BigHospitality's Christmas planning guide: Make your festive season go with a bang

By Emma Eversham

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Festive season Christmas

Read our guide to planning for Christmas to help make it a profitable one
Read our guide to planning for Christmas to help make it a profitable one
September has arrived, marking the end of the summer holidays and the inevitable hurtle towards the festive season.

While it may seem odd to turn our attention to Christmas when the sun is still shining, for hospitality operators September is the key month to get planning for what can be the busiest and most profitable time of the year. 

And with a recent study of 278 diners by HospitalityGEM revealing that almost a quarter will be making their festive bookings in October, now is the time to get your business and staff prepared (if you haven’t already). 

To help you with your Christmas planning BigHospitality has pulled in the help of industry experts to give their top tips and picked out some of the themed products launched this year for a one-stop guide to help you festive season go with a bang. 

Step 1: Decide on your offering

How can you promote yourself as a festive destination if you don’t have a festive product to promote? Whether you run a hotel and are thinking of offering a party package or own a restaurant or pub and are considering putting on a festive feast, you'll need to consider a few things, such as what kind of customer you want to attract and when you want to attract them. As Peter Backman of Horizons Foodservice told us​ last year, while it is critical to plan for Christmas, actually opening on Christmas Day itself may not be worth it if the demand won't be there, so decide on when is right to open over the festive period for your business and plan around that.

Brakes's Deluxe ready-made festive package is one of three collections it is offering for differing budgets

It may also be worth having a range of different packages available to customers to cater for different budgets and varying needs. Grocery and fresh food supplier Brakes has thought about this and this year has three ready-made customer-focused collections - Classic, Deluxe and Ultimate - on offer to allow its customers to easily put together different packages to suit theirs. As London hotel St Ermins has done this year, it may be wise to put together a package that includes welcome drinks, wine, water and coffee in the price which Maria Langshaw of RIBA says​ will avoid any confusion when it comes to paying the bill and leave staff to give good service rather than sort out who needs to pay for what.

Remember too that the festive season is a marathon, not a sprint, with different types of customers probably choosing different points over December during which to book. HospitalityGEM says larger businesses will be looking to book their Christmas party spots sooner than others to ensure staff are accommodated and are likely to take up the early December slots while smaller businesses and the general public will enquire a little later and will probably want something closer to 25 December.

Step 2: Communicate

Once you've done your research and put together your festive package/s you'll need to communicate your offering, both to potential customers and staff. If you haven't got an in-house designer on hand to whip up POS material or create some special menus, then all is not lost. As well as offering a vast array of festive food and drink, both Brakes and 3663 have promotional material and menu templates on offer to enable you to create bespoke promotional material easily.

Brakes marketing director Dave Hughes, says: “A memorable Christmas meal experience can make a big impression on first time visitors and encourage regular customers to keep returning. However, making the most of the opportunity is usually easier said than done, requiring meticulous planning and a strong promotional campaign."

While early planning can help provide a stress-free Christmas for most businesses, communicating your package at a point when the barbecue is still out can put off some customers, says Backman, so hold on to that promotional campaign until the first week of October when the nights start drawing in and your customers might be more inclined to think about hearty dinners and calorific, boozy festive desserts.  

There are some people you do want to tell about your Christmas plans, however, and that's your staff, because if they don't know they won't be able to communicate properly to customers and that could mean lost business when the enquiries come rolling in. 

According to HospitalityGEM's survey, 69 per cent of people booking Christmas meals said they would be doing so over the telephone and if staff didn't have information on that first booking call, 84 per cent said they'd expect the venue to get back to them the same day, and almost half within four hours, so staff need to be fully briefed and ready to answer any questions as soon as the phone rings.  

“In our experience, many phone enquiries are often rushed and leave the customer wanting more detail. This can be costly if you lose a lucrative Christmas booking to a competitor as a result," said HospitalityGEM director Steven Pike.

Step 3: Plan to make it special

As Mohammed Essa, general manager UK and Ireland, Aviko says 'Christmas is the busiest time of the year and consumer expectation is always high' which can inevitably put pressure on you and your staff and make Christmas feel like a chore, but you should also remember it is a special time of the year when many are looking to let their hair down and have fun.

According to research from 3663, one in 10 customers mentioned 'a special occasion' as the reason for eating out over the festive period, so besides the welcoming smile and the quality food, don't forget the little touches, like decorations, music and mince pies that will make it distinctly festive.

"The special touches such as newly designed crackers when partnered with a chilled glass of Prosecco or an indulgent after-dinner treat are perfect for evoking the festive spirit," suggests 3663's Gail Bridgeman.

So, if you have followed the previous two steps, ordered in the right amount of stock for bookings taken, are staffed appropriately and haven't forgotten the Christmas crackers then all that's left is to have a very Merry Christmas. Cheers.

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