In a few days, everyone will be on break and in a celebratory mood. In the restaurant business, that causes traffic to increase around the holidays. This doesn’t last. Soon after New Years, business drops off.

Many restaurant owners sit on their hands as customer stream in and out of their restaurants on the holidays. However, smart restaurant owners market to the people who dine at their restaurant during the holidays because they want holiday customers to return in the coming months. They need to find ways to minimize the inevitable pain. Therefore, all restaurants should have marketing strategies that look ahead this time of year. You need one so that your business does not go into hibernation during the winter months. The consequences can be pretty severe if you don’t, such as losing staff (because of no hours).

The bulk of these strategies will work in-house and online or media marketing will play a supporting. You should use signage, pamphlets, newsletters and slips, or anything else that can serve as a gentle reminder.  Besides, you have to interact with the rush of customers that will be visiting your restaurant during the holidays and inform them about why they should be coming back.

Newsletter or Calendar of Upcoming Events

Just because it’s slow, doesn’t mean you don’t have events. The response may not be as big as other times of year, but if you don’t do anything, customers quickly forget your restaurant as an exciting venue. Over the holidays, it is important to gather together all the information about what’s happening in your restaurant in the next few months. Put it in a newsletter or condense it into a small sheet. Some restaurants may make it available at the hostess stand in the front of the restaurant. Restaurants that create a nice enough newsletter/sheet can slip it in with the menu or with the check. You want them to plan to visit your restaurant in the near future, so give them a reason.

Social Media Promotions

Customers who are Facebook Fans or Twitter Followers are much less likely to forget about your restaurant. They have a greater knowledge of promotions and events. They are substantially more loyal. In fact, by only seeing a post from your restaurant in their Facebook newsfeed, customers may consider returning. Accordingly, encouraging customers to become part of your social media community is a good strategy to keep them interested. Of course, you will have to provide value for these customers online, so a small promotion may make them click the LIKE or FOLLOW button.

Return Deal

Customers are already there. It gives you an opportunity to offer them a deal if they come back in the winter months. It is easy; all
they have to do is bring the receipt when they return. Give them a set time period and a strong incentive, and customers will make a mental note. The temptation is to give a low discount on the bill (10% or 25% off). A freebie is more interesting, especially if it relates to the time of year. When you give a free desert with an entree, your deal seems more directed at customer happiness than drumming up business.

Announcement of a New Menu Offering or Service

The holidays is a great time to announce a launch of something new. I don’t mean that you added a new soup. But perhaps, you now will start making several different varieties of gourmet pizza. This is the time to make an announcement even if it is several months off. Nonetheless, you want to be somewhat specific as to when the change will happen. You don’t have to name the particular day, but giving a month will make it more concrete to customers.

Catering and Private Parties

Restaurants often concentrate on catering and private parties to offset the drop in business. Your customers need to know about these services if they are going to use them. You’d be surprised at the number of regular customers that do not know if the restaurant caters or throws private parties. This is your chance to show off other services. Well-placed pamphlets (with photos) will let customers know about it without cramming it down their throats.

Rework Promotions

Just like your menu, you should freshen up your episodic (weekly or monthly) promotions every year. You may get rid of the under performer and try something else. This is an opportunity to make your promotions match your brand. If you do add a new promotion, direct it at regular customers not at acquiring new ones because customers tend to be more conservative in their dining choices during winter.

You shouldn’t try and wait the winter out, and hope everything gets better in spring. Be proactive. Although you cannot reverse customers’ seasonal habits, you can lessen the damage and maintain customer relationships by marketing to holiday customers. It will be a much better New Year if you do.