The restaurant business tends to get a boost during holidays, as high as up to 306 % percent! People have more free time to spend with loved ones, so naturally, they tend to go out to enjoy a nice dinner somewhere outside. And while the holidays usually bring more business, they also require extra work in terms of restaurant menu management.

A carefully designed menu, if optimized and executed correctly, can maximize and even exceed your restaurant’s holiday sales targets. So, you need to both introduce some excitement into your menu during special days, and be smart about it. How to create the perfect holiday menu? Here are some tips to help you in the process.

Christmas holiday

Design a Special Holiday Menu

It is important to introduce some diversity to your menu during these special days both for new and regular customers alike: to keep them interested and turn them into a returning customer. Another great thing about special menus is that they reflect the atmosphere of the holiday. And customers are usually looking forward to this. A nice Christmas menu when on holiday or seasonal specials are very much expected. Give your customers an extraordinary experience when they’re eating out at your restaurant by creating that holiday atmosphere, whatever the holiday is. A special holiday menu is a perfect way to bring in that atmosphere to your restaurant or café, besides the decorations and music. Be it Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Halloween or any other holiday, themed dishes and drinks are a great way to set the mood. Here are some tips on how to plan a holiday menu:

  1. Use Seasonal Ingredients

Creating a menu using seasonal ingredients is one of the most effective ways to cut costs and boost sales. It’s a good idea to design the new menu items around local sourced produce that is readily available. Using seasonal foods will significantly cut costs, by saving on product markups along with shipping costs. Moreover, your customers will be in awe of the new menu items with seasonal produce, since they tend to taste better than when out of season.

2. Offer Unique Dishes to Set You Apart From the Competition

Holidays are peak seasons, which means that competition is getting tougher. With restaurants trying to attract as many customers as possible with special offers, it is important to have menu items to set you apart from the competition. Think about unique seasonal dishes that will only be available at your restaurant. Curiosity and exclusivity are a powerful combination, so it’s a good idea to use that properly.

3. Don’t Forget Popular Classics

Nevertheless, you can’t forget about classics. They are called classics for a reason: people expect these dishes on the menu, when they eat out during holidays. Think about Christmas without eggnog, Valentine’s Day without chocolate, or Thanksgiving without turkey. However, meeting customers’ expectations doesn’t need to be boring or done just to check the box. Classics with an interesting twist could be a good idea, if you want to satisfy the market’s craving for traditional dishes and beverages, but still set your restaurant apart from the competition. Playing with spices, unique ingredients, or even simply switching up the plating are cost-effective and easy adjustments to make!

holiday wine glasses

Take Advantage of High Markup Items

An important factor for increasing the sales margin are high markup items. Sure, seasonal menu items, interesting dishes will attract customers. High markup items on the other hand can be the safety belt to ensure your restaurant is actually hitting those sales goals.

  • Beverages

Drinks are usually the items that won’t be too costly in terms of ingredients or labor. This goes for both regular and alcoholic beverages. While filling a glass could cost less than $.10 per serving, you can sell those drinks for $2 each, making fountain beverages and coffee profitable items with huge markups. Wines can get you markups from 200 % to 600%, while beers can go higher at 500 % to 600%, according to instoredoes.com. Add a twist by using these in seasonal cocktails and drinks for an even higher market and consider pairing the drinks with the seasonal dishes for increased sales.

  • Desserts

Desserts, especially during special days, can be amazing for hitting those sales goals. In order to increase profits on the desserts you select recipes with inexpensive ingredients with relatively minimal labor requirements. It would be ideal to select recipes that can be made in batch, such as cookies, sheet cakes, cupcakes, cake pops, ice cream, the options are endless! Festive decorations and special plating will do the rest!

  • Catering or Party-Sized Offers

Holidays are all about family, friends and loved ones! This is why it’s a good idea to consider adding shareable party-sized offers in your holiday menu for larger gatherings. Catering is also a good option, since batch or large portions, whether they are shareable or catering items, cost cheaper to produce and hence can offer larger sales margins for your restaurant. It’s also convenient for customers: so much easier to pick a couple of shareable options than spend half the evening deciding on what to have one by one in a large group.

Track Sales History and Use a Recipe Software

To successfully formulate a profitable seasonal menu, you should always refer to your sales history to ensure that you’re selling the right dish. This is done effectively using a restaurant operations system. Record and track your menu into the system and constantly check the popularity of specific ingredients during different holidays. The system will give you a good idea of what kind of ingredients can bring larger revenue. Moreover, the right software can also help you quickly account for any changes in the menu for holidays. This is especially efficient to do in advance, before the hectic holiday period, when it’s more difficult to navigate and organize everything efficiently, without incurring loss. Your team will be busier than usual as is.

While accurate food costing for your holiday menu is important, it’s also important to remember about the regular menu. It’s a good idea to make sure that all your regular menu items are also priced effectively in par with the specials. This will help to cover the restaurant’s overhead costs at a price that still attracts your customers. 

This means that all of your menu prices, special items or not, should adequately reflect the market situation you are in and the appropriate value your customers expect. By tracking everything through a well-designed software you can be flexible with your menu. You will know when and how much to change the prices for items that lose popularity over time, or how to switch them altogether efficiently. 

Cut Out Capacity-Loading Costly Items

Some dishes just sound amazing, and may even look amazing on the menu. However, it is important to troubleshoot your seasonal menu and see whether there are any items that load up your capacity, but don’t offer high enough sales margin to cover up the costs. Should these menu items be kept? This considers not only the labor but also the raw materials that go in as well. If you find out that the ingredients used in these items are unique ingredients that cannot be used in others, it’s a good idea to eliminate or replace them in order to cut cost and prevent both loss and waste.

Menu Color Scheme

Make sure your holiday menu is represented through the right color schemes to create the atmosphere. Each holiday, of course, has its own: e.g. reds and pinks on Valentine’s Day, red, white and green for Christmas, oranges for fall season holiday, etc. Moreover, people subconsciously respond to color emotionally, so setting the mood visually is very important. Bright colors such as red and yellow trigger appetite.

holiday table menu

Menu Layout

A menu should be easy to read, and ideally, your high markup items should be positioned in a way to catch the customer’s eye first. Avoid crowded layouts, and use an easy-to-read font.

Menu Item Names

Your restaurant can offer the most amazing, unique dishes and beverages, however unless they sound the part, a customer might miss them. To make your holiday menu sound more inviting try to invoke nostalgia. Make the menu items attractive by making customers feel like they’re ordering something special. For traditional holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, inducing happy childhood memories or feelings of comfort is a good way to go. For examples: “Grandma’s Gingerbread Cookie,” “Auntie’s Gravy and Mash,” etc.

Restaurant menu engineering is tricky, especially around the busy holiday season, with overloaded capacity hanging in the air. By using the tips above along with a good menu management software, this process can be made both easier and more effective for your restaurant.


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