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Q&A with Leah Herman of Kindred Co.

How to keep restaurant business booming during winter

a close up of a sign

After the high of holiday sales, the dog days of winter can feel like one of the most agonizing times of the year for the restaurant business. Winter weather kicks in, traffic is slower, and revenue often hits an annual low. “People get burned out from the holidays,” says Leah Herman, the founder of Kindred Co., a marketing and media relations company for the hospitality industry (Before starting her own business, she ran PR and marketing for Gabriel Stulman’s Little Wisco group, one of New York’s most stalwart restaurant empires and longtime Bento users). “In those early months people are either returning to budgeting after the holiday madness, dieting, or just going out less. They need to reset.”

To be successful during the early months of the year, according to Herman, requires cultivating and sustaining your regular and neighborhood customers, planning ahead, and coming up with strategies with the big picture in mind. Here, she shares her top tips for keeping your business going strong during the winter season.

a woman in a blue shirt
Photo of Leah Herman via Henry Hargreaves Photography.

Get Involved in Your Local Community

When peak winter hits and people are less likely to want to get on public transportation or get in a car to go out to eat, your core neighborhood fans will be key. So, Herman says, you should be always working —but especially during the early months of the year—to cultivate that audience. One of the most effective ways to do this is to engage with your community. “Donate to local school auctions, get involved in neighborhood initiatives, and connect with organizations in the community that bring people together,” she suggests. “All of these things will build relationships with people who are in your immediate vicinity.”

Boost Your Facebook Posts

While paid advertisements can come across as tacky, paying as little as $5 to boost a Facebook post can go a long way, since you can geo-target people in your area to promote an offering or event. “It’s an easy way to get people information even if they don’t like your Facebook page,” Herman says.

Make Your Menu Resolution-Friendly

“There are tons of people who, in the early months of the year, are not eating sugar, gluten, meat, or dairy,” Herman says. “Don’t lose more guests than you have to.” Also, she adds, if you’re looking to introduce any kind of healthy aspect to your menu, like juices, “Now is a great time of year to do it.”

Plan Promotions for the Rest of the Year

When the fourth quarter hits, you won’t have time to thoroughly plan your holiday promotions — so why not figure them out now? You can even create your marketing plan for the entire year, and decide your Easter and 4th of July specials now (though Herman stresses: you don’t have to do something for every single holiday!). That way, when you’re too busy to think, you’ll already have a plan.

Do Your Marketing Housekeeping

As in, “What are the emails people are getting to confirm their reservations? What is the description of your restaurant on your reservation platform? Are those things, number one, still accurate? And number two, can you make improvements to these communications so that they are better marketing tools for your business?” Herman says. And don’t forget to consider all your marketing platforms—including your printed materials, website, and social media.

Have a Protocol for Winter Weather Emergencies

You can’t control when snowstorms happen. But you can control your response to them. “Nothing is more annoying than showing up to a restaurant on a whim and then finding out when you get there that it’s closed,” Herman says, so make sure that you are covering all your bases: don’t stop at calling confirmed reservations—make sure the message goes out on your voicemail, home page, and reservation platform.

Cultivate Your Relationships with Regulars

“It’s not realistic to expect a large swath of first-time guests to visit you during the hardest months of the year,” Herman says, which means that in the winter, you’ll be reliant on your regulars. Go the extra mile to make them feel accommodated. “Have their backs, help them with reservations, and encourage your staff to foster those relationships,” she says. “Those are the people who will sustain you during the tough times.”

More great tips on digital restaurant marketing right this way.

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