BigHospitality is kicking off the opening of our Advent calendar early with a five-part feature investigating how restaurants, hotels and pubs and bars can make sure December is a cracker and not a turkey now the countdown has truly begun.
Over the next week we will showcase some of the latest products hitting the market, investigate what goes into planning a stunning Christmas food and drinks menu, how to prepare for a party the Three Kings would be proud to attend and why quirky and unusual ideas could help your business stand out from the crowd.
The crowd is a good place to start because for some operators approaching the festive season can be a daunting prospect with lots of hungry competition all fighting for the same seasonal shilling – so why is it so important to plan for Christmas, what business presents can you expect and which are the key areas to focus on?
The benefits of Christmas to the hospitality industry might seem obvious but just with any promotion or business push it is important to have clear goals to achieve.
The festive period is as much about a volume game as it is a profits one – you should be looking to generate excitement and interest in your brand that lasts through into 2013, greater footfall and volume of meals, drinks or beds sold must also be a clear goal.
However as Peter Backman, managing director at Horizons Foodservice, says with greater interest in premium products it should be these that experience the best rise in profits.
“The market is pretty ropey so generating any interest or excitement is a good thing. They are probably not keeping their eye on the price so much and they will be buying more alcohol so generally margins should be going up.”
This doesn’t mean the key to a bountiful Christmas is simply putting prices up however – operators should be thinking clever as Niels Sherry, general manager of The Royal Horseguards Hotel, explains.
“With Christmas a lot of people coming in are paying from their own pocket and it is leisure. Therefore you need to be mindful of pricing and not be extortionate and show good value for money.”
Roberto Zeolla is owner of The Chequers pub and restaurant in Matching Green, Essex.
“The festive season is important to us especially as a rural village pub. During the midweek trade you can take as much as the weekend, it provides the opportunity for 50 per cent extra on turnover.”
The other key factor to address is timing – the first couple of weeks of December are likely to be dominated by corporate and business bookings. However it makes less sense to target that business in week three and beyond so look to bring in new custom from leisure guests or shoppers.
With Christmas falling on a Tuesday this year be prepared for three busy weekends as opposed to two.
And what of Christmas Day? “I don’t think there is enough business out there to support all restaurants being open,” Backman says.
“Just being open and hoping to attract custom on the day isn’t going to work – it’s about pre-bookings and you have to work on that quite a bit so you know whether it is worthwhile.”
If you do choose to open on December 25th it is key to create the best atmosphere as Zeolla explains “Even though it is only one day, it is important as people have very high expectations especially as it is a 'high ticket' occasion so getting it right is vital. We work hard to exceed our guest’s expectations and create a special lunch experience for them and their children.”
For hotels the decision on whether to open or not on the big day is irrelevant but it should be treated differently Sherry, who also has a top tip, argues.
“You know that feeling during the Olympics where everyone was talking to each other in the street and nothing was a problem? That is what Christmas Day should feel like – we are all talking and we are all just here to relax and have a good time.”
“On Christmas Day, whenever I have worked in a hotel, I have made a point of coming in – not to see the guests but to see the staff. I think it is important to show care and appreciation for the team,” he suggests.
New Year’s Eve and getting ready for January and the year ahead are crucial but don’t just take the decorations down once Boxing Day is done with Backman warns.
“The post-Christmas period is also worthwhile investing in – it is traditionally a very slack time but people are shopping or they are with family so put something on to do with shopping – a special shoppers lunch, in and out in 40 minutes, a breather from the sales!”
Once initial plans are made and groundwork has been laid the biggest decision is what key things to do to get the most out of the season and when to start promoting all your hard work.
“Start early and keep communicating,” Zeolla says. “Don't assume because you have told them once 'what's on' that the info has been acted on or even absorbed.”
But with many people complaining about Christmas coming earlier each year or choosing to only spend their hard-earned cash very close to the big day means choosing which details to plan and release publically and which to keep close to your chest is crucial.
“Being very early with Christmas is almost as bad as being very late – it sends out the wrong messages. You have got to get it about right which probably means sometime in October possibly halfway through,” Backman says.
Some of the most important points to tick off the Christmas list include putting together a Christmas brochure or menu, appointing a co-ordinator, buying in special products, decorating your venue, promoting your activity in print, press and on social networks and dusting off that a-board.
Christmas is also a great time to contact your regular guests if you haven’t before or recently.
Tinsel, holly, ivy, mistletoe, baubles, tree and snow prove Christmas is one time when style really can better substance. This is one are it is important to plan early – don’t rush decorations last minute, people will expect a special atmosphere when they walk in your venue and what you put up temporarily should match how you present your business the rest of the year round.
“Last year the hotel decided to go a little bit contemporary in the feel of the way that they stylised the Christmas decorations and the tree and my view is that Christmas should be quite traditional,” Sherry argues. “If you don’t do it well people are disappointed – there is almost an expectation that when you come into a hotel you are going to be wowed.”
“People like and expect tradition. Crackers are corny but if they are well done they are appreciated,” Backman adds.
Finally, as Sherry concludes, getting the planning and style right can not only ensure your hospitality business looks good and prepared but can boost trade too.
“When there is austerity measure in place and times are a little bit difficult I think people quite often revert to traditional things – Christmas lends itself to that. If you do it in a homely, warm way people feel like they want to indulge.”
Top Tips to Unwrap the Present of Profits:
- Plan early, choose goals to reach, don’t alienate regulars with Christmas promotions too soon and once you do start – keep reminding people.
- Target corporate and office parties with flyers and by making contacts especially for the growing amount of ‘unofficial’ Christmas parties organised by small groups within offices.
- Choose days to open and target – don’t forget the post-Christmas period.
- If you open Christmas Day create the perfect atmosphere and don’t forget staff.
- Choose your decorations carefully and make sure they match your venue and business.
Tomorrow: Why the quirky and unusual festive ideas could be more than just fun and different but might boost Christmas profits too.