All wrapped up for Christmas

Posted on Analysis Sep 2009 - by Tandoori Magazine
All wrapped up for Christmas

Christmas is the busiest period of the year for restaurants, Tandoori looks at how Indian restaurants can introduce Christmas menus.

Christmas is one of those annual events that is simply unavoidable no matter where you are. But as we all know, it also has a huge significance when it comes to eating and drinking and considering that’s what restaurants are all about, how can restaurateurs not be part of it?

The bottom line is that most non-Indian restaurants are quite happy to be part of the celebrations. This is not because it’s all part of the Christmas spirit, though that helps, but because there is money to be made. While most restaurateurs will celebrate events like Eid and Diwali, when most of your customers happen to be non-Asian, you have to give them what they want.

It is hardly any wonder that Christmas is the busiest period for restaurants - when customers come in their droves, particularly when it comes to party bookings, so helping your business make more profit. All this means that you shouldn’t even think twice about what to do over Christmas.

Plan for Christmas, introduce different set menus with varying price points. Think about what drink you might want to offer with the food (see our second feature in this issue) and also how you might want to decorate the restaurant to give it that seasonal look, to show you have imagination and care for your customers.

It is not necessary to offer turkey and all the trimmings in your restaurant, otherwise what exactly would be the point, when all the non-Indian restaurants are doing that anyway. As as an alternative, why not offer rich and flavoursome Indian dishes on your Christmas menu that may also be your special occasion dishes for events such as Eid and Diwali. Give the menu different price points so that not only are there variations in pricing, to make them affordable, but you can also offer more choice such as a vegetarian menu or even a menu with more complex and elevated dishes.

When you start your Christmas menu is dependent on how popular your offers are. For example, some restaurateurs like to start their Christmas menu at the end of November and run them through to 25 December. A rule of thumb is that you should start the menus on December 1. Of course, there are a number of restaurants that like to offer a sumptuous lunch menu on Christmas Day itself.

“We are in the UK representing Indian cuisine,” says executive chef Sudha Shankar Saha of Saffron Restaurant, Birmingham and Saffron Blue, Ashby-De- La-Zouch. “It’s a cuisine which is well-loved by the public and besides which we are living in a multi-cultural society, so it is imperative that Indian restaurateurs partake in Christmas by serving appropriate food.” Saha adds that in his experience one too many Indian restaurateurs leave the planning of the Christmas menu, and its marketing, to the last minute - this has an adverse effect on business.

“I actually start planning the Christmas menu and sales strategy soon after March,” he states. By the time it comes to June or July, we are ready to send out the menu. We target the menu to are our regular customers whose addresses we have in our own database, and also a database we have purchased of local businesses.

This is very important because you just can’t leave it as though Christmas is some sort of afterthought. Early planning is exemplified by the fact that when we first opened Saffron Blue we only had ten bookings for Christmas. By the following year, with better execution and all plans put into action, well in advance, we were full.”

Restaurateur Arif Aziz, proprietor of the Spice Kitchen restaurant in Surrey notes that he starts to plan ahead for Christmas in January, soon after the previous one has finished. “What happens,” he says, “is that the Christmas just gone is always fresh in your mind. You know what you did right and where you went wrong. You analyse and look carefully at what you need to improve on and what worked perfectly. I then sit down with the chef and start work on the menu for next Christmas, finalising on the dishes and drinks. I also then look at how many menus I need to have, how I will need to market and promote the Christmas offer, how long our Christmas offers will last and what sort of budget I need to have.

Another important point is to know what your competitors - including the non- Indian restaurants - will be doing, and what sort of prices they will be charging and what kind of dishes and entertainment, if any, they will be offering. Then what you need to do is to make your Christmas event the best there is in your locality.”

“There are a lot of people,” says Saha, “who don’t like to cook big Christmas meals and would much rather go out and eat. This works to our advantage because we are also open on Christmas Day for lunch where we normally find that customers will spend a leisurely time and stay at the restaurant for practically the whole day. I don’t mind that because I will have factored that in into the package I offer. The other thing is that our food comes with a twist. Not only am I offering an alternative to the traditional English Christmas food, but also it gives people who would normally eat at home on Christmas Day a whole new environment.”

When it comes to surroundings, ensure that you decorate the interior with imaginative displays. How much money you spend will depend on your budget, either way, be original.

The marketing side of the Christmas menu will be dependent on how aggressive and visible you make your promotion. You may not necessarily want to have promotional material on the tables too early in the year, as that would look somewhat embarrassing and out of place. What you may require is a nicely printed brochure and a polite and nicely worded cover letter that you can send to your clientele and also to select businesses. It helps, of course, if in that brochure you have attractive looking images of your restaurant so that your establishment looks all the more inviting and encourages people to come in.

Remember though that while you are taking your Christmas party bookings during December, there will still be your regular clientele who will be coming in for your everyday a la carte menu.

Be accommodating to everyone because Christmas comes but once a year. Your staff should be nice to everyone and join in with not just the celebrations, but with a celebratory mood, so that your customers come back for next Christmas!

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