Seven restaurant survival tips for the holidays

11/1/16 7:00 AM Natalie Appleton


They’re coming!  We're talking about:

  1. American Thanksgiving
  2. Christmas
  3. New Year’s

And this year, your restaurant is going to sail through the holiday season so gracefully you could do it with your eyes closed and one mittened hand behind your back.

Here’s how.

A few weeks ahead of the storm

Your schedule:

1. Make sure staff know about black-out dates

If you’re using restaurant scheduling software, make sure you’ve gone in and marked any black-out dates, like American Thanksgiving lunch, Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve, or create the limit for the number of staff who can request that date off.  

If you’re using an old-school calendar in the back room, make sure black-out dates are clear for all to see and talk about it in pre-shift.

2. Ask if anyone wants extra shifts

The holidays are a lucrative time of year for servers to work. It’s also an expensive time of year as team members fork out their hard-earned money to buy gifts, party clothes and their own nights out.

There’s a good chance a number of your team members - many of whom won’t have to worry about getting to English 101 and writing papers for a few weeks - will want to pick up extra shifts.  

Get everyone to update their holiday availability (through the app on their phone if they’re using scheduling software, or the big black book if that’s your method).

Your stars

The holiday stretch is akin to Friday lunch or Friday night happy hour - every day for several weeks for some restaurants. That means you don’t just need more staff on shift, you need more stars on shift. We also like to call this having ‘aces in their places.’

3. Find your aces

Talk with your management team about servers and bartenders hired in the last few months who have been excelling. Could one of them be promoted to another skill level, or another area of the restaurant where they can have more of an impact on guests? Now’s the time to get them trained and ready!

Restaurant scheduling software also helps ensure you have servers at different skill levels on every shift, and allows you to adjust that number on peak shifts, like Boxing Day lunch.

4. Find some more faces

There’s a good chance you’ll need to fill out your roster for the holiday season. Now is the time to start recruiting!

Ask your team if they have any hard-working, experienced server friends with awesome attitudes who will home for the holidays or want to pick up some extra work.

To know just how many more bodies you’ll need on the floor for some of your big days, look at last year’s sales and meal counts, and determine a labor cost budget. Guests tend to arrive in your restaurant over the holidays in one of two moods: stressed or festive, and having at least a few extra bodies to make the customer experience excellent will undoubtedly pay off, but you want to do your recruiting with results and profitability in mind.

While you're in the storm

Your schedule is so prepared for this, you can hardly stand it. But once the blessed holiday season arrives, remember that schedule is filled with bodies, human bodies, who experience the highs and lows of the season just like everyone else.

Your stress

Guests lined up down the snowy street for brunch. Back-to-back double shifts. Hangovers. Thirsty guests with short fuses. In the restaurant world, the holidays are always…interesting, right?

When the season begins, we’ve all got a bit of a spring in our step and the mistletoe above the bar is romantic. A few weeks in, however, and without careful attention to morale, and everyone’s asking when the h@*# Christmas is here, and not because they’re looking forward to opening gifts.

5. Keep everyone in good spirits by not overworking your team

Those stars and aces tend to be perfectionists, who can take on too much over the holidays - at home and at the restaurant.

Of course they think they can take on four double-shifts in a row while the newbies ditch shifts for parties and hangovers, but two days in, it’s not 'Cool' Leslie dropping off steaks. It’s 'Crabby' Leslie.  

If you’re not using restaurant scheduling software, and staff are allowed to swap shifts without running it by you, keep an eye on who might be picking up too many shifts. It’s great to see the aces ‘taking one (or four) for the team,’ so to speak, but it’s your job as manager to make sure they’re not overdoing it, especially in the face of the demands of the season.

Happy Leslie = Happy Guests.  

“Almost everyone wants to make extra money for the holidays, but excessive overtime hours and working on paid holidays lowers employee morale,” writes Susan M. Heathfield in a The Balance article titled Stress Less for the Holidays. 

6. Keep it fun and festive

Xmas Sweater.png

Here are some great suggestions for making the holidays at work extra special:

  • Spiked eggnog drink-selling contests (Winner gets a bottle of Schnapps!)
  • Festive dress days (red lipstick day, Rudolph red-noses day, ugly Christmas sweater day), whacky wishlist t-shirt day (Dear Santa: This year, all I want for Christmas is Love, Stephanie)
  • Staff-decorated stockings by the bar
  • Elf on the shelf

And encourage staff to share these festivities on social to draw even bigger crowds.

These little initiatives don’t have to spendy. Just fun.

7. Show your team how to usher in the New Year, and usher out guests


People duck out of work.

Romances between college classmates rekindle.

Drinking becomes a marathon for many.

In short, over the holidays, people often don’t know when to leave. And they might be tipsy when they do.

Give your staff some strategies for helping guests who have stopped spending out the door in a way that’s perfectly polite and effective.

Ta-da! By following these steps, you’ll have gift-wrapped a ‘the restaurant just about ran itself this holiday season’ present to yourself. And the guys who like to see numbers. Profitable numbers.

2017 is right around the corner and to help you make it the best year ever, here is a small gift from us to you!  Download your free copy of our restaurant operator's kit here: 



Topics: Restaurant Culture