Rush or Lull: 5 Ideas to Effectively Manage Your Restaurant During the Holidays

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The holiday season can be one of the most challenging times of year when it comes to managing a restaurant or restaurant chain.

In fact, 61 percent of restaurants face declining patron numbers during seasonal holidays.

On the other hand, many quick-service restaurants flourish as busy shoppers pop in and out.

The weather can also have an impact this time of year, often keeping people bundled up at home rather than out and about.

To handle the boom and bust that often characterizes this frenzied season, restaurant district managers should prepare well ahead of time. Here are five tips to help ensure you won’t be caught off-guard.

1. Effectively Schedule Staff

It’s really important to make sure that you schedule staff effectively, especially on holidays. It's crushing to be scheduled to work on a holiday, only to find the restaurant a complete ghost town. You could have been home with your family!

That kind of frustration will wear on employee morale at your restaurant. Similarly, being understaffed during a jam isn't ideal for those who have to work the holiday; it can be mean bad tips and cranky customers.

To alleviate both of these issues, Restaurant.org suggests looking at past sales data. It often doesn’t make sense to use a rigid schedule week after week this time of year. Instead, you can determine each week’s line-up based on projected daily sales using historical customer numbers.

Also try to stay in tuned to sales happening at stores in your area. A big blowout sale at the Best Buy next to your restaurant could mean a surge of traffic that day. It's best to be prepared.

2. Stock Up On the Right Inventory

Again, look at past sales data. What were the popular food items that you sold out of last year? Often seasonally-themed dishes (think pumpkin pancakes or maple-flavored desserts) go quickly around the holidays.

And what about wine? Certain varieties pair particularly well with holiday specialties -- and you can bet champagne will move quickly around Christmas and New Year’s, particularly when you have large parties come in. To avoid being surprised, stock up on the right inventory so you're ready.

Business intelligence data gathered using a tool like Squadle can help you be aware of how sales trend around the holidays and allow you to prepare adequately, avoid running out of key items and keep your customers happy throughout the season.

3. Get Help!

Make sure you have plenty of seasonal staff to help you get through the rush of the holiday season. This means planning ahead, often by a few months or more. Summer can be a good time to recruit college students who will go off to school and come home around the holidays in time to help you expand your staff for the rush.

During the year, you can also ask around at local colleges and community centers to find out where there are job boards that you can list openings on. These recruiting tools -- along with online methods like Craigslist, Monster, LinkedIn and other hiring sites -- can help you ensure that you have plenty of help when the holiday rush hits.

It generally doesn’t make sense to hire long-term staff when you know that the holidays will be a major bump in sales that will then go back to normal, so seasonal staffing can be a smart strategy. That said, it’s important to make sure that your temporary help is well-prepared and able to seamlessly jump on board. The next tip will help you prepare them.

4. Onboard Seasonal Staff Quickly with Checklists

Remember: for some restaurants, the holidays are a lull. For others, it's a zoo. You may need to staff up during the holidays, in which case, you’ll want to bring new employees up to speed quickly.

Squadle's checklist tool can reinforce topics covered during onboarding with tangible to-do lists for each day. That way employees don’t need to spend significant time memorizing new tasks. They can simply refer to the checklist on the Squadle tablet when it’s time to open or close your restaurants. This can also help cut down on errors and wasted time.

Technology can be a major boon for restaurants who need to scale up and down elastically during holidays and other boom-bust time periods.

5. Automate Rote Tasks

It’s important to ensure customers have a positive experience all year ‘round, but it’s particularly vital during the holidays. To make sure that you and your staff are fully committed to servicing customers, automate rote tasks.

For example, entering compliance data manually into a paper notebook can take significant time away from employees’ other tasks and requires you as the district manager to physically visit every store to ensure tasks are being completed on time and accurately.

On the other hand, if you adopt a digital reporting technology like Squadle, you can automate many of the rote tasks and make it much more efficient for employees to enter information quickly using a rugged tablet interface.

The holidays can be a time of increased business or decreased, depending on your business type, location and marketing. But these tips can help you deal with either more business or less if you follow them closely.