In light of recent restrictions due to coronavirus, many food and drinks businesses will be looking for ways to adapt this Christmas and keep service going as normal as possible. In this article, Mike Hardman from catering and kitchen equipment suppliers Alliance Online shares his advice for business looking to attract more seasonal customers.

Lockdowns one and two have caused untold disruption to the hospitality industry. With so many restrictions in place due to coronavirus, businesses are having to get creative with what they offer to compensate for the lack of customers coming through their doors.

As a result, it can be difficult for customers to know if your restaurant will be open for Christmas and whether you will be able to provide them with a festive experience. You might not even be sure yourself if your business can do enough to stay open during this time. Fortunately, there are measures you can take to help make the most of what’s available and hopefully make a profit this Christmas.

Promote and communicate

Your regulars will likely be keeping an eye out for your newsletter and social media updates, so don’t forget to provide plenty of information about what you’re going to be doing over the festive period so they can plan in advance. Will you reopen for business in December? Will all your usual services be running, or will you be providing a limited selection? Do people have to book online, and if so, where can they book? These are just some of the questions people will have when considering your establishment for their Christmas meal out, so try and provide as much information as possible.

You might want to think about increasing your digital marketing budget during this time so that you can let everybody know what your plans are.

Convenience and safety

During lockdown, you may have experimented with home delivery for the first time, or you may have seen a significant increase in the amount of online orders you received. With lockdown 2.0, now is the time to iron out any kinks and invest in a reliable online ordering website or app to make sure you’re meeting demand. Don’t rule out intermediaries like Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber Eats whose platforms could even help you reach new customers in your immediate area.

When you re-open, you will need to have facilities for contactless payments and implement table service if you haven’t already, to comply with coronavirus safety measures. With all the uncertainty around at the moment, people are eager to organise their meals in advance, so make sure you have systems for pre-ordering and pre-booking as well.

Don’t forgo the festive menu

With the right systems in place, it’s time to think about your festive menu. You will likely already have seasonal, limited edition dishes in mind already, but this year in particular it’s important to offer something special.

In addition to using high-quality ingredients to produce tasty meals, I would recommend thinking carefully about how your orders arrive to the customer. With more people ordering home delivery, you won’t be able to wow them with your atmosphere and décor and will instead need to impress customers with exceptional presentation. Attractive, maybe even festive packaging can go a long way towards providing a memorable experience for customers, plus they will be more likely to take pictures of their takeaway and post it on social media. This can help create a buzz around your business and can drive even more custom to your online ordering portal.

Take it outdoors

Once you reopen, you might not be able to squeeze in as many customers as normal due to social distancing. One of the ways you could counter this problem is by opening up any of your outdoor seating areas and making them weather-proof. The December climate will require you to have facilities like table heaters, umbrellas, and canopies to keep customers warm and dry. You might even want to look into having small wooden cabins or pods installed if space allows. Then, you can provide cosy extras such as blankets to create a private bubble that’s reminiscent of a Christmas market.

These are just some of the ways you can help your restaurant create a festive vibe and attract customers to your establishment this Christmas season. Remember to follow government and NHS guidelines to keep your customers and staff safe — if we all pull together, we can still have a merry Christmas.