While winter can be a slower season for restaurants, there are many ways to drive sales and increase customer loyalty throughout the colder months. Operators who want to make the most of this time of year can create a winter restaurant marketing plan.
Use the following winter restaurant marketing tips to motivate guests to leave their warm homes and dine at your restaurant, or place a delivery order to enjoy from the comfort of their couches.
8 ideas for your winter restaurant marketing plan
1. Optimize your restaurant website
If your restaurant is slower during the winter months, use the extra time to optimize your online channels. As a first step, take steps to make sure your restaurant website is compelling, easy to navigate, and mobile-friendly. Inaccurate business information can be a turn-off for potential customers, so keep information about your menu, hours, and location up to date on all of your online channels.
Make sure that your delivery channels are up to date. Ensure that titles and ingredient specifications are consistent. If you have a new item, put it in the title that it's new, so your delivery customers can see the work you're doing to expand your menu.
Make it as easy as possible for customers to place orders from your website. If you haven't already set up online ordering, don't worry — you don't have to be an engineer to create a sleek and efficient ordering platform for your customers. Storefront, which is included in every DoorDash partnership, allows you to easily add delivery and pickup ordering to your website. It only takes a few minutes to set up and, best of all, Storefront orders are commission-free.
Lastly, it's also important to claim and fill out your business listing on Google My Business, a tool for local searches. This listing is what appears in Google search results when customers search for a restaurant or cuisine in their area.
2. Ramp up your social media engagement
In the last two decades, social media evolved from digital novelty to a driving force of commerce and culture. With so many eyes looking at social media all day — and many free and low-cost ways for you to make a splash — it’s no wonder this powerful marketing vehicle is one of the greatest ways to build and grow your business.
Mayly Tao, Co-Owner of DK's Donuts & Bakery, encourages restaurant owners to use social media to share personal stories, highlight drool-worthy food photos, and to post consistently. She also emphasizes the importance of trying new things on social media, whether it's giveaways, celebrating food holidays like National Bagel Day, or livestreaming a recipe demonstration.
The great thing about social media is that you can quickly see what your followers are responding to. Lots of likes and comments mean that your content is hitting the mark. If something doesn't get a lot of attention, you can quickly move on to the next post.
3. Design seasonal food and drink menus
A seasonal winter restaurant menu is a great way to generate interest and increase sales from new and existing customers. As the days get shorter and temperatures drop, diners are eager for hearty meals that warm them up. A seasonal menu also creates an opportunity for a limited time offer to drive sales, as customers may feel a sense of urgency to order it before it's gone.
Looking for winter food business ideas? Consider adding comforting crowd-pleasers such as mac and cheese, warm grain bowls, lasagna, dumplings, shepherd's pie, and curries to your menu. Showcase local, in-season ingredients like kale and Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts and broccoli rabe, or citrus fruits and pears.
We let nature dictate how things hit the menu, and we can never plan with nature.
For desserts, restaurants can offer classics like pumpkin pie and creme brulee, or have fun with viral TikTok recipes like honey lavender ice cream and vegan matcha cheesecake. And don't forget to update your beverage menu with cozy cocktails like hot toddies, Irish coffee, and cinnamon-spiced old fashioneds.
Once the new year rolls around, consider adding healthier options for resolution-focused diners, and mocktails or low-ABV beverages for diners participating in Dry January.
4. Create new delivery and takeout offerings
During the colder months, customers are more likely to turn to the comfort and convenience of pickup and delivery.
DoorDash provides sales and cash flow that keep things consistent and give us a tremendous amount of cushion during tougher periods.
To encourage off-premise sales and increase order sizes, consider packaging your menu items in new ways with these delivery and pickup offerings:
Offer take-and-bake meals: These pre-packaged dishes are typically fully cooked and just have to be heated up in the oven or microwave, allowing customers to enjoy a restaurant-quality meal without the hassle of cooking. Be sure to include instructions on how to store (e.g., in the freezer or refrigerator) and heat the meals.
Provide meal bundles: If customers are looking to order for a group, bundled options make their ordering experience much faster and less complicated. Whether it’s dinner for two, a full family-style meal for 6, or a winter restaurant promotion (like five pizzas for the price of four), bundles simplify group orders for customers and kitchens.
