As the mercury begins to drop, the leaves start to fall, and the general population begins to re-emerge from our dark, air-conditioned summertime hide-outs, one thought is on the mind of most people: the holidays are right around the corner. And while the average person is daydreaming of cozy sweaters, pumpkin beer, and fall leaves, the average restaurant event manager or sales director is probably thinking of two little words: holiday parties.
Holiday parties represent a hugely significant business opportunity for restaurants. Whether it’s your first rodeo or you’ve booked more company Christmas parties than you can shake a stick at, it’s never too early to start planning and strategizing. So, we chatted with a few seasoned pros for their advice on how to think ahead, plan accordingly, and maximize the business opportunities that are waiting right around the corner. Here’s what they had to say.
Get a head start
If you wait around to start reaching out, you may find yourself out of luck. Shane Lozenich of Fork Restaurant said that the single best piece of advice he can give is to strike while the iron’s hot. “Start early! As they say, ‘the early bird gets the worm. It’s the best piece of advice I can give,” he said.
Tiffany Tassano of Urban Kitchen Group recommended that you “know your strategy at least six months out” and prepare “holiday pricing and promos in line and ready to pitch.”
Past customers are your bread and butter
“Repeat business is very important,” said Kim Fox, Event Director at Barteca. “Four of my holiday parties booked the following year’s party the day of their event,” she said. Not too shabby.
Helen Haberman, event coordinator at Barcelona and bartaco, said, “I always make it a point to reach out to last year’s parties right after Labor Day.”
And don’t limit yourself to past holiday business; Tassano suggested reaching out to all your corporate clients to see if they’d be interested in holding their holiday event with you this year.
Be clear and up-front with potential event bookers
“Thursdays are typically the first nights that are booked, so that’s important to convey to our guests,” said Fox.
Haberman shares the realities of booking early with holiday prospects. “I’m very clear that the sooner you book your holiday and Christmas parties, the better the rate will be,” she said.
Use Tripleseat to uncover opportunities
Lozenich shows us how it’s done.
“Go through your contact list, reach out to your clients who booked for the last two years, and see what their plans are this year. Many of them will re-book sooner than you think if you reach out to them. Then go through your contact list and see who is in your area and send them a holiday postcard reminder,” he said. “Be sure to get the idea of ‘holiday’ events across by using symbols, colors, or images typically seen around the holidays. Including an incentive for booking in advance is also a great idea. In the past, I have given meeting planners a gift card for booking between certain dates.”
Use your website
“Post a reminder on your website to start drumming up business. Using your contacts from Tripleseat and OpenTable, send a blast email with the same holiday reminder,” Lozenich said. “If you have the menu ready, include it. Another great tip might be to highlight alternative dining options for groups. We have one private dining room here at Fork, but our long banquette tables in the main dining room are great for group dining. Not all groups will need a private space.”
Host an open house
By hosting an event geared toward meeting planners or event managers, you can reach beyond your contact list and network with potential clients you may not have been able to reach on your own.
“We host an event sometime in mid-September for meeting planners in the area,” Lozenich said. “I have a list of those who I always am in contact with, and then I ask them to give me the names of a few others that might be on their team or know from being in the industry.”
And, if you’re hosting an event like this, don’t be afraid to show off the best aspects of your venue and how it can answer the needs of potential clients.
“Since most of our events are formal, seated dinners, I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight cocktail receptions,” Lozenich said. “I find that at least half of my clients are looking for a more relaxed environment since most of the workday is spent behind a computer. They want their employees to engage and get to know one another, so I think a reception format is something many groups are seeking.”
It also gives these planners a chance to see the space utilized for an event and makes it easier to see how their event might take shape.
“Hosting an event will allow the planners to see the space set up in a way they would not normally envision it. Hightop tables, cocktail rounds, and a movable bar are all things we can accommodate but are not pictured on our website or collateral,” Lozenich said.
And if you’re going to host an event like this, why not go all out? “To really get the guests in the holiday mood, we will have holiday decor, a jazz band, and special giveaways for each person,” Lozenich said.
Be the venue guests want to use all year round
A well-executed holiday party can convert first-timers into return business.
“Treat all your clients like VIPs every time they book with you,” Tassano said. “Great (customer) service can turn one-time clients into regulars who will happily give you their business.”
Maybe it isn’t beginning to look a lot like Christmas just yet, but maximizing private events during the holiday season is something even the Grinch could appreciate.
Get started now for a successful holiday season
If you are not a Tripleseat customer but want to increase sales and drive business to your restaurant or unique venue for the holiday season, click here to schedule a demo to learn about how Tripleseat can help you.