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How to maximise the value of Christmas – Bruno Zoccola, Valentina

Christmas in the hospitality industry is the ultimate season and can be a vital bloodline for restaurants.

Customers flock to restaurants for work parties, family dinners, and celebrations, and are more inclined to spend and spoiling themselves: going out more often, choosing better bottles of wine, and treating themselves to extra dessert

Whilst the festive period can undoubtedly be lucrative, it can feel that the short festive flame of success burns quickly and brightly before inevitably extinguishing.  Christmas revenues can therefore often be forced to just be borrowed money to be used to tide a business over through the leaner months of the New Year.

However, throughout my many years of running restaurants across London and the South West, I have learnt that there are plenty of ways to ensure that the true value of Christmas can be extended throughout the quieter months.  With proper planning, the Christmas period can lay the foundations for the whole of the success of the following year and ensure customers are encouraged back into restaurants again and again during the traditional post New Year downturn.

My current focus is on Valentina, our family-run Italian deli and restaurants in Sheen, London and Weybridge, Surrey.  They have been established since 1991 and so whilst well known within the local communities we serve, we are always mindful of securing new, loyal customers, and Christmas is the optimum time to secure new patronage as people are enticed through the doors for the first time.

I believe strongly that personalisation and getting to know customers is key to a restaurant’s success.  By building these mutually beneficial relationships, a connection is forged and people remember the meals they have enjoyed.  Our staff have been with us for years and we encourage them to get to know customers and their families, and really get to know their likes and dislikes.  This helps diners feel understood and appreciated, and they remember that fun waiter who played games with their little ones so they could enjoy a glass of Chanti in peace, or the waitress who added on some extra cannoli to the dessert plate as she knew they were a favourite.

The personalisation is also vital with new customers too: over the festive period, we give everyone who dines with us a handwritten Christmas card, thanking them for supporting our small, independent business, and inviting them to visit us again with a % reduction in their next bill.  This has proved highly successful over the past few years and ensured a phenomenal customer return rate in January and early February.

Introducing loyalty cards is another surefire way to attract repeat business.  We push our loyalty scheme hard across restaurant and delicatessen sites throughout the Christmas period to help customers accrue points that they can then spend in-store in the new year.

Ultimately, it’s all about planning.  What you can do in November and December to not only attract new customers but to ensure they come back again and again in the new year will transform your restaurant’s annual success.  Make them feel special and appreciated, and create reasons for them to return – despite their money being tighter and going out not seeming so appealing.  If you’re able to do that, then you will find your restaurant is thriving all year round, and not just in the pre-Christmas rush.


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