The holidays are almost here, and rarely have diners been so eager to make plans. Because last year was generally light on in-person gatherings, people are eager to celebrate over meals with families and friends this year. In fact, a whopping 93% of diners are excited to make up for missed celebrations by going out to dinner at their favorite restaurant, according to a recent OpenTable diner survey. And many of these occasions will take place in restaurants.
So it’s the perfect time to create OpenTable Experiences with a festive, seasonal flare. Not only can experiences help guests make special memories, but they can also help restaurants. First of all, experiences make it easier for diners to discover you when they’re searching OpenTable. And when you use prepaid Experiences, it can provide more predictable cash flow while minimizing the risk of cancellations and no-shows.
The first step to a successful Experience is coming up with a unique and festive idea. To help get your creativity flowing, we’re sharing some insights from restaurants that hosted winning holiday Experiences in 2020. Take inspiration from what they did and what they learned along the way.
Take holiday cheer over the top to get everyone in the spirit
During the holiday season last year, Handcraft Kitchen and Cocktails in South Carolina carried out several of its popular Christmas events with Experiences. The restaurant hosted breakfast with Santa Claus at brunch during the first two weekends in December, recalls Sherwin Levitis, director of operations for the restaurant.
The main event, however, was Miracle. “For five weeks, we turned the whole restaurant into an entire immersive Christmas Experience,” says Levitis. There was a special menu for the Experience, and a holiday music playlist on constant rotation. But it’s the decor, which took more than 50 hours to install, that set the Miracle Experience apart.
Handcraft Kitchen and Cocktails always goes far beyond some tinsel and a few twinkly lights, festooning every inch of wall and ceiling with a huge variety of glittery decorations. Last year, there was even an animatronic Santa. Staff members got into the spirit with their outfits, too. (Picture a manager wearing a suit jacket patterned with kittens in Santa hats.)
Looking ahead to the coming holidays, Levitis says the Experiences will be the same as last year, with one key difference: more bookings. Last year taught them that with Experiences they can keep up with a high volume of diners and still run operations smoothly.
Keep guests coming back with seasonal surprises
Last winter, Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza & Tap in Northern Virginia used Experiences to help guests satisfy their wanderlust without leaving town. The restaurant introduced The Lodge at Lena’s, a pop-up Experience the team installed in the 4,500-square-foot space above the main restaurant.
The concept was Aspen-inspired, designed to evoke the atmosphere of a luxury ski lodge. It was a clever way to give guests a taste of the winter vacations they may have been missing during the pandemic.
“It was exceptional! Just a serene, beautiful, Instagram-friendly way to launch our seasonal Experiences,” says Donna Shore, Director of Operations for Lena’s. The Lodge at Lena’s was the beginning of an ongoing series of themed pop-up Experiences that guests have grown to love.
As for what’s on deck this holiday season—Shore doesn’t want to reveal all the details just yet. “We’ve learned there should be an element of surprise with each new Experience,” she says. Seasonal fall and winter themes kicked off in late October, with Holiday-inspired Experiences planned for December. It will be an immersive, rich, vibrant winter theme, according to Shore. “The guests hate to see each Experience leave, but they are excited to welcome in the new!”
Use lights to make a magical atmosphere
Located on the grounds of Landoll’s Mohican Castle in Ohio, The Copper Mug Bar & Grille is an ideal setting for holiday-themed Experiences. As part of its annual Christmas at the Castle tradition, the Kingdom of Lights event features more than 100,000 sparkling bulbs strung all around the grounds. Visitors will also find a half dozen spectacularly decorated Christmas trees. It’s a magical and festive place to enjoy the visits with Santa and family-style holiday meal Experiences that The Copper Mug & Bar offers this time of year.
“We always learn from each Experience here on the property,” says director of operations Crystal Stacey. Looking ahead to the 2021 holidays, she says, “We will continue to have Santa here on the weekends and the lights up into the New Year.”
Host a cookbook dinner for a giftable Experience
You don’t need to lean into the traditional Santa-trees-lights vibe to offer a special, holiday-season-appropriate Experience. Creating a prix fixe or a la carte dinner to celebrate a local or visiting cookbook author can be another appealing option.
In San Francisco, The Anchovy Bar teamed up with chef and cookbook author Renee Erickson for an Experience whose menu was entirely inspired by her cookbook, The Getaway. The prepaid Experience included a copy of the cookbook as well as an Anchovy Bar tote bag—making the experience a wonderful gift, holiday or otherwise, for any food lover.
“The ability to have everything in one place on OpenTable made the event run smoothly,” says General Manager Rumpasri Chicharoen.
Whether you want to go the traditional route with your holiday season or prefer a more understated winter offering, Experiences can help streamline the process for you as well as guests. Take inspiration from these restaurants to create a holiday Experience that is specifically tailored to your brand and diners.
Double down on what works
Increasingly, diners welcome the option of going out to celebrate special occasions at a restaurant, even the major holidays. Last year, a special New Year’s Eve prix fixe Experience went so well at Amara at Paraiso in Miami that Genuine Restaurant Group has decided to add new festive holiday Experiences for 2021.
“Guests were excited to go out for New Year’s Eve. It was a big success,” says Joel White, vice president of marketing at the Genuine Hospitality Group. There was so much excitement in fact, that the restaurant group decided to expand for the upcoming holiday season. Instead of offering a single experience at one restaurant for one night, they’ll be offering a total of eight events across the two restaurants. Expect festive prix fixe Experiences for New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s day at both Amara at Paraiso and Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink.
Give your ongoing Experiences a holiday twist
For ARC Restaurant in Vancouver, Canada, the holiday season brings an opportunity to put a festive spin on the experiences they host throughout the year. One example: weekend bottomless brunch transforms into a festive bottomless brunch thanks to classic dishes elevated with seasonal touches and warm, winter decor that puts guests into the holiday spirit. Last year these brunches were very popular, according to ARC’s Executive Chef, Michael Pagnaccol. People were looking for safe spaces to gather in larger groups, and ARC puts guests at ease by making safety a pandemic-era priority.
Regulars have come to appreciate a consistent flow of special Experiences from ARC. For the restaurant, a robust roster of experiences throughout the year has helped in terms of the bottom line. In addition to festive brunches, this year ARC will offer a luxe New Year’s Eve dinner party extravaganza, complete with a special menu, a party atmosphere, and live music.
However you choose to approach the holiday season, a creative Experience can delight your guests and boost revenue, too. Draw inspiration from these examples to craft an event that may become a cherished tradition for years to come.