Well, it’s the end of summer, everyone is busy getting the kids back in school, sports practice, cramming in your summer ideas that aren’t yet completed and, oh my gosh, its October and I am deep into budgets and trying to define next year. Just like the solstice, no matter what we do, time marches on and we keep trying to run and catch up. STOP… This is a great opportunity for us as full service hotels to connect to our local communities, build new relationships and revenue. This opportunity is called the holidays, and they are the time of the year where both business and government yield to family values, activities and religious traditions.
So what are our customers feeling and thinking when it comes time for the holidays? I think they are rediscovering family values and time together. Time is the new luxury, so how we spend it is very valuable. These times call for renewing, building and connecting with the one thing we can trust, rely and depend on, and that one thing is family. There is the nuclear family, the new family and the work family. Each of these is challenged on an economic and psychological level. Since our nation is so spread out, we either can go home or spend time with our ‘new’ family…those we live, work and play with.
Companies that would typically spend money on holiday celebrations are far less likely to do so right now for two reasons: perception and economic issues. For those that do plan to provide a holiday celebration for their employees, it will have a different tone. As hospitality professionals, we must be cognizant of the way celebrations are perceived and must re-engineer our catering offerings, and in the case of restaurants, our private dining options to accommodate this current reality.
It’s a great time to add value through packaging and providing options for social and work groups to gather. One package could be designed with the intention that the company would foot the bill. Another package could be designed so the attendees cover the cost. Whatever those options may be, you must provide them. Take a good look at your offerings (food and beverage style, complexity, price, policies, etc.) and consider a new approach to capturing this market. Don’t assume the customer will ‘figure it out’ because you think you can match their budgets or expectations. You must communicate it clearly and frequently. The simpler it is for the customer to understand, the easier it will be to book the business. Most customers don’t plan these events very often, so they will not necessarily understand your guarantee policy, minimums, taxes, gratuities, bar minimums and on and on... Look at what you do through their eyes if you want to capture that piece of business. Could we have a mid-afternoon to early evening package of food and drink that makes it affordable and easy to plan, buy and communicate? You know your customers are looking for happy hour in local establishments, what about in your banquet room?
During the holidays, people want to gather and celebrate. How about a package deal in your restaurant for groups of 6 or more? How about offering house wine with the entrée, a larger family-style dessert placed on the table to share? How easy is it for separate checks? How about cash wine sales at the table in private events? One of MHC’s restaurants consistently does over 500 covers on Christmas Eve, including many of these modern families, before they go to the relatives the next day. Most of America is not the traditional family and yet they see their local close relationships as their family.
How about starting a holiday tradition that is multi-generational, like a holiday tea program? Trust me, it will build over time and become one of those holiday staples for your customer year after year. Have you ever hear of the Red Hat Ladies? There are numerous groups of people that gather throughout the year, from book clubs to craft and jewelry clubs, interested in trying something new. Bring them a new tradition to weave into their lives.
Lastly, regarding the holidays, think about the ambiance you provide. Have you made your spaces special? Festive? Better than your competition? Your customers either don’t know how to, can’t or don’t want to entertain at home or the office. Your space needs to become that place for them, whether that’s a banquet room or a portion of your restaurant. If you’re not sold out in your restaurant Monday through Thursday, what opportunities are there? Do you want price or volume? I recommend you go for volume and reintroduce the local market to your hotel and restaurant in a new light, a fun place, a place where they emotionally attach themselves.These tough times requires new ways to merchandise, market, price your capacity and start to use your capacity.
All of these ideas add up to one thing: if you want to move the needle, you must continue to excel at your core business, but you must also start doing somethings differently. I find in most organizations, there are a lot of people working on the operations side and very few revenue folks, and we default to spending our time on defense and operations. Lift your head up, look whats coming and grab more than your share. Discounting gets us nowhere. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth charging for. Creating new experiences and value is not discounting.
Ok, enough for now. The whole point is, you need to develop new experiences to recast your brand to your local community. After all, they are the ones recommending restaurants and hotels to visitors, planning weddings and corporate events. Be a more important part of their lives in one way and find out how many other parts of their lives they will bring to you.