Understanding the Winter Slump
Bars and restaurants are suffering from slow sales in every market. Compounding this problem is the fact that there are some naturally slow times in the year, such as between New Year’s Day and February.
According to a National Restaurant Association (NRA) report, eating and drinking business sales declined 4.4 percent between December 2022 and January 2023, only about half of the ‘typical’ December-to-January sales decline.
However, there are some ways to increase revenue during any slow period. These lessons can be broadly applied to bars and restaurants to help make up for the losses incurred as a result. The goal here, with fewer sales and customers, is to increase the amount of money you can make from the customers you do have.
Winter Bar & Retail Marketing Strategies
Dwindling daylight and long, frigid nights make the thought of staying at home more enticing for consumers. Your business can be the exception, however! Here are a few ways to market your business as a winter-time destination.
Create Winter Themed Pop-Up Experiences
Just like the holiday season, bar and restaurant businesses can lean into seasonal decor and themes to bring customers in. For example, Great Jones Distilling Co. in New York City has created a “Whiskey Wonderland Speakeasy” pop-up that runs through February. The pop-up promises guests to be returned to old New York City during the wintertime via a cozy ambiance with seasonal bites & bespoke cocktails.
Transform your rooftop or patio space into a chalet, a winter escape like The Roof at NYC’s Public Hotel. Complete with igloos, covered seating with cozy blankets and gas firepits, this wintertime escape transports you to another icey mountain world in the heart of downtown.
Celebrate The Season with Special Menus, Events and Promotions
Seasonal menus, events and promotions are all options for driving more business in the slower months of the new year. While January doesn’t feature many holiday opportunities for bars or restaurants to capitalize on, discounts and promotions are easy ways to entice your guests to stop by. 2-for-1 Martini specials, extended happy hour specials or discounted dish specials are enough to pique curiosity. Take Hart's for example. This restaurant in the Crown Heights/Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn promotes its "Dead of Winter" seasonal menu that ensures to bring both fire and ice to guests' plates in the dead of winter.
Another area of focus is on the growing popularity of non-alcoholic drinks. Dry January, where consumers abstain from consuming alcohol for the month, is being practiced more than ever. Bars can promote a special NA cocktail menu for those participating in Dry January. Breweries or brewpubs that offer a non-alcoholic beer option should leverage that in our marketing efforts. Last, with the rise in conscious consumerism, the amount of NA options at the retail level has exploded. There is now a litany of non-alcoholic beer and wine options and zero-ABV spirit options available. Even Ready-To-Drink/Ready-To-Serve cocktails are having a moment. From phony Negronis to apertivo-style spritzes’ line retail shelves nationwide. Retail can lean into this growing trend by making more space on their shelves for NA options.
Lean on Customer Engagement and Loyalty Initiatives
Your most ardent customers are willing to support you any time of year. But isn’t it fair they receive something in return? If you haven’t already, consider implementing a customer loyalty program that gives back. After all, 79% of consumers say that loyalty programs make them more likely to continue doing business with brands.
Offer incentives for repeat visits in the winter months such as a free dessert, appetizer or cocktail after a select number of visits. Another way to engage with your customer base is to ask for feedback on areas where the business can improve. Allowing guests to offer constructive feedback will give them a sense of duty and responsibility while it also helps genuinely improve areas of your business you haven’t seen before.
Leverage Ecommerce Opportunities for Extra Revenue Streams
Bar and restaurant businesses are increasingly online. Websites now serve a greater purpose — they can generate recurring revenue 24/7.
With the new year, a new website can do wonders for your business. According to a recent survey from Toast, a restaurant POS and management system, 51% percent of those polled say they "sometimes" visit a website before deciding to visit, while 32% responded that they "always" visit a website before dining. Needless to say, your business's website should be up-to-date, mobile-friendly and a direct reflection of the business. The website is also your brand's digital storefront and should generate profits just like the brick-and-mortar. Online ordering is one way to drive revenue, as is selling tickets for events, branded merchandise and other packaged products.
For retail businesses, websites are even more important. Many wine and liquor stores have implemented online ordering and delivery systems into their websites. Shoppers can browse your shelves from the comfort of their home, and purchase and receive orders. Whether you offer local delivery in-house, partnering with a third party or shipping nationwide, online ordering services are essential in driving revenue that otherwise would not have been.
Take a Look at Your Overhead and Labor Expenses
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 bar or restaurant. It may take some experimentation to determine the exact amount of staff needed during the slower times, but 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. Do you need two bartenders on a slower Saturday night in January? Maybe! But maybe the answer lies in first-in, first-cut shifts. Your staff still gets to put in hours, make a little money and be the first to head out should the evening prove to be slower than anticipated.
Take a look at other areas of the business that could use budgetary trimming. Pull back on food and supply orders. Work with your distributor sales reps to find savings opportunities and deals on case counts. Any wiggle room will help pad your bottom line during the slowdown and leave room for unforeseen expenses should they arise.
Get Involved in the Community
Last, get involved with the local community. For example, during the colder months, especially in areas that are impacted by winter weather events, organize food and clothing donation drives. Your guests are always looking for ways to help their community and as a business location, you can promote and house donations to give back to those in need.
Common Mollies in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood partnered with New York Cares and We Love NYC to be an official drop-off location for coat donations. It may not bring in revenue, but it shows your dedication to the community and your place in it.
Other Initiatives to Implement During Slow Times
If nothing else, use the slower hours to implement internal initiatives. Some of these could include:
- Deep Cleaning: take this time to pull out your equipment and give your space a much-needed deep cleaning, especially after the busy holiday season. You’ll set yourself up for success in the new year.
- Employee Training: have big plans for the new year? Get staff up to speed on your goals and initiatives in the new year. This is also a great time to give seminars and hold training sessions on new wines, new spirits and ways to improve customer service.
- Employee Reviews: use the downtime to kick off annual reviews with your employees. Talk through their strengths and areas for improvement in the new year. If your business offers benefits such as further training and education, talk through their plans to see if they’re interested. Last, discuss career trajectory and pathways. Are those barbacks ready to take the next step? These are all things up for discussion in the new year.
- Get organized: is the back office in need of some TLC? Use this time to organize your space. Are you still doing things the old way? What new technologies can you implement to help better organize and modernize your daily operations? Use this time to look into it and get set up for a successful transition in 2024.