Q&A: Birchwood Cafe
How the Minneapolis café prepares for the busy holiday season
After 23 years in business, Birchwood Cafe has gotten their holiday service down pat. From stocking up on fan-favorite pies to smartly employing extra staff and stocking their pantry well in advance, they strategize year-round to meet the demands of November and December. We spoke with Birchwood’s Marketing Director, Megan Swenson, to learn more on how this Minneapolis institution prepares for the busiest time of the year.
The holiday season is often hectic for restaurants. What does it look like at Birchwood Cafe?
Thanksgiving is one of the busiest times of the year us. Our to-go services, private events bookings, and catering orders really pick up around the holidays. The café itself is busiest when kids are out of school for holiday breaks.
Are there particular items that guests want to buy during this time?
For Thanksgiving and Christmas, we make homemade pies using local ingredients that are very popular. Guests will also order different sides, breads, and jams from our website to fill out their Thanksgiving table. Online orders pick up again during Christmas when we additionally sell holiday gift boxes that include local, homemade food products.
How are Birchwood’s holiday offerings available to your guests?
There are many channels in action. Guests can order food from our catering store, where they can also opt into delivery. If guests are only ordering pies, they have to pick them up at the café.
Birchwood Cafe's online bakery where guests can explore their selection of pies and order them for pickup.
Having the website up and running just in time for the holiday season last year was amazing. 65-70% of sales came through the website. People were also placing orders over the phone or stopping into the café to purchase them.
The whole Birchwood staff feels that using the website has transformed our pie-ordering system. It went from an organizational nightmare to a well-run system that streamlines all of the important information through the website.
We used homepage alerts on our website to promote the pies and direct visitors straight to the ordering page. We also posted on our social media accounts to get the word out about our offerings and remind guests when pies were available.
So, in terms of staffing, buying ingredients, and general planning, what’s your timeline for holiday prep?
It’s a year-round process. Because Birchwood sources ingredients locally, we are buying things like berries in the springtime and freezing them to use for the holidays. We sold BLT’s at the Minnesota State Fair and we will use the lard we rendered from the bacon (2,000 pounds of it!) in the crust for the French Silk pies that we sell during the holidays.
Birchwood’s first holiday-prep staff meeting happens in late September or early October, to make sure the staff is aware of the upcoming changes caused by pie production and increased orders. Come mid-October, we begin assigning staff roles. This is also when we start making and freezing the pie crusts, and we hire one or two extra bakers to help with the process.
Our pies are available for pickup the week of Thanksgiving, on Tuesday and Wednesday. The week leading up it is the craziest and the kitchen is completely filled with pie happenings: fillings, pies being topped, etc. Our walk-in is devoted to them during this time and the entire kitchen becomes increasingly pie-central. Despite the chaos, it is still an enjoyable time for the employees.
How does your website help you with preparations before and during the holiday season?
The whole Birchwood staff feels that using the website has transformed our pie-ordering system. It went from an organizational nightmare to a well-run system that streamlines all of the important information through the website. We can export orders into spreadsheets for easy organization and planning. It’s made the process easier for our customers and definitely made the process easier for the bakers and chefs who are planning all of the orders. We also received great feedback on how our website looks and feels, so we are excited to have it for another holiday season!