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An Expert Guide to Getting your Bar Ready for the Holiday Season

From getting staff lined up to creating a seasonal menu, our Business of Bars expert Sean Finter gives tips on how to make the most of those busier periods during the year.

A lot of bars go into the holidays without a well thought out game plan - short staffed with an uninspired offer. Our mission was simple: make a lasting impression on every single guest that walked through the door and sincerely invite them back in the future. Holiday season is an opportune time to connect with new customers and first timers, without paying extra for advertising.

Create a good mindset

The holidays can creep up fast and many bars see this as a period to merely survive. That’s your first mistake. Your leadership sets the tone, so choose to be positive. Change your mindset from ‘getting through it’ to ‘this is our chance to turn first time customers into regular guests’. You’ll be surprised how infectious this attitude is.

Get your staffing nailed

Run optimal staff, not the regular schedule. You need your best - the high output staff who thrive at peak times while making human connections. You want speed but for the guest to never feel rushed. Read these tips for speed and efficiency behind the bar.

Communicate with staff. Pre-shift and post-shift meetings need to be inspiring, short and most of all highly effective. Use whiteboards and add notes to service stations to ensure your team can easily find all the information they need about menus, drink offers, parties, music programming, weather, events in the area and more. The result, staff appear knowledgeable and time is saved as people don’t need to hunt for information.

Front of House

Lines can get long during the holidays and let’s face it, no one likes to wait! The good news is, if you spent time planning you will have scheduled extra staff to ease the burden of wait times. The leadership team should also be available to lend a hand particularly if anyone needs help. You are all in this together. After all, teamwork makes the dream work!

Be the Place to Be

Go over the top with decorations and cool holiday music if it’s appropriate for the venue. Customers are not only willing to pay full price to be impressed, they will typically spend 10-15% more per head than normal. So, don’t worry too much about investing in making the place look the part. If executed well, you will earn it all back eventually. Seasonal dishes and cocktails are also extremely popular and can really make you stand out.

Create a Savvy Seasonal Menu

For super busy times it pays to remove the three most time-consuming items to prepare. This increases the overall speed of food and beverage service and prevents anyone feeling overwhelmed in the kitchen or behind the bar. At the same time, you want your menu to be enticing and exciting for holiday-goers. Check out these great festive Highball serves for inspired options or make service speedier without scrimping on quality with carefully prepared batch cocktails behind the bar.

Have a Game Plan

No football coach goes into a match without a documented game plan and nor should you. It needs to be at the front desk at each shift and outline things like expected staff schedule, peak times, strategies for limiting lines, likely weather and how to deal with these situations.

Have a Fallback

Try cross-training staff to provide flexibility for moving staff around and avoiding loss of service. The bartender can bus tables or help in the kitchen where needed; the host can get order started. The result is always happy customers and extra notes in the till!

Schedule in support staff who can act as fire fighters to help in those areas of need as the night progresses.

Offer a Reason to Return – Give your customers a genuine reason to come back and spend money. It starts with a personal walk to the door and extends to responding to their behaviors during the evening. For example, if you find out they’re sports fans, tell them Tuesday nights is when the volume is turned up. If they drank wine, remind them of the wine tasting next week. At the very least, this offers them even more reason to return.

Collect Data – always have a mechanism in place to build your email/text list. If they are out of towners you can still send them the calendar of events for the following year for the next time they are in town. This is also a perfect way to follow up with those first timers who might be interested in a wine tasting, new cocktail list launch or live music announcements.

Show you Care - Have someone on the door talk to patrons on the way out and be proactive in offering to order a taxi for anyone who looks like they need it. If it’s raining, have an umbrella with your logo on it and give it to customers and ask them to bring it back next time they come in. If they don’t, no big deal!

Keep Standards High – It’s important to keep high standards during busy times. Let’s face it, anyone can be good when it’s quiet. You must be able to pull it off on the busiest nights of the year - you are judged on this. Customers pay full price so have a right to expect full service.

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