January can be a mixed bag for restaurants: after the craziness of the holidays, it can present the opportunity to hit refresh, take a step back, and evaluate your business. It’s also a time when the weather gets (sometimes a lot) colder, and diners are feeling less inclined to go out to eat after the glutton of the holidays, all of which can mean slower foot traffic.
Don’t let the beginning of the year slump hurt your business! Here are some ways that you can turn these early months into robust marketing opportunities.
1. Lean into the colder weather. It may be tempting to try and distract diners from the fact that it’s chilly outside, but sometimes the best strategy is to plan promotions that actually incorporate the outside temps. At the acclaimed, market-driven spot in Brooklyn, Olmsted, the garden is one of the restaurant’s key features, but garden seating can be a tough prospect in the winter. To combat this, the team creates a cozy winter wonderland in the garden, complete with warm blankets and make-your-own s’mores. Suddenly, sitting outside in the winter just got a lot more appealing.
2. Do a birthday promotion. Birthday promotions are a simple but effective way to build customer loyalty, particularly during slow months like January. As Manhattan House in Los Angeles does it, diners simply book a table on their birthday, and the meal is on the house. This may seem like a big investment in a customer, but even one meal that’s on the house or heavily discounted is going to go a long way in bringing back repeat customers — and having them refer their friends.
3. Redo your website. The new year is a great time to spiff up your most valuable digital tool: your website. A site is often a guest’s first impression on your restaurant. It’s worthwhile to take the time during these slower periods to make sure that basic info like your phone number and address is front and center, your menu is up to date, all your photos look crystal clear, and the pages all load properly on mobile. These small details can be the difference between a guest deciding to try your spot or moving on because he or she couldn’t get the information needed on the site.
4. Extend your happy hour. During the summertime, happy hours are perfectly aligned with spending a sunny afternoon outdoors. Not so in the winter, when people don’t have Summer Fridays and most prefer to make a beeline to their apartment post work. Entice the 9-to-5 crowd with drink specials that go a few hours past your usual happy hour timeframe. Add in some snack specials, and you’re sure to build up a happening post-work scene.
5. Launch your email newsletter. Along with your website, a newsletter can be incredibly useful for marketing. The early months of the year—when customers are resetting for the new year, and often cleaning up (and adding to) their email subscription—are the perfect time to start building an email following. A newsletter can be used for announcing exclusive promotions, specials, or openings. Even if you don’t have an email to send yet, add a newsletter sign-up form to your website and social media platforms, and include it with your check presenters. When you are ready to make an announcement, you’ll already have that built-in audience.
6. Participate in Restaurant Week. Many cities hold a Restaurant Week at the beginning of the year to drum up business across the industry. This involves each restaurant offering a set, fixed-price menu across two weeks. It’s a particularly great opportunity to bring new types of customers in the door, as each Restaurant Week does its own marketing and advertising throughout the respective city.
7. Warm up your drinks. The early months can be tough for alcohol sales, not only because of #DryJanuary (a popular challenge to swear off alcohol during the first month of the year), but also because most cocktails are served cold — not ideal on a chillier day. Give your cocktails winter appeal by turning up the temperature. It doesn’t have to stop at Hot Toddies; mulled wine, warm punch, cider, and spiked hot chocolate are just a few of the many options for hot drinks. You can even add a selection of non-alcoholic hot beverages for those committing to a dry month. Take a cue from Alden & Harlow in Boston, which serves up a playful array of wintery drinks like the Hearthstone, which involves homemade butterscotch and Montenegro whipped cream.
8. Double down on delivery. The reality is that for every person who chooses to dine out in the winter, there are several more who opt to order delivery from the warmth and comfort of their own homes. Ensure that you are taking full advantage of this opportunity by double checking that your delivery platform works smoothly, your delivery people are consistently timely and efficient, and your food is as high-quality when it arrives as when it departs your restaurant. Concentrating on perfecting your delivery service will make certain that, when the weather does get warmer, your delivery customers become loyal in-house customers.