The holiday season is called the silly season for a reason. From the moment the starter gun is fired at November’s Melbourne Cup, things only get sillier in hospitality as Christmas and New Year loom large. More customers will walk through your Café door than at any other time of the year. They come to celebrate the end of the working year and the Christmas break with work colleagues, friends and family. They book Christmas parties and arrange outside catering. They might buy gifts. Your best strategy is to be prepared and keep your Café as well as your chefs ready for all the excitement of the season. Here are some handy suggestions from our Café community.
The minute Richard Calabro, owner of Grind Espresso in Cronulla, clocks that Christmas is around the corner, he starts thinking Café supplies. “We do triple the trade over Christmas and the suppliers all close down, so we have to get our orders in and stock up.”
Check the dates suppliers accept last orders, holiday closures and when they gear up again in the New Year. “If you close your Café over Christmas, the week you reopen is just as important as the week before you close,” says Chris Tate, co-owner of Pablo & Rusty’s in Sydney CBD. “You want to be ready and to start the New Year strong.”
You can also look here to restock your pantry, all year through.
It’s vital your customer’s know about changes to your regular Café hours and whether you’re open or closed on public holidays.
Like Pablo & Rusty’s, a busy CBD 50-seater, you might close over Christmas when your regular customers are on holiday. Or, if you’re a beachside Café, like Grind Espresso, you might extend business hours or even open on public holidays. “We open for an hour on Christmas morning,” says Calabro. “We serve coffee and raise money for One Meal, a local homeless support service.”
Make sure the opening hours for the holiday period is easily found on your website, social media pages, and in the Café itself.
Most Café owners we spoke to agreed that Christmas is a time to keep doing what you’re already doing. You might add a bit of Christmas flavour to your menu – Pablo & Rusty’s roast a Christmas coffee blend, Frank Fawkner, from Fawk Foods Kitchen & Bakery in the NSW Hunter Valley, adds Christmas items like shortbread and mince tarts to the bakery menu, and Calabro dusts off ‘Elf on a Shelf’ for his younger customers – but that’s not why customers choose to have their Christmas party or catch up with friends at your Café. They come because they already like what you do and have on your menu.
Good management systems are crucial when dealing with an increase in customer numbers, especially front-of-house. How you manage customers in your Café is key and communicating clearly with them is your secret weapon. If they need to wait for a table, let them know how long it will be, advise them of any changes that arise and then, when they’re seated, be clear about how long it will take for their order to arrive. “Christmas is next level for us,” says Tate. “Our challenge is to manage customer expectations and we do that by running a wait list and putting a dedicated staff member on it whose job is to keep everyone informed.”
As a Café and bakery in a holiday destination, Fawkner has the same challenge, managing increased customer numbers. But in his case, most are first-timers. “There are a lot of people about,” he says. “We want to serve as many people as we can while they’re here and we want to impress them so they return.” How does he make that happen? “It comes down to your team performing at its best. We do that with procedures and a great manager, who leads by example.”
Social media is the best way to inspire your customers and tell them what you’re doing. Don’t ‘tell’ them what’s in store, ‘show’ them with photographs and quick videos what any one walking in to your Café can expect for the holiday season.
Nadi Elias, a growth accountant who works with Café and coffee owners and the author of Count More Beans, is a big fan of using social media to promote Cafés. “People are getting out and want to spend their money, so why not at your Café,” he says. “Let them know you’re open for business and what you’ve got going on – and post prolifically.”
The Christmas trading period puts everyone under the pump, customer’s included. Planning ahead and having good systems in place help your staff perform well and prevent meltdowns. It’s called the silly season for a reason, but it’s also a time to spread joy and good cheer among your staff and customers alike.