A customer is for life, not just for the holiday


The holiday season can be a stressful time for operators but also a profitable one, if you plan ahead. It’s important to make sure you don’t leave things to chance.

You inevitably will have a number of guests or diners over the holiday season who will come to your hotel or restaurant for the first time, so ensure you create a great first impression and a reason for them to return.

You likely also will have a number of regulars who come to you because they know you, like what you offer and trust you’ll give them a good time. Ensure you don’t disappoint, and demonstrate you appreciate their loyalty.

Maintain your standards

Even though it’s the holidays, and you’re not only busy but also most likely offering holiday specials, it isn’t an excuse for poor service or poor value for money. This could be damaging for your reputation and potentially embarrassing for your existing loyal customers, particularly if they are entertaining or have referred you to others.

It also will leave a poor first impression for those who are visiting you for the first time.

Trading up

Whereas your customers might be looking for a good deal (particularly for group bookings), this doesn’t mean individuals will not be prepared to trade up to a premium drink or additional menu items. Ensure your team is in a position to make suggestions and recommendations and is fully aware of what is feasible and what is not. Then check that your bar and kitchen staff are prepared with the ad hoc and additional items.

If you are seeing a trend of fewer pre-booked tables for those eating out during the holidays, decide if you’ll accept walk-ins and, if so, how you’ll attract them. Restaurant operators that offer good value and who are flexible to walk-ins could benefit from last-minute business.

Show your appreciation

Nothing should compete with your holiday promotions, so don’t plan any other offers or accept other vouchers during this period that undermine your potential Christmas revenue. However, do have any New Year promotions available and ready to offer exclusively to your Christmas guests as an incentive for them to return sooner rather than later.

To encourage guests to share contact details for your database, offer an incentive such as a prize drawing. If your market draws from predominantly local businesses, talk to your suppliers or other area businesses that might be happy to sponsor those prizes in return for publicity.

Bear in mind you’ll be busy this holiday season, so capturing contact details from guests should be a simple process.

Yet, even if holiday partygoers are not in the mood to part with their personal details for inclusion in your database, at the very least have vouchers, brochures or even goodie bags available, so guests are aware of those special bonuses, offers or packages you’ve lined up just to them.

Schedule some time after Christmas to follow up with your mailings. Keep your list segmented with party organisers or bookers on one list and guests on another so you can keep your mailings pertinent and personal. This will enable you to follow up with all your organisers to thank them for their booking. Show you appreciate their feedback by asking what worked well and what they didn’t like. Don’t just do this on the night of or at the end of their stay; follow up post event. If there is anything they didn’t like, they might be reluctant to tell you on the spot and in front of other guests.

Ultimately, following up helps to develop relationships and increases your chances of repeat business either during the year or next Christmas.


 Is your seasonal staff an asset or a liability? If all you do is give them an order pad and tell them to get to work, they could be doing more harm than good to your holiday profits.

Teamwork is key. Introduce new staff to the whole team, defining everyone’s areas of responsibility to ensure no gaps and no duplication of effort. Avoid the frictions that occur when someone hasn’t pulled his weight or someone begins to “interfere” with the standard ways of doing things.

Everyone needs to know what’s expected of them from day one. Clarify basic standards of dress, staff behaviour, time keeping, break allowance, staff meals, security, food safety, health and safety. Don’t leave staff floundering or too scared to ask for help. Establish a clear line of reporting, and who to go to for help and guidance when needed, ensuring, of course, this person will be patient and supportive when asked.

First impressions count. Specify your establishment’s standards for welcoming and greeting customers, including booking procedures.

What is their role in up-selling, and what are the products you want them to promote, including any future events? People can’t sell something they don’t know exists. If your core team is incentivised, then make sure you include seasonal staff in this scheme, as well.

Ensure thorough product knowledge: what your establishment offers; times of service; complimentary products, etc. Let your staff taste the dishes. Explain what accompanies each dish, as well as what it should look like. Detail what each service includes and what costs extra (especially with fixed menus or party packages).

Run through the payment procedures, including any security procedures or checks needed. Establish protocol in dealing with difficult situations, customer complaints and awkward customers. Define the line between handling situations themselves and when to seek intervention from a manager or a more experienced staff member.

Avoid last-minute staffing shortages by providing after-hours contact numbers and establishing procedures for sickness reporting.

Maintain your reputation as a good employer. Treat seasonal staff well, and they will be willing to come back next time you need an extra hand. Give them something to look forward to, and keep them interested for the whole season. Involve them in any after- work social activities, and perhaps offer some incentive awarded at the end of the season.

Start planning next Christmas now

Your marketing for next year is probably the last thing on your mind, but now is a great time to build up material to use next year. What better way to promote your holiday parties than to show people having fun, enjoying your hotel or restaurant in all its holiday splendour?

Take photos of the bar, restaurant and reception while your holiday decorations still are looking their best. And include some pictures of the food you served during your holiday celebration; although this is easier to stage at a later date, if you can get some shots now, so much the better. If want to use these photos as bigger images or for printed material, use a professional photographer.

Get some video footage of parties as well. It’s best to capture guests as they arrive and unwind with their first drink. Don’t wait until tables are strewn with empty glasses. Always ask for guests’ permission for the footage to appear on your site before you record. Also, ask people for testimonials that you can use in next year’s marketing materials.

Keep tabs on your costs throughout to ensure you have an accurate picture of your profit margins. This includes monitoring your costs post-holiday; this helps you take account of wastage.

Take stock at the end of the season, and learn from your successes and failures to build on this for next year. Get feedback from your team, and involve them in the review process by asking for their ideas. Then make sure you put this information in a safe place so you can find it easily before planning for next year.

Here’s to a very successful and profitable holiday season.

Caroline Cooper is a business coach with over 25 years in business and management development. She is the founder of Zeal Coaching, specialising in working with hospitality businesses, and is author of the “Hotel Success Handbook.” For more information and articles from Zeal Coaching see http://www.zealcoaching.com/products-resources/.


The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of HotelNewsNow.com or its parent company, Smith Travel Research and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.


About candlewoodste

Director of Sales for the Candlewood Suites located in Secaucus, NJ.
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