How to Make Sure Your Restaurant Survives the Winter Blues

The winter months can be slow in the restaurant industry, so owners must think ahead to keep the traffic coming.
winter friends restaurant
Keep your restaurant business booming this winter with creative promotions and fun ideas to attract customers even when it’s cold outside. (Photo: oneinchpunch/Shutterstock)

Winter is here. It’s getting colder, the sun is setting earlier and more people are choosing to stay inside their cozy homes.

The months of January through March, when winter is raging across most of the U.S., restaurants can experience a big dip in sales and a lot of downtime. If consumers know they will have to battle the snow and ice, they’re often more likely to remain in the safety — and warmth — of their homes.

Unless owners take proactive steps to stay busy during this time, the beginning of the year can be rough for restaurant owners. Follow these useful tips from restaurant experts to help ensure that your restaurant thrives, even during the cold winter months.

Start your marketing during the holiday season

Matt Hetrick

Selling gift cards throughout the holiday season that include a bonus promotion can be a great way to bring customers back in during the slower winter months, says Matt Hetrick president of Culinary Accountants. (Photo: Matt Hetrick)

December is typically a busier time of the year for eating out due to the holiday rush. People are out shopping, inviting family and friends into town and too busy preparing for the holidays to cook at home. Plus, it’s not as cold out yet.

Related: How to Turn Tables Quickly at Your Restaurant During the Holiday Rush

Restaurant owners should capitalize on this increase in traffic by promoting upcoming deals for January through March during the holiday season, said Franco Francese, owner of the Mattone Restaurant and Bar in Chicago.

In December, their busiest month, Francese said each customer gets an envelope with an offer inside for a free appetizer with the purchase an entrée, $10 off dinner or a bottle of wine at half price. The catch? Guests must return with their unopened envelope between January and March, when the server will open it and reveal their prize.

“The cost of a promotion like this is very small and it gets some folks to commit to return next year when the restaurant is slower,” he said.

Matt Hetrick, president of hospitality accounting firm Culinary Accountants, suggested selling gift cards throughout the holiday season that include a bonus promotion. For example, customers who buy a $50 gift card in December can get a coupon for half off their entire check when they visit in the month of January.

Continue running promotions during the winter months

After the holiday season has passed, you’ll want to continue offering winter promotions to your customers.

According to Kevin Gregory, creative director at New York restaurant consulting company AllDay Industry, “The key is to offer guests something that they wouldn’t have access to during the normal months.”

From January through March, he suggested, restaurant owners could discount drinks, provide prix fixe menus and offer “an enticing happy hour special [that] will incentivize guests to get out in the winter months.”

Host unique events

couple at restaurant in winter

Entice customers to come to your restaurant when it’s cold outside by hosting events like wine tastings or themed nights. (Photo: Dusan Petkovic/Shutterstock)

Customers might love your food, but when the world is frozen outside, it may not be enough to make them leave their warm homes and comfortable couches. You’ll have to supply them with more than great cuisine.

Related: How to Prep Outdoor Seating Areas for Cold Weather

Gregory suggested hosting curated wine-tasting and pairing events, craft beer dinners or themed nights on a monthly basis because they will give your customers something to do.

“It is important to remember that the restaurant business isn’t the only industry that slows down,” he said. “As your potential customers choose to stay in over going out, offering them something to look forward to will keep them coming to your restaurant.”

Take advantage of the winter holidays

While Christmas and New Years will have already passed, there are still a number of other winter holidays and special events that you can leverage to promote your restaurant, such as the Super Bowl on Feb. 4, Valentine’s Day and Saint Patrick’s Day.

Matt Kovacs, president of Blaze PR, said you can use these holidays to create new relationships with customers so they will return to your restaurant.

“Start to collect email address to build your newsletter database. Give ‘bounce back’ [deals] to customers to have them come back and spend additional dollars,” he said.

Kovacs also recommended celebrating the lesser known but still fun foodie holidays, like Spaghetti Day on Jan. 4 and Carrot Cake Day on Feb. 3.

“Offer specials on these dishes and join the celebration,” he said.

Fun and funky holidays like these can be a great way for restaurants to bring in more traffic and get attention on social media during the slower winter months.

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