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Customers enjoying Christmas dinner and drinks at a restaurant

How to manage a successful festive season at your restaurant?

By Nadine Hashem

It’s finally the holiday season!


We can’t wait until the weather gets cold again and people gather to eat and drink and share their best laughter and create the best memories.


For us, this is what we are looking forward to: cozy nights of fun and good food. 


For you, restaurateurs, things are a bit different.


While you are longing to rock the holidays’ season, you are also getting yourself into a loop of holiday rush and staffing problems that show up at the last minute. 


As exciting as it can be, the holiday season is exhausting and time consuming for restaurateurs. 


You have to deal with holiday events and corporate parties and maybe catering options. 


How to manage the holiday rush successfully?


Prepare your restaurant and your staff


The forecast 


The first thing you might want to check is your numbers. 


What are your expectations?


What do numbers from previous years show or say?


Does the pandemic have any effect on the occupation of your tables?


Are people eager to go out after a couple of years being forced to stay home?


Check your seats, your dining area and its capacity especially if you are aiming to receive corporate events. 


Calculate your table turnover taking into consideration that during the holidays, people gather for longer times.


Once you forecast your sales for the month, check your inventory because you don’t want to turn off customers with an out of stock dish. 


You need to contact your suppliers for early orders and delivery. 




When we say holidays, we don’t strictly mean Christmas eve or new year’s eve. 


It’s the whole festive month of December. 


Despite the previous drop in sales due to Covid19 for 2020, the sales during December is expected to rise 11%.


People are getting vaccinated and they seem ready to embrace the holidays again.


This means a busier time for you so you have to hire seasonal workers to keep up with the rush especially if you are located in an upscale market.


The seasonal staff should be quickly yet efficiently trained to respond to your customers’ needs.


The last thing you need is a disappointed customer during the holidays.


You may want to increase the wage to attract skilled staff during the festive season.


Create a leave schedule to avoid last minute no shows. 


Have a clear communication with your staff so they know what’s expected from them.


Remember that this is not a one time thing to do.


Clear and transparent communication should be held around the clock. 


Have a bonus plan for employees especially the ones who don’t take any leave during the holidays.


If you’re unable to respond to emerging staffing needs, consult a reliable third party for staffing to prevent shortages.


Be ready for chaos


While it’s a festive season, customers tend to get rowdy after couples of drinks so make sure your restaurant is ready for some trouble especially when it comes to pubs and bars.


If you plan to host events, it’s wise to hire one or two bouncers depending on how big your restaurant is and depending on the sales forecasts.


Spice up your menu especially for New year’s 


Compared to the rest of the month of December, New Year’s eve has seen an increase of sales while Christmas reported a decrease in sales despite the increase of check sizes by 17%. 


What does it mean to you?


It simply means that the holidays are worth the menu change.


And again we are targeting the whole month of December where people tend to go out more and grab more bites at restaurants except for the year 2020 where lockdowns affected the hospitality sector and sales. 


Your menu needs lots of festive related additions and a prix fixe for the New Year’s. 


For the prix fixe menu consider the following:


  • setting two different prices by setting a two course and three course meal.


  • Per each section offer 3 varied options such as pasta, steaks and salmon for the main dish.


  • Highlight your slow moving but profitable dishes by adding them to prix fixe but include a popular item or recreate a similar dish with less cost. 


All this is done when reviewing your data generated from POS reports. 


A menu rework as simple as adding holiday toppings such as candy canes and edible gold papers makes a difference.


Festive finishers for drinks and desserts are a must during the holiday season.


Consider adding a turkey and special sides for the Christmas period. 


Special crab cake dishes, roasts, caramel tarts or christmassy desserts are always a good and exclusive addition for the holidays.


Rename certain drinks like Merry Margaritas and add holidays’ sparkles or dried citrus and cranberries on them. 


Charcuterie boards and champagne meal Kits are a good idea.




While many people might want to go out and celebrate, others just enjoy gatherings at home minus the hassle of preparation.


During the month of December, offer catering services to events and gatherings. 


For catering, create a separate menu online to prevent printing costs. 


Dishes that travel well should be added. 


Don’t ignore the festive decorations for catering platters.


You need a good representation of your dishes.


In addition to catering, host events at your restaurant but take into consideration your available space and your seating options. 


Encourage people to host their gatherings at your restaurant through offerings or bundles of complementing dishes on discount. 


Special rates should be given for larger crowds.


Rent your space for private parties as well for bigger income.


Announce it on social media


Whatever you’re planning to do, it has to go on social media. Keep adding pictures about the festive season with your prix fixe options.


Announce that you have special dishes and drinks for the holidays.


You might want to consider changing your hours of operations.


Either start early and close earlier than usual or stay late for events. Hours of  operations are determined by a review of sales figures for the previous years in addition to taking into account the catering and the events planned.


Whatever it is, it has to be properly communicated with your customers ahead of time. 


Your December events and plans should be announced toward the end of November with a teaser followed by the changes the holiday season is bringing. 




Urge them to book for events ahead of time so you plan accordingly. 


We’re all waiting for the festive season. Start early and plan ahead to prevent chaos and to make it enjoyable and unforgettable for everybody. 

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