Holiday Reservations: Make a list, check it twice, and only cry once

The holiday season brings a lot of “gifts” and “joy,” not the least being large-party reservations. Holiday season reservations can make or break your holiday revenues, so here are a few suggestions to get you prepared for some holiday “cheer.”

Have a plan
While this seems obvious, many owners and managers go into the holiday season with a wait and see attitude. It didn’t work for Jim Henson and it probably won’t work for you. Instead, sit down and think about what a large table is going to cost you in labor (extra staff) and lost business (holding tables that would otherwise be full.) While a 20-top might seem like easy money, you might not come out ahead. Decide on the maximum table size you can handle, and how many of those you’re prepared to do in a night.

Communicate your plan to the entire staff
Once you’ve figured out what you can offer, make sure your staff is fully informed – both FOH and BOH. Hold an all-hands holiday prep meeting and make sure everyone knows what reservations they can and cannot take. Answer any questions staff members might have. If anyone raises a point you hadn’t considered – consider it and get them an answer as soon as possible. Once you and your staff are dialed-in, write out the holiday reservation policy and keep it next to the phone, just to be sure.

Put someone in charge of the holiday reservations
Make sure someone owns the holiday reservation list. It could be you, your floor manager, even one of the hosts/hostesses. The important thing is one person has a big picture view of how December is about to go down. Larger businesses may already have an Events Manager – if that’s the case, check in with them frequently to make sure nothing gets missed. If you’re handling the books, have someone back you up for the exact same reason.

Get Credit Cards to Confirm
While some guests may push back, it’s important to confirm reservations with a credit card. This serves both a practical purpose and as a point of communication. On a practical level, it allows you to charge a fee if the table doesn’t come (or even get a deposit beforehand.) As a point of communication, it allows you to let the guest know about menu items, substitutions, and all the other details involved in hosting a large party.

Say Hello Once the Party has Arrived
This is a small, but often forgotten detail: always have yourself or a manager greet the table once their seated. This is important for several reasons. First, it allows one final check on the table and the reservation. But even more importantly, it’s a chance to thank your guests for sharing their evening with you and your staff. Christmas is stressful for everyone involved, so take the extra minute to put people at ease and let them know you’re there to create a good experience. Plus, it’s a chance to make a good impression with guests that may not have normally picked your restaurant, but came on the suggestion of the party’s organizer.

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