The hospitality business is a seasonal one, there’s no doubt about that. One minute we’re turning people away, and the next minute we’re begging someone to walk through the door. Seasons may affect different establishments in different ways, but eventually, it happens to all of us: the slow season. The doldrums. That terrible, existentially-threatening time of year when it feels hard to justify staying open, and even harder to justify closing the doors. For some establishments, that happens in the summer, and for many, the cold weather brings this unfortunately reliable slump in business. No matter when it hits you, we’ve put together some tips and tricks to help you keep the ship sailing during that time of year.
When we say ‘promotions’, we don’t just mean sales and special menus. Although those are great ideas, we suggest getting a little more creative with your promotion game. We’re talking anything to keep your restaurant in the conversation, even if people aren’t going out to eat as much. This can mean cooking or mixology classes, live music, or even some fun-and-friendly trivia nights. When paired with a well-executed social media program, these types of event-promotions can keep the drinks flowing throughout your slower months.
For many parts of the country (looking at you, Chicago), the cold weather tends to keep people indoors — and understandably so. So, if the diners aren’t coming to you...bring your food to them! Things like UberEats and Postmates make this remarkably easy. Winter is a great time to emphasize and promote your delivery options. Keep in mind, though — not everything can/should be delivered. Things that need to be eaten immediately like fried foods or raw seafood should obviously be left off your delivery menu. You shouldn’t sacrifice quality for the sake of delivery, so we definitely suggest offering a limited menu here.
During the slow months, diners need a bit more ‘push’ to get them out the door and into your restaurant. One great way to do this is through seasonal, limited-time menu changes. Offer customers something that is appropriate, and remove those items that aren’t so appealing at that time of year. For example, if your slower season comes in the summer... go ahead and take the clam chowder and hot toddies off your menu. Instead, give people exactly what they’re craving (and can’t make themselves) during these months.
Take Advantage of Holidays
During your slow season, holidays provide a gust of fresh business amongst an otherwise drab time of year. So, it’s important to take advantage accordingly. If you slow down in the winter, pay very close attention to Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve in particular. Running a promotional drink or food special is a great way to bring the party your way, and give your bar a much-needed boost this slow season.
Reduce Labor Costs
Although it may go without saying, running the ship takes fewer people when the slow season hits. As we’re sure you know, labor costs are a huge budgetary piece of running a successful restaurant. It may take some experimentation to determine the exact amount of staff needed during the slower times, but trust us — it’s worth the effort. In a time when profits are in a lull, the last thing you want to do is pay people to stand around.
An especially-slow Monday night during the offseason can feel like your restaurant begging to be closed. It’s entirely possible (likely even) that you’re losing money by staying open on such a night. But, when thinking long term, it’s not a good idea to close or adjust your opening hours during the offseason. If a would-be customer comes by, only to find out that you’re closed, it will likely deter them from returning ever again. When it comes to operating hours, consistency is key.
In the interest of wisely using your extra time, the slow season is a great time to give your restaurant or bar a tune-up. Over the course of the busy season, the place probably takes some abuse. Such is the nature of the business, after all. Refinish some tables. Re-upholster your seating. These sorts of smaller details are important to keep on top of, and the slow season offers a great time to do just that.
Keep Ingredients Fresh
During the slow season, we move through ingredients at a snail’s pace. With that in mind, it’s important to pay extra attention to good ol’ FIFO practices. Order lighter, and pay more attention to the stuff you have in house. When your restaurant is fully kicking, it’s easy to know you’ll just go through everything you’ve got. That may not be the case during the slower months. Re-train your staff as needed on the proper rotation of ingredients, so that you aren’t creating excessive waste, at a time when profits are down.
“Time to lean, time to clean” is an oft-repeated axiom of restaurant managers everywhere. While we don’t always support nagging or micromanaging, the slower season does prevent an opportunity to give your place some TLC. No one likes to do it, we know, but it’s pretty critical to the longevity of appliances and furnishings. Whether you want to hire a dedicated professional service or have some of your idle staff members knock it out, that’s up to you. This type of deep-cleaning should really happen on a monthly basis, and there’s no better time to start a habit than the slow season!
Be Good to Your Staff
Often, your employees are feeling the pain just as much as you are. Without having much else to do, the slow months are a great time for some employee bonding and enrichment activities. Put more care and effort into the staff meal, or organize some educational seminars and events. It’ll lift the spirits of your staff, while also creating a more cohesive and collaborative work environment. This is a critical part of running a successful team, and can easily fall by the wayside for so-perceived ‘more important’ tasks.
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