While restaurant sales tend to decline during the cold winter months of any year, operators face an entirely new set of challenges this holiday season. That said, today’s environment gives restaurants the opportunity to drive restaurant holiday sales in creative ways, helping families stay connected and create memorable and safe experiences. 

In this blog post, we’ll share strategies to grow restaurant sales during this holiday season, as well as tips from chefs and restaurateurs who spoke at the recent Main Street Strong Restaurant Conference, hosted by DoorDash in partnership with National Restaurant Association.

1. Create restaurant holiday promotions

No matter what is happening in the world, customers still love a good deal. Boost your restaurant holiday sales with limited-time discounts and promotions. For example, run promotions such as a free appetizer with any seasonal entree, or discounts on orders over $100. Timely giveaways also increase restaurant holiday sales, where customers purchase raffle tickets to win a Thanksgiving turkey or holiday brisket, or a gift basket featuring popular retail items from local restaurants. 

DoorDash Marketplace offers marketing tools and promotions that improve your in-app placement, attract first-time customers, and create loyal regulars. For example, you can boost restaurant holiday sales on traditionally slow days by offering free delivery on all DoorDash orders. In fact, participating in Marketing Solutions increases restaurants’ DoorDash sales by 30% on average.

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2. Offer holiday meal kits and cocktail kits

As dine-in restrictions continue, holiday meal kits ensure your customers can experience your restaurant safely from home. These fully- or partially-prepared meals are a great way to entice diners who are looking for a stress-free way to celebrate the holidays. Optimize your menu to grow restaurant sales during the holidays by creating festive themed meal kits and family-style offerings that serve 4-6 people. 

“Family members can get the same meal kits delivered to different homes, and then get on a Zoom to enjoy the meal together,” suggested Stephanie Izard, Executive Chef and owner of Girl & the Goat in Chicago. “We can come up with ways to adjust our businesses and keep people connected through food.”

Depending on your local regulations, you can also drive restaurant holiday sales and improve your restaurant profit margin with cocktail kits. Create a to-go drink menu featuring speciality cocktails with seasonal ingredients and winter wines that customers can enjoy at home.

3. Boost restaurant gift card sales 

A recent National Retail Federation survey found that 56% of consumers are expected to purchase gift cards during the holidays — with restaurant gift cards as the most popular category. Restaurant gift cards are an easy, profitable way to acquire new customers and incentivize guests to dine with you again. Highlight your gift cards to followers across your marketing channels, suggesting them as stocking stuffers for just about anyone on their shopping lists. Train your staff to mention gift cards to customers, and consider launching a promotion such as a free $10 gift card for anyone who purchases a $50 gift card. 

You can also suggest guests purchase DoorDash gift cards for recipients to order delivery and pickup from your restaurant. Or, if you have corporate customers, propose they treat their employees to a DoorDash gift card to be redeemed at your restaurant.

4. Host a virtual cooking class or wine tasting

If COVID-19 restrictions are keeping your customers at home and it’s too cold to be outdoors, create virtual experiences that engage your customers while generating restaurant holiday sales. “People are looking for a sense of community and fun new experiences,” said Jill Gray, co-owner of Tortello in Chicago. “The more you can provide that, the more your restaurant will benefit.” 

To host a virtual cooking class, first create the menu and provide an ingredient list for attendees to buy in advance (or ship them a meal kit for a fee). Then determine the logistics: the day, time, video conferencing platform, and ticketing system, as well as the event format (e.g., solo host or interview-style conversation). Promote your event across all marketing channels to drive registrations, and be sure to do a practice run-through before the live event. 

5. Drive food sales for the holidays with retail items

Restaurants can unlock new revenue streams this holiday season by selling retail items. Branded spices, sauces, and baked goods make for great gift items and allow guests to recreate your signature dishes at home. “Think of different ways to package your offerings, whether it’s branded cocktail kits or build-your-own pasta,” said Chen-Chen Huo, co-founder of Mac'd restaurant in San Francisco. “Guests can bring your experience home or stock their pantry. It’s about thinking of new ways to add value to customers who are experiencing cooking fatigue after months of being at home.” 

Not sure how to build a retail distribution strategy? Try driving food sales for the holidays on DashMart, DoorDash’s online, on-demand convenience store that delivers household essentials and local restaurant retail items to consumers in select cities. Selling signature items on DashMart not only helps to expand your distribution, but boosts brand awareness of your restaurant.

