restaurant business slow down in winter?
A restaurant’s location significantly impacts its seasonality. For example, restaurants in snowy climates tend to see a decline in business due to reduced travel and icy roads. They can, however, make up for this with a strong delivery and takeout program.