guestXM – by Black Box Intelligence

Preparing Your Restaurant for the Seasonal Rush

Navigate the holiday rush and post-holiday slump with insights on wellness menus, loyalty programs, tech innovations, and actionable feedback to keep your restaurant thriving year-round.

How Restaurants Can Thrive Amidst Holiday Surges and Navigate the Post-Holiday Challenges

The holiday season is upon us, and for restaurants, this means preparing not only for a surge in diners seeking festive feasts and memorable dining experiences but also for the post-holiday slump.

In our recent insights article, we revealed that restaurant sales and traffic growth experienced a notable decline in September 2023. Restaurants have also experienced significant check growth due to a 20.4% rise in inflation since 2019, and value perception has declined, with full-service down 7% and limited service down 24% in value net sentiment.

However, it’s essential to note that check growth and value are not perfectly correlated; hospitality can offset increased prices.

Thus, as inflation continues to shape the industry, focusing on hospitality becomes a key strategy to enhance the dining experience, especially during and after the holiday season.

On a positive note, despite consumers’ rising concerns about the economy, 65% plan to dine out during the holidays, according to a recent survey study by JLL. Consumer behavior transformed as the focus shifted from purchasing goods to indulging in experiences like dining out. This shift initially emerged in the aftermath of the pandemic, driven by a pent-up desire among Americans to socialize and partake in activities with others. This trend is persisting and extending into this year’s holiday season.

Another study by AlixPartners expands on this: Instead of cutting back on dining out, consumers are choosing to dine less frequently but are willing to spend more per occasion for higher-quality, engaging restaurant experiences. While this presents opportunities, it also poses challenges for the food service industry. Brands will thus need to focus on differentiation through exceptional convenience and experiences.

Furthermore, brands must adopt a more comprehensive and forward-thinking approach that goes beyond merely capitalizing on the holiday season. Instead of focusing solely on short-term gains, they should strategically plan to build relationships with customers that extend beyond the festive season.

Thriving During the Holiday Season: A Comprehensive Guide for Restaurants

Proactive preparation stands as the linchpin for sustaining profitability during the holiday season. This period represents a critical juncture for businesses, as it often ushers in a surge in consumer demand and heightened competition.

We’ve listed some strategies you can implement to navigate these challenges successfully:

Wellness and Sustainability

Today, particularly among younger generations, there is a growing preference for natural, minimally processed foods and a strong emphasis on plant-based choices.

Several noteworthy food trends include:

  • Chickpea pasta

  • Cauliflower pizza

  • Vegetable stews

  • Vegan mac and cheese

  • Fermented food and drinks, such as kombucha and fermented fruits and sauces

  • Global spices and flavors from regions like North Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia

  • Sustainable seafood

  • Savory breakfast bowls featuring grains like quinoa and farro and lean proteins as well as smoothie bowls

  • Ancient grains like amaranth, teff, and spelt

  • Alcohol-free beers, spirits, and cocktails

Additionally, as the importance of sustainability grows, restaurants that promote their eco-friendly efforts can attract customers who want to support environmentally responsible choices.

According to a poll by the National Restaurant Association, 38% of adult consumers said they’re more likely to choose a restaurant that offers locally sourced foods over one that doesn’t. Another 30% said they’d likely choose a restaurant offering food grown in an environmentally friendly way or raised organically over one that doesn’t.

Restaurants can utilize sustainability software to track and report on their eco-friendly initiatives. For example, GreenPlaces, an all-in-one sustainability platform, aims to empower businesses with actionable insights so they can meet their “green” goals—from carbon reporting to emission reductions to measurable ROI.

Incentives and Loyalty Programs

Seasonal limited-time offers (LTOs) can not only create a buzz but also draw in a diverse range of customers, making it a win-win strategy for both consumers and restaurant owners. To emphasize, a study by Mattson in 2021 revealed that 35% of consumers intentionally visited fast-food establishments to sample LTOs.

Chances are you already have your limited-time offers lined up and ready to go, but how do you plan on keeping the momentum going once the festivities wind down?

Tempt customers with their favorites. Tapping into your holiday sales and customer feedback data can help you identify popular dishes or promotions that you can then integrate into your post-holiday menus and marketing initiatives.

To further incentivize repeat business, consider introducing exclusive post-holiday promotions, discounts, or deals that foster customer appreciation.

Furthermore, when it comes to building loyalty, personalization is key. Loyalty programs, with their tailored perks, play a pivotal role in not just attracting new customers but also in retaining existing ones.


Having a reservation management system in place or offering online reservations (through platforms like OpenTable, Google, Yelp, Formitable, and Resengo) can help you manage and optimize seating capacity, plan staffing levels and food preparation more accurately, elevate customer satisfaction by minimizing wait times, and so forth.

