More is more – the pressures and pleasures of the festive season
How to cope with holiday season demand

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5 min read

How to cope with holiday season demand

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    Kevin Dow and Peter McKenna at The Gannet Copyright Kevin Dow 2023

    The Planday Survival Guide, a free ebook packed with tips that could help hospitality businesses make it through the festive season.

    More is more – the pressures and pleasures of the festive season

    The most wonderful time of the year’s nearly here; the festive season. And with it comes “more”. More parties. More special menus. More bums on seats.

    But it also brings hospitality businesses the gift of more challenges:

    • More changes and cancellations
    • More staff illness
    • More time-off requests
    • Higher costs
    • More stress

    How does an industry strained by changing staff expectations, a cost-of-living crisis and the ongoing challenges of recruiting and retaining talent cope in what could be their most profitable time of year? 

    These 5 insights could help you handle holiday season demand.

    Meet the team

    Kevin Dow: General manager and front of house, with nearly two decades of experience under his apron.
    Peter McKenna: Chef/patron who opened The Gannet over ten years ago to critical acclaim.
    The Gannet: A Glasgow hotspot that blends traditional and contemporary techniques to create a distinctly modern Scottish fine-dining experience.

    More customer focus

    A clear, laser-focused philosophy drives Kevin Dow: “The most important person in our business is the customer. Without them we wouldn’t exist.” Spending time with customers is his favourite part of the job. 

    With nearly two decades of festive-season service under his belt, Kevin has seen plenty of changes in customer behaviours. The one constant? How they respond to genuine hospitality.

    “Welcoming people is what hospitality is all about. The same as welcoming someone into your home. Putting people at ease from the moment they walk in makes a big difference and sets the tone for the experience ahead of them. It’s important to remember that you’re not just serving nice plates of food, you’re hosting people and creating what is hopefully a memorable experience.”

    Food for thought

    Personalise your guest experience; post-booking email surveys are a must. Consider hiring mystery diners for unbiased, no-holds-barred feedback.

    More belt-tightened budgets

    With many customers watching their budgets, Kevin and his team, led by chef/patron Peter McKenna, are preparing for a slightly more subdued festive season in 2023.

    “Office party budgets aren’t what they used to be – an all-expenses-paid outing for business colleagues. We’re not seeing so many of those bookings these days. In fact, we’ve just had two provisional Christmas bookings cancelled because entertaining budgets have been slashed. Hospitality businesses need to prepare for that.”

    On the back of companies tightening their belts, though, The Gannet has also noticed more bookings from smaller parties with better spend per head, and have tweaked their menus, reservations and service accordingly. “Smaller groups, for example, are more likely to go for a full drinks pairing or to start with a cocktail or end with a digestif than, say, a group of 10 or 12, where multiplying those extras really adds up.”

    Food for thought

    The average Brit eats out 1.5 times a week, spending up to £53 a head each time. Think of ways to encourage greater spending during the holidays, like a special cocktail or off-peak prix-fixe.

    More flexibility = happier staff

    The pandemic changed the way the world thinks about work. Work-life balance? No longer a nice-to-have but a bare-minimum expectation, especially for younger workers. In its 2023 Global Gen Z and Millennial survey, Deloitte found that these generations place a high priority on reduced or flexible working hours and want companies to offer more part-time roles, despite the financial consequences of working fewer hours. 

    The hospitality sector is still struggling to attract and retain workers to replace those who left during the pandemic’s ‘Great Resignation’. So being mindful of this shift in expectations is critical to nurturing a culture where staff are engaged, happy and want to stay. 

    Kevin Dow takes a ‘firm but fair’ approach to managing requests for time off and shift swaps. He believes transparent communication is key to building a culture of openness and fun, especially during the festive season, where expectations are heightened and the pressure is on staff to deliver excellent customer experiences.

    “Times have changed and the hospitality industry isn’t like it was when I started – I would just say yes to everything and never questioned my boss. Now people feel comfortable saying no or asking for what they want. And I’m quite generous in accommodating requests for time off, as long as service isn’t affected. At the end of the day, I still need enough people in the kitchen and on the floor to deliver a great service for our customers. You get back the flexibility you give.”

    Food for thought

    Create a supportive environment through mandatory breaks and activities that promote career development. A study found that employers who demonstrate they care about mental health improved employee retention rates by 33%.

    Planday’s staffing and scheduling software makes flexible, accountable rotas a reality.

    More listening, more storytelling

    Responding to customers’ interest and awareness around provenance, sustainability and food trends (like plant-based dishes and no/low waste) can make a real difference to customer satisfaction – and profits. Remaining authentic to what makes your business unique is a key driver in customer loyalty.

    For The Gannet, telling a positive story about where their ingredients come from, how they’re prepared and what customers can expect is all part of the experience. So roast turkey might not make the restaurant’s six-course festive tasting menu. But Scottish game birds and foraged mushrooms almost certainly will. 

    Restaurants with frequently changing menus or specials need to keep their staff up to date with their dishes. Briefing them so they’re experts on ingredients and suppliers creates an opportunity for relaxed, informed connections with customers.

    Kevin describes his own management style as relaxed and informed, and he encourages the same attitude in all of his team.

    “However you think about ‘fine dining’ and what that means, beyond the artistry and skill of what’s on the plate, it’s about being knowledgeable and feeling able to talk people through menus and through wine lists in a relaxed and natural way, without it being intimidating for the customer.

    Having that opportunity to tell them about what’s gone into what they’re about to enjoy is a huge part of what we do and why we have a loyal base of regulars.”

    Food for thought

    Define what makes your business unique and create a clear narrative that you can build into staff onboarding and service briefings. That USP could get your customers coming back for more.

    More positive reviews

    Feedback counts, From customers. From staff. The last quarter of the year is hectic, and throws up all sorts of challenges. Proactively responding to issues that pop up puts you in line for more positive reviews. Because it shows you care.

    These days, we have instant information, booking facilities, reviews and opportunities for sharing content on hand 24/7. And businesses have never been more open to opinions and feedback. And the bad ones can have a powerful effect in decision-making around whether to book or not to book. If they’re not acted upon, that i.

    So how much attention does Kevin pay to customers posting on social media?

    A lot! I mean, the majority of the feedback we get is very positive. And I’ll reply to everyone who has a genuine issue. The thing is, if anything wasn’t 100% on the night, I’d be aware of it. So if I read or see something that I somehow wasn’t made aware of, I’ll address it. You do get people who won’t say anything at the time and then will go away and write something negative. And if someone says that, say, they weren’t happy with the seasoning on something, I’ll double-check with the kitchen to make sure they know and that something hadn’t gone out wrongly.”

    This proactive approach, combined with an unswerving commitment to the customer, is the antidote to the aggregate of small negatives – tiny issues that, when added up, can morph into an overwhelmingly negative experience. If you fix the first tiny issue, that turns into overwhelmingly positive. Don’t forget to celebrate your wins, too though!

    Food for thought

    Respond to negative reviews and maintain control of your ratings. Word of mouth is powerful, and customer reviews have never been more important. A study shows that higher Yelp scores help restaurants to sell tables 19% more frequently during peak times.

    Happy Q4!

    Need more help with flexible staffing? At Planday, we provide the tools you need for scheduling and time based management

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