shopping crowd - diariocritico

Photo by Diariocritico de Venezuela

Apparently, November marks the beginning of something called “The Holiday Season.”  You may not have heard of this—it receives very little press coverage or attention—but it turns out that December is a very big deal for most of the world’s major cultures.  From what our sources tell us, people worldwide tend to spend a lot of money during this season on gifts, food, and festive decorations.  We found this whole idea fascinating and began to do some research, and these rumors turn out to be true.  What we found, though, is that retail operations—the ones that sell physical, tangible things for people to own and for their friends to covet—are the ones who tend to benefit the most.  For the hospitality industry, it may not be as sure a thing.  With so much money being spent elsewhere, people might not be as enthused about spending more on meals out of the home.  This is why it’s very important for you cafes, bistros, coffee shops, and small restaurants to remind your people that you’re still around, and give them a reason to pay you a visit.

But how to do that?  Well, we’re glad you asked.

Write a Christmas Letter – Not just for people who celebrate this particular holiday, the “Christmas Letter” has become a time honored tradition.  Before Facebook allowed people to share their lives on a grand scale, this annual missive was a way for families to catch people up with the events of the year—the highs, the low, the in-betweens.  For a small business like yours, your customers (especially the loyal ones) can sometimes seem like your family, so why not make them feel that way?  You’ve got a great POS with some excellent Customer Relationship tools (you do, don’t you?), so put it to good use.  Send your customers an email, letting them know what’s going on with you.  Tell them about about your successes (but don’t brag) and your goals.  Fill them in on personal milestones that you or your employees have accomplished in the past 12 months.  Keep it light, and don’t get weirdly personal.  No one wants to hear about the kidney stone you passed.  Then ask your customers how they’re doing.  Invite them to share with you on your social media pages, and offer them a gift (like a discount, or free dessert) for being part of your family and sharing.

Share a recipe or kitchen tips – At some point, most of your customers are going to be sitting down to a huge, celebratory holiday meal.  Not everyone enjoys the kitchen as much as you might, though, and the preparation can be daunting.  You don’t need to give away your “state secrets” here, but a recipe for a popular dessert or dish will be much appreciated.  If you’re not comfortable giving out recipes, handy kitchen tips also go a long way.  Advice on how to make perfect coffee in a percolator or teaching the “A-OK” method for determining doneness for those who don’t have a meat thermometer are especially relevant at this time of the year.  This is an ideal kind of thing to post on your Facebook page.  For tips like this, you don’t have even have to write them yourself.  Find 5 – 10 relevant and educational posts on the web, and share them through a Pinterest account.

Give your customers a break from their holiday stress – Though people may not be as inclined to dine out during the holiday season, they also become less inclined to cook and clean the closer the day gets.  They’re tired, stressed, and parents especially could use a night off.  This is the perfect time to host a special holiday themed event, like dinner and a movie.  You can offer a fixed price menu, rent an LCD projector and let people relax at your tables as your staff serve them dinner and drinks while watching It’s a Wonderful Life or Scrooged.  Advanced ticket sales to an event like this can help to mitigate risk, and you can offer your most loyal customers the opportunity buy tickets in advance of the general public.

recipe - west

Photo by Liz West

Partner with other small businesses – Over the past few years, the U.S. “tradition” of Black Friday has found its way overseas, and it’s become a global day of shopping.  With so many looking for deals, there are more than enough consumers to go around.  So, instead of viewing all your neighbors as competition for shopping dollars, why not partner up with them?  WIth so many millions of people spending the day shopping, they’re bound to want to take a break and refresh with food or drink.  If you own a small cafe, and you’re right near a family owned bookstore, say, you each could offer deals to your customers.  Bring a bookstore receipt into your cafe, and get a discount or premium.  Bring a receipt from your cafe into the bookstore, and get a discount of premium.  This is not only a great way to reward your loyal customers for sticking with you, but it could land you some new ones, as well.

Do something good, invite others to help – Amidst all the gadgets and toys and clothes and jewelry, it’s easy to forget about those less fortunate than you.  It’s also to easy to let the euphemism “less fortunate” roll over you without giving it so much as a thought.  But while all that money is changing hands this year, remember there can be no poverty without wealth.  Money is in finite supply, and for every dollar we have, that’s one that someone else doesn’t.  Those in hospitality, particularly those in food service, are perfectly poised to make a difference.  There are dozens of ways that you can redirect money and resources to those who desperately need it, but here’s a really simple one.  If you’re selling soda at your place, and it comes from the tap (i.e. syrup mixed with soda water), run a holiday special.  Tell your customers that for every soda they buy during a given stretch of time, you’ll donate $1 to a local shelter or charity helping to feed hungry people.  Soda is just about the most profitable thing on anyone’s menu, with the total cost of a 20oz. glass totalling somewhere between 15 and 20 cents.  Or just donate a set amount of money per meal and ask patrons if they want to match it.  You can use social media or e-mail newsletters to let your customers know that dining in your cafe will feed more than just them.