10 ways restaurants can win holiday regulars in 2023

Image depicts two people sharing dinner during the holiday season. They are both drinking wine and are seated in a restaurant booth next to a large window. There is a large wreath with a plaid bow hanging behind them.

Around 80% of people will dine out this holiday according to the most recent OpenTable diner survey. Many of those meals will be special celebrations on red-letter days, but that’s far from the only reason people need restaurants this time of year.

The season creates the opportunity to gain short-term holiday regulars. These are the folks who might not go out to restaurants a lot the rest of the year but find themselves going once or twice a week during November and December. There’s just less time to cook when there are parties to attend, house guests to entertain, cooking projects to execute, and holiday gifts to find.

Here’s how to help make people’s lives a little easier this time of year and keep your restaurant hopping every day, not just on those special days.

Tweak the takeout menu

If you can solve the “what’s for dinner?” problem this time of year, people will beat down your door. Retool the takeout menu with the goal of making it easy for people to decide what to get and order it from you.

Family-style meals to-go are an especially good option. If you scale up a simple crowd-pleaser, that can be a way to go. Think family-style portions of pasta, pizza, or whole chicken plus a couple of sides. The more you can reduce people’s decision fatigue this time of year, the more you’ll earn repeat business.

Image depicts a table set for the holidays. There is a cooked bird in the middle of the table and gords sprinkled around as decorations. There is white wine in the glasses.

Promote weeknight specials

Weeknight specials should be different from more festive promotions you might offer to attract weekend revelers. Bring the same sensitivity you applied to the takeout menu to this initiative.

Discount high-margin menu items, try a kids-eat-free promotion, or offer a complimentary dessert or beverage with full-price entrees. A little incentive goes a long way when your guests are looking for any excuse to dine out instead of cooking at home.

Cater to families

Everyone gets busy this time of year, but families with school-age kids can really find themselves overcommitted. If your restaurant is family-friendly, now is the time to shout it from the rooftops.

Put photos of groups with high chairs on social media. Send an email to guests about the new kids’ menu. Let people know you’ve got crayons and coloring sheets to go around. An early-bird special can be especially appealing to this demographic and can help you fill a shoulder time that might not be as packed as prime time.

Image depicts a small child in a red polkadot jacket eating some bread and smiling at their parent. Their parent sits in the booth next to them and is smiling back.

Speed up turn times

Restaurants usually think of speedy turn times as something that benefits them. In truth, there are many times when guests want to be in and out quickly. The holidays are one such time. If it’s early, they likely have holiday shopping or a kid’s pageant ahead. If it’s later, people sometimes want to get home and go to bed. Again, this typically applies more earlier in the week.

You know your guests best. Consider the typical makeup of your crowd, and adjust turn times accordingly. When people know they can have a great meal on their crunched time schedule, they will come back.

Use social media

You’re using social media year-round, but it’s worth honing your messaging to reflect all the different ways you can help people during the busy holiday season. In addition to promoting any special experiences or holiday menus, let people know about takeout, happy hour, and any lunch or weeknight specials that could appeal to them not just once but once a week throughout the season.

Image depicts six people sitting at a dining table. They are drinking a mix of wines and four of the people are eating the fondue in the middle of the table. There are lit candles strewn throughout.

Stock up on gift cards

Give people an extra reason to stop by when you create festive gift cards and promote them as the coveted item they are. In our latest diner survey, 71% of people said the gift of dining at a restaurant was better than a material thing. If people stop in to shop for a gift card, they’re likely to stay for a meal as well. Alternatively, make sure you put plenty of signs around the restaurant promoting the gift cards so people who come in for a meal are aware of them. And get the word about those gift cards through OpenTable gifts.

Use an online waitlist

A location near a mall or shopping district can be a mixed blessing around the holidays. It brings foot traffic, but the rush of guests can be overwhelming for you and them alike. An online waitlist makes this much more pleasant for everyone involved. People can continue their shopping while they wait for a table, an efficiency that may well encourage a seasonal dinner-and-shopping routine in November and December.

Image depicts two guests having coffee together. One is wearing a white button down shirt and the other is wearing a festive red sweater.

Email campaign

Use the data to create a targeted digital marketing campaign aimed at people who dined with you last year. It can be helpful to remind these folks you’re there. Let them know about anything you have to offer in the coming months that may draw them back.

Holiday specials

You don’t need to create a holiday prix fixe to capitalize on the appeal of limited-time offers. Thinking small can pay dividends, too. People might respond enthusiastically to mulled wine, pumpkin pie slices, peppermint hot cocoa, or limited-run seasonal beers. Fans of these seasonal favorites often want to enjoy them as much as they can before they’re gone.

Decorate early

It’s not too soon to deck the halls. Many people get into the holiday spirit the minute the last trick-or-treater is out the door. If you create a festive atmosphere, they’ll want to soak it up. Consider decor that’s more winter festive than Christmas-specific to be inclusive and avoid turning off guests.

If you take care of your holiday regulars, they’ll take care of you during the festive season and into the new year.