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Last-minute Christmas planning: Orchid shares secrets to festive success

By Luke Nicholls , 18-Oct-2012
Last updated on 18-Oct-2012 at 14:02 GMT

Despite price-sensitive diners booking Christmas dinners and events later than ever, pub and bar operator Orchid has already seen bookings up 10 per cent on last year. The group has given us some timely top tips to help with that last-minute festive planning.

Following our recent four-part Special Feature on Planning for Christmas 2012, a number of Orchid’s general managers have revealed the secrets to the increase in bookings they have received across the estate of food-led pubs and bars.

Something a bit different…

As one of the parts of our feature showed, doing something a bit different this year can remove the monotony of those traditional Christmas events for you, your staff and – more crucially – your customers. And that’s exactly what Celia Heaton, general manager the Leigh Arms in Macclesfield, is doing.

“We’ve been sending two of the girls out into the town dressed up in Santa outfits to start spreading the word,” she said. “They get people thinking about what they are doing for Christmas and talk to all the local businesses about their office parties.

“It’s fun for them and really makes a difference – one of our party nights is booked up already, and the confirmations are coming in thick and fast for remaining nights and Christmas Day.”

The Church Tavern in Birmingham is another advocate of fancy dress as a way to get people committing to their Christmas parties. Last year, General Manager Rachel Onysko dressed up as an elf, and this year it is the turn of one of the male members of staff.

“It works really well as it shows people that we’re happy to go the extra mile to make their Christmas with us really special,” Onysko said. “By sending people out for just a few hours of an afternoon we can get loads of bookings in – it’s well worth it.”

Preparation is key

Another part of our Christmas Special Feature highlighted why preparation is key to success. And timing is the name of the game for the Bramingham in Luton, where Christmas Co-ordinator Ciara Murphy has brought the party season forward a week.

“We’re finding that many businesses, particularly those in the trade, are having to put back their own parties to January,” said Murphy. “So, we brought our festive season forward to mid-November to give them the chance to get in on the action nearer the time.”

The Bramingham is also focusing on using Christmas bookings to keep trade going into the start of next year, when things can become very quiet.

Murphy added: “We’re using vouchers with Christmas bookings to get people back into the pub in January – offering them a free bottle of wine with their first meal of 2013 with us.

“It keeps the trade coming in a slow month, and is an added incentive to get their bookings in early.”

Community pubs

As last night’s BBPA Annual Dinner and Awards eluded to, pubs are always at the heart of local communities. As a casing point, at the Henry Boddington in Salford, deputy manager Luke Dunsmoor takes Christmas to potential customers.

Staff at the food-led pub head out to local businesses and retirement homes, helping them get in the festive spirit early with Christmas party bags to show them just what the seasonal experience at an Orchid pub entails.

Orchid pubs are also making the most of the internet and social networking to boost Christmas bookings. Steven Carthy, General Manager at the Buccaneer in Eastbourne, backs up traditional mail-shots by going online.

“We have more than 450 friends on our Facebook page so it’s a great way to let people know about our Christmas activities,” he said.

“It only takes a few minutes and messages go out to all those people directly, and potentially hundreds more. We really embrace social networking and it’s having a positive impact on Christmas bookings.”

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