Introduce holiday catering pre-orders: Families are eager to spend quality time together during the holidays — but not necessarily in the kitchen. Take the pressure off home cooks by creating a limited-availability holiday catering menu and establishing a pre-order system so customers can reserve their meals in advance.
Set up curbside pickup: If you have the space, curbside pickup is a popular option for consumers, especially families. The 2023 Restaurant Online Ordering Trends report found that when ordering pickup, 41% of consumers prefer getting their food via curbside pickup — and that number rises to 68% for customers with children under age six. Getting kids in and out of the car can be a hassle, so family-oriented restaurants may want to offer curbside pickup as a convenient option.
To ensure accuracy for pickup and delivery customers, read our tips on how to reduce missing or incorrect items for DoorDash orders.
5. Promote holiday gift ideas
A recent National Retail Federation survey found that 55% of consumers said they would like to receive gift cards this holiday season. 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 winter restaurant promotion such as a free $10 gift card for anyone who purchases a $50 gift card.
Restaurants can also promote pantry staples — such as sauces, salsas, dry pasta, or infused olive oils — as gift items, or arranged in a gift basket.
Having customers stock their pantry full of items from your restaurant is a new way to stay involved and engaged with your customers.
6. Host a winter theme party
To drum up dine-in sales, plan a winter-themed event. Target sports fans with watch parties for winter games, including football, hockey, or the Olympics on your TV screens.
If football doesn't fit your restaurant brand, consider hosting an "après-ski" theme party — without the skiing. Promote specials for drinks and appetizers, turn on your fireplace (or create a virtual fire on your TV), and bring in a live band to create the feeling of just coming in from the slopes.
Not a fan of winter? Buck the trend and host a beach party during the cold winter months. Put up summery decorations, sell tiki drinks, and play Caribbean music to make guests believe they're on a tropical vacation. Hawaiian shirts encouraged.
7. Partner with other community businesses
Co-marketing with nearby restaurants, businesses, and tourism organizations is a great way to reach potential customers in your neighborhood who maybe haven’t yet heard of you. For example, Radical Road Brewing Co. in Toronto offers food for their guests from local restaurant Mean Bao.
Here are a few more ways to partner with local businesses on co-marketing campaigns:
Promo for promo: Your restaurant posts a social media shout-out to another restaurant, and they do the same for you.
Limited-time combo discounts: Set up a deal where your restaurant gives a free appetizer to customers who show proof that they’ve visited a partnering business in the last month — and have the partner offer a similar incentive.
Create a collaborative menu item: Work with a local ice cream vendor to create a co-branded dessert for your restaurant — or partner with a wine shop to do a wine tasting event at your restaurant — and have both businesses post about it on social media.
Raise funds for a cause: Help customers make a positive impact in their community by offering a discount to anyone who donates to a local nonprofit organization of your choice, or by donating the profits from sales of a certain menu item.
8. Capitalize on holiday celebrations
On major winter holidays, families often turn to food delivery to simplify social gatherings and spend less time in the kitchen. Restaurants can capitalize on this by creating holiday-ready delivery menus with traditional dishes, and offering catering for both corporate and family holiday parties.
In addition, think beyond the major winter holidays and celebrate national food holidays. Get ready for National Cupcake Day, National Maple Syrup Day, and National Bacon Day in December; National Spaghetti Day, National Gluten Free Day, and National Croissant Day in January; and National Pizza Day, National Chili Day, and Drink Wine Day in February. For a full calendar and tips to promote these fun food and social media holidays, download our Restaurant Marketing Calendar & Toolkit.
Bring in customers from the cold with winter restaurant promotions
Winter presents a unique opportunity for restaurants to boost sales and foster customer loyalty. A well-crafted winter restaurant marketing plan, including website optimization, social media engagement, seasonal menus, community partnerships, and more can help restaurants thrive during the colder months.
Looking to make the most of the winter season? Partner with DoorDash for pickup and delivery to reach customers in your neighborhood looking for convenience and great food.