But once your system is in place, it’s not a set-and-forget deal. Regular audits are essential for identifying discrepancies, outdated information, and accessibility issues and ensuring accurate representation of holiday hours, menus, contact details, etc.

Consider integrating your reservation system with your point-of-sale (POS) system and/or other relevant platforms. This allows for real-time updates on table availability, ensuring that the information presented to customers accurately reflects the current status of your restaurant. You can also implement an automated confirmation and reminder system to help reduce no-shows and keep you informed about the most current information regarding the number of guests and their expected arrival time.

Marketing Initiatives

Use social media, email marketing, and other advertising channels to promote your holiday specials:

  • Social Media:

  • Influencer Marketing, Celebrity Partnerships, and Charity Initiatives

    Collaborating with influencers and celebrities can significantly boost a restaurant’s exposure and draw in a broader audience.

    Some recent celebrity partnerships that have gained attention include Krispy Kreme and Hailey Bieber; Ice Spice, Ben Affleck, and Dunkin’; Reneé Rapp and Sweetgreen; and The Jonas Brothers and Friendly’s.

    Dunkin’, in its latest collaboration with Ben Affleck, is promoting its newest drink Ice Spice Munchkins, a frozen coffee drink with pumpkin-flavored Munchkins donut hole treats blended in, with the help of rapper Ice Spice.

    And since it’s the season for giving, brands should consider partnering with a nonprofit or charity organization and/or implementing charity initiatives. Not only is this a gesture of goodwill but it also provides a chance to resonate with the younger socially conscious generations.

    Domino’s, for example, recently announced that they will give away $1 million worth of free pizza to all customers with student loans as a part of their Emergency Pizza program. The chain began giving out a limited supply of codes to those eligible on October 25. This is in light of the three-year federal pause on student loan payments ending on October 1.


Ensure you have adequate staffing levels to handle the holiday rush. 7Shifts, a cloud-based solution designed for restaurant owners to manage shifts, labor compliance, employee communication, and engagement, can help you implement flexible scheduling to ensure adequate staffing during peak season.

Online Ordering and Delivery

As the weather cools down, customers may prefer to stay indoors and order in. It’s essential to enhance your online ordering and delivery services to offer a seamless omnichannel experience.

According to the latest GuestXM data, in terms of delivery, for full service, order accuracy, temperature, and speed are the top reasons for lower online star ratings. As for limited service, speed, accuracy, and quality are the top reasons for lower ratings.

To ensure you meet the needs of your customers and delivery standards, consider implementing an advanced order tracking system to monitor the location and progress of deliveries in real-time, investing in insulated packaging and thermal bags to maintain food temperature during transit, conducting regular quality control checks and seek feedback from customers to identify and address any issues promptly, and so forth.

Additionally, if you don’t have a dedicated brand app that accommodates online ordering and delivery, partnering with a reliable third-party delivery service like Uber Eats or DoorDash can provide valuable support to your business.

Keep in mind though that the shift toward more intentional spending is also causing consumers to move away from third-party delivery services, according to a recent article from National Restaurant News. So it’s worth considering that as consumers shift away from third-party delivery, investing in first-party delivery and pickup services can be a smart business strategy.


Innovative tech such as AI-integrated self-service kiosks, digital menu boards, robotic chefs, autonomous robots to transport orders to customers in their cars, robotic waiters to reduce front-of-house employee workload, etc. are all valuable tools that could help streamline operations, reduce wait times, and offer new avenues for customer engagement.

Nonetheless, it’s important to bear in mind that making hasty investments solely for short-term gains may ultimately prove detrimental during the post-holiday slump. Without a thoughtful and sustainable tech strategy, businesses may find themselves burdened with unnecessary expenses and systems that don’t align with their long-term goals and needs.

Post-Holiday Slump

Following the holiday season, the restaurant industry typically experiences a slowdown. And given the current concerns about inflation, the start of the new year may be slower than usual. To combat this, it’s essential to gather feedback from customers about their dining experiences and use this input to make improvements.

Feedback analysis can guide you in fine-tuning your offerings and marketing strategies to attract more diners. Additionally, addressing customer concerns promptly can enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty. By actively listening to them and making necessary improvements, you can better adapt to changing preferences and maintain a strong, satisfied customer base year-round.

Furthermore, It’s crucial to have financial reserves to cover operational expenses during slow periods. Ensure your restaurant has a financial cushion to navigate the post-holiday slowdown without facing financial difficulties.

All in all, by proactively preparing and adopting a forward-looking mindset you can maximize your restaurant’s success not just during the holidays, but also in the new year and beyond.

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