With the busiest months of the year for hospitality and retail just around the corner, preparation and management should begin now, in early fall. This planning will ensure a successful and highly profitable season.
For some businesses, this short season contributes as much as 40 per cent of the annual revenue—so high that a bad season can be crippling.
Because the stakes are so high, it is essential that the planning be thorough and timely—not haphazard. This year, try to approach the season in three stages: planning, management