Some people leave organising their Christmas parties to the last minute, so don't think it's pointless to be marketing Christmas bookings at this late stage. Marketing experts Ann Elliott, Guy Holmes and Paul West have plenty of tips to boost Christmas trade and keep the momentum going right through January and February
- Brainstorm ideas with your team. Get them on board and involved. Ensure all their friends and relatives have parties booked with you.
- A staff meeting at the beginning of December will ensure everyone has a full understanding of Christmas menus, offers and service standards, motivating the team for the busiest period.
- Incentivise staff to encourage upselling with a spend-per-head competition.
- Upselling is easiest at this time of year, when most companies will foot the bill. Make sure staff ask customers if they want side dishes, mineral water, after-dinner cocktails, etc.
- Though your Christmas party menu should have been promoted by now, it isn't too late to market menu add-ons such as a themed cocktail or other Christmas specials.
- Contact all of last year's Christmas bookings to enquire whether they would like to receive details of your current seasonal offers.
- Pound the pavement, handing out leaflets, vouchers or menus to as many shops and offices in your area as possible. Building up relationships like this is great for business whether it results in a Christmas booking or not.
- Speak to everyone who booked with you last year (especially those who use you but don't book at Christmas) and invite them to join you. Christmas isn't always about big parties; someone might just want a table for two or four.
- Offer incentives: free Champagne for parties of 10 or more, free taxis home, or disposable cameras at the table.
- Ring every office, shop, factory and organisation you can find in Yellow Pages. Share the task with others, and do it systematically. Record the information for use next year.
- Do a PR stunt, such as making a giant mince pie for charity or setting up a soup kitchen on Christmas Day, and send details to the local press to generate publicity. Include a January offer in the press release.
- Hotels can provide a stocking on Christmas morning containing treats such as a complimentary spa treatment or restaurant voucher, a mini bottle of Cognac and wrapped chef-made chocolates. Going beyond customer expectations always reaps rewards.
- When thinking about New Year promotions bear in mind that customers in January are a lot more price-sensitive than normal, and also more health-conscious.
- Collect details of all those who used you during Christmas and send information out to them at the start of the year. Get ready to launch and promote a "new year, new menu" campaign in January.
- Run a January sale with 20% off all food bills, or give each December customer a Christmas gift voucher that entitles them to 50% off food bills in January.
- Continue to host Christmas parties for emergency service and hospitality workers who have not had time to celebrate in December. Target hospitals, fire stations, police stations and hotels.
- To help bring in customers over the New Year get some business cards printed with special offers, such as a free bottle of wine with a main course or 20% off. These cards can be put in stockings or crackers.
- As Christmas is family-orientated, encourage couples to visit you in January with romantic "Just Us" or "Relax in January" evenings where customers receive extra value, such as a special menu, hot chocolate liqueurs, detox cocktails, live music or free nibbles.
- Concentrate on customer satisfaction during the Christmas period to ensure repeat custom in the New Year.
Elliott People www.elliottpeople.com
Ignite Marketing www.ignitemarketing.co.uk
The Restaurant Ingredient www.tri.eu.com
The Hardinge Arms
In May Caterer ran a competition giving readers the chance to win £1,000-worth of PR and marketing provided by marketing agency the Restaurant Ingredient.
For winner Tom Keaveny the prize couldn't have come at a better time. He was just in the process of acquiring the 35-year lease of the historic Hardinge Arms in the village of Kings Newton, near Derby.
With 20 years' experience in the hotel trade, this was Keaveny's first step as an owner-operator. After investing a six-figure sum in the purchase and refurbishment he and his wife, Elizabeth, opened for business in July.
"It had been run as a pub, and we were anxious to put in a nice restaurant using local produce. We changed food and beverage suppliers and changed the menus," says Keaveny.
As well as a 40-seat restaurant the property also has six en suite bedrooms. Turnover, estimated at £350,000 for the first 12 months, is split between rooms (15%), drink (25%) and food (60%).
Keaveny felt it was important to communicate his commitment to quality food and serving the local and wider community. Guy Holmes, director of the Restaurant Ingredient, took the following steps to get his message out:
- An A4 poster with clear, simple information about the pub-restaurant was pinned up in 20 nearby hotel staff rooms to encourage hotel staff to recommend the Hardinge Arms to guests. Menus were also left with the hotels.
- Local clubs and associations were targeted in the same way.
- Members of Icke Fitness gym in Derby were given a 20% discount on production of a gym membership card. This was instantly effective, adding 200 names to Keaveny's growing database in time for Christmas.
- Discounts were set up with local businesses BMI, Nottingham East Midlands Airport and DHL.
- A press release led to articles in the Derby Chamber of Commerce magazine and the Derby Evening Telegraph. These resulted in Keaveny's busiest weekends ever.
Holmes also discussed some other marketing ideas: the Hardinge Arms is near the M4 and M1, so it could benefit from featuring on websites that tell motorists about nearby places to eat, drink and sleep. These include www.5minutesaway.co.uk and www.offmotorway.com. It is also near Nottingham East Midlands Airport, so a mention in in-flight magazines would promote it to visitors to the area.
Keaveny intends to continue serving Christmas lunches into January and promote them to those, such as hospital staff, who have worked through the holidays.
Effective marketing is an ongoing process, but Keaveny has been pleased with the start he's been given. "We'd have been more than happy with the results if we'd paid the £1,000," he says.