6. Develop a seasonal holiday menu 

Draw in customers with seasonal menus that offer festive food items for a limited time. Offer your restaurant’s take on hearty dishes and traditional holiday flavors like brisket, stuffing, and gingerbread. “With so much uncertainty and upheaval this year, people are gravitating toward nostalgic comfort food that reminds them of home,” explained Basu Ratnam, founder of INDAY in New York City. 

Seasonal beverages can also help get customers’ attention. From cozy cocktails like hot toddies, Irish coffee, and cinnamon-spiced old fashioneds, to family-friendly mulled cider and homemade eggnog, you’ll keep diners warm and in the holiday spirit. 

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7. Create upsell opportunities

Holiday beverages and desserts not only create a festive menu, but can increase your profit margin through upsells. To drive restaurant holiday sales this year, train your staff to gracefully highlight irresistible add-ons that increase order sizes. Profitable examples include drink and dessert pairings, tasting menus, and limited-time seasonal appetizers and entrees. 

For off-premise sales, DoorDash builds upsells into the ordering process by automatically suggesting popular add-ons as customers finalize their carts. Be sure to include compelling descriptions and high-quality photos for each menu item — especially seasonal ones. Our sales data shows that including photos for your menu items increases these last-minute upsell conversions by up to 19%.

8. Engage corporate customers with virtual holiday experiences

With many employees still working from home for the foreseeable future, companies are looking for ways to replace their in-person holiday parties. From catering to virtual cooking classes to mixology lessons, you can increase restaurant holiday sales by creating unique offerings for companies. 

Your catering menu should include different offerings for remote or in-person events, including individually boxed meals, large group orders, or expensed meals that employees can enjoy on their own time. Not sure how to reach corporate customers? DoorDash for Work enables restaurants to fulfill catering orders at 0% commission, helping to boost your bottom line with profitable, recurring sales from large companies.

9. Leverage marketing channels to drive restaurant holiday sales 

With all of the effort you’re putting into your restaurant holiday offerings, be sure to get the word out to drive sales. Start promoting your holiday menu and experiences early, before customers lock in their plans. Leverage all of your marketing channels — your website, social media channels, email, and in-store signage — to create excitement about promotions and menu specials, as well as share how customers can place orders. 

As the holidays approach, increase the frequency of your social media posts and consider doing a festive countdown (e.g., 12 seasonal cocktails for the 12 Days of Christmas). Your followers will want to see mouthwatering photos of signature holiday dishes, behind-the-scenes videos of your kitchen staff in action, updates to your seasonal menus, and simple recipes they can try at home. 

If you’re looking for more social media strategies and content ideas from real-world restaurants, check out DoorDash’s Ultimate Guide to Restaurant Social Media Marketing

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10. Set up online ordering

After months of quarantining and cooking at home, customers are seeking convenience. As diners browse your menu online, turn that website traffic into sales by setting up online ordering. With Storefront, DoorDash’s commission-free online ordering platform, restaurants can easily create a branded online store to enable pickup and delivery ordering directly from your website. Storefront can also help drive restaurant holiday sales and increase order sizes with built-in features like seamless on-page checkout, recommended add-ons, and rich menu photos and descriptions.

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11. Talk to your customers

Lastly, if you’re not sure which strategy will drive restaurant holiday sales for your business, go directly to the source — your customers. Reach out to regulars and your most engaged social media followers to ask what they’d like to see from your restaurant this holiday season. Find out the menu items they’re craving, which virtual events they’d attend, and what keeps them coming back to your restaurant. Getting direct feedback from trusted customers will help shape your holiday plans as you continue to evolve your restaurant business.

How will you drive restaurant holiday sales? 

The holidays will certainly look a little different this year, but with the right strategy in place, you’ll be able to help your customers connect in new ways while driving restaurant holiday sales. 

Interested in learning more about DoorDash’s suite of products? Get started with 0% commission for 30 days today. 

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author-saradeforest
Sara DeForest
Copywriter

Sara DeForest is a Bay Area-based freelance copywriter. Previously, she was VP of Marketing at an early stage startup that was named one of Fast Company's Most Innovative Companies. Prior to that, Sara was a content marketer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Though Silicon Valley is a roller coaster, Sara finds her real adrenaline rush doing standup comedy, and has performed at SF Sketchfest, 208 Comedy Fest, and (most often) seedy dive bars.