Restaurants are bracing for a tough winter on the heels of a historically challenging year, with indoor dining closed and outdoor dining regionally accessible. While this season will most certainly bring a new set of challenges for restaurants who have been relying on a version of dine-in sales, it will also bring a new set of opportunities to attract and serve customers for off-premise.
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen Kitchen United restaurant members utilize special offerings for holidays and events like Labor Day and Father’s Day to drive huge sales days. As we move into the winter months, we expect the December holidays, the New Year, and key sporting events like the Super Bowl to perform similarly for restaurants who are willing to get creative in how they meet each occasion.
Here are four takeaways for how to get more out of the winter months through special menu offerings:
Elevate the at-home group dining experience in lieu of traditional gatherings. This year, of course, everyone is going to be spending more time at home over the holidays, and that includes dining. One thing that can set a restaurant apart, though, is providing a memorable or even “upscale” dining experience for your to-go customers. Restaurants like Sugarfish, Krispy Rice and Kitchen United member Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que have proven that presentation matters and is key to family meal sales. Sugarfish and Krispy Rice, both Japanese cuisine restaurants with a particular focus on sushi, utilize high-quality, neatly partitioned boxes that keep the food inside separate and tidy. Lucille’s uses more functional packaging for its family meals, but boxes them in delightfully branded packages that emphasize the “familial” aspect of the meal. The point of these extra touches to the presentation is to bring a piece of your restaurant’s atmosphere to the customer’s home and leave a lasting and welcoming impression.
Get in the holiday spirit with LTOs that pull at the heart strings. Why do you think pumpkin spice is such a fan favorite? Many people have nostalgic associations with seasonal flavors that drive them to seek those flavors out, and knowing that they’re only available for a certain amount of time — even a somewhat vague amount of time like “fall” or “the holidays” — can move customers to act quickly. The trick with LTOs is striking those warm, fuzzy chords with the right offering and the right marketing for that offer, and then scheduling them at a consistent pace so your customers always have something to look forward to.
One example of a successful LTO we’ve seen is from our Austin member Bao’d Up, who launched a special Pumpkin Spice Bao in November which saw an especially high conversion rate when promoted through email marketing. Your LTO doesn’t have to be the next Pumpkin Spice Latte (or Pumpkin Spice anything), it just needs to meet the moment and give your customers something tasty and fun to enjoy.
Engage your community to give back by partnering with a local cause for an LTO. One particularly inspiring trend of specials has seen restaurants like Dog Haus, Casa Vega, HomeState and others partner with a cause to drive both sales and donations with a unique meal. Dog Haus and No Kid Hungry have partnered for some time now on a Chef Collaboration Series that donates a portion of proceeds to the national No Kid Hungry campaign, and they keep it fresh with different, popular local chefs crafting burgers for Dog Haus locations across the country.
Another great example is the various partnerships with the No Us Without You charity in Los Angeles (feeding unemployed restaurant workers throughout the pandemic). Multiple restaurants such as Casa Vega and HomeState have worked with them to create single item LTOs that build awareness for the cause and excitement for the restaurant. Partnering with a local cause can throw in an extra dash of warmth to any winter special!
Get even more out of your holiday catering menu by spinning it off into a family meal or collection of items for pick up or delivery during the whole holiday season. Holiday catering menus that utilize limited or seasonal ingredients can be repurposed to create additional single-item and family meal specials! For example, a group Christmas Ham Dinner could be a separate Holiday Menu category with a Holiday Loaded Ham Sandwich or Happy Holiday bowl with smaller portion sizes, that utilize the same ingredients but in more accessible ways for those with smaller gatherings or households this year.
We hope these tips are helpful as we head into a different holiday season than usual. For more to-go tips and advice, visit our blog home page at kitchenunited.com/insights. Happy holidays from the team at Kitchen United!