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Top 10 Restaurant Marketing Tips for Holidays and Special Occasions

Top 10 Restaurant Marketing Tips for Holidays and Special Occasions

bartender pouring a glass of wine People consider birthdays, anniversaries and holidays to be special occasions worthy of a little extra spending. You need to convince customers that your restaurant should be the recipient of those dollars. Follow these tips to attract customers for holidays and special occasions:

1. Send holiday greetings.

A simple card sending best wishes for Valentine’s Day, Independence Day or the holiday season is a good way to remind customers about your restaurant at different times of the year. The card should seem like a greeting rather than a promotional message. Your customers will feel special and may keep you in mind for their celebration plans. At the bottom of the card, you could mention your holiday promotion, but keep it simple and enticing. For example, you could say, “One free glass of champagne for couples who dine with us on New Year’s Eve.”

2. Offer a birthday gift.

According to the National Restaurant Association, more than half of Americans eat out on their birthday.1 To encourage them to keep your restaurant in mind for their special day, send customers in your database a birthday card that includes a voucher for a free gift of some kind, like a free birthday dessert.

3. Sell gift certificates.

Gift certificates are the perfect way to capitalize on special occasions throughout the year and during the holiday season. About 25% of the gift certificates will never actually be used,2 which turns that sale into pure profit. You should display your gift certificates in a prominent place near the point of sale or the entrance, and you can also sell them on your restaurant website.

4. Put on a special holiday promotion.

You could offer a special meal for two on Valentine’s Day, a free glass of champagne on Christmas Eve, free taxi rides on New Year’s Eve, etc. Just make sure not to offer a discount. For the holidays, people are willing to spend, so instead of a discount, offer extra service or a free item. Do not lower prices; instead, add a bit of value.

5. Throw a holiday party.

Nothing captures the spirit of the holidays like a good party. Throw a Mardi Gras or Carnival party, a New Year’s countdown, a freaky Halloween party or even a romantic Valentine’s Day dance. Make sure that your food and drinks are a main focus of the party, and also provide special entertainment with music, movies or performers. Advertise your party through flyers, direct marketing campaigns and the local newspaper.

6. Use seasonal decorating.

On Valentine’s Day, put roses and candles on the table. On New Year’s Eve, decorate with sparkly garlands and clocks for the countdown. For the first of November, you can add Day of the Dead decorations to your festive atmosphere. Changing the decorations in your restaurant occasionally will keep your design up-to-date with the season and add a fresh quality to the dining experience of your most loyal customers. Just make sure your holiday decorations do not clash with your design concept. » Learn More

7. Host a holiday fundraiser.

People feel generous during the holiday season. You can show them that you do, too, by hosting a special holiday fundraiser. You could put on a food drive or give a percentage of sales to a certain charity. Write up a press-release about it, and make sure to mention the fundraiser on any advertising materials that you use near the holidays.

8. Be politically correct.

Do not risk alienating customers during the holiday season. Train all servers to say “Happy Holidays,” rather than “Merry Christmas.” Unless you know that your customer base subscribes to a certain religion, use only secular holiday decorations and slogans.

9. Put on a unique holiday stunt.

You could transform your establishment into a haunted restaurant for Halloween, have all of your servers dress as Santa or elves for Christmas, hide eggs in your restaurant for customers to find on Easter, or send an employee to hit the streets dressed as a giant turkey for Thanksgiving. When it comes to crazy holiday stunts, do not limit your creativity. » Learn More

10. Advertise for the holidays.

Consider advertising in more unique or specific mediums for the holidays. For example, you could advertise in the program at a local drama theater for Valentine’s Day, or in programs for the Nutcracker ballet or school holiday concerts for the winter season. For Mardi Gras or Independence Day, consider creating a float for the parade and distributing flyers or coupons. For Thanksgiving, try advertising in the “food” section of local papers. Before Halloween, distribute flyers with details about your costume contest or Halloween promotion. Also make sure to mention your takeout or delivery services, since people may throw parties or be too busy to cook around the holidays.


1 Brad Edmondson, “It’s my birthday; we’ll go out if I want to – National Restaurant Association statistics on dining out on birthdays,” American Demographics (May 1997) <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m4021/is_/ai_19561572> (accessed December 19, 2008).
2 Patti J. Shock, John T. Bowen and John M. Stefanelli, Restaurant Marketing for Owners and Managers (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, 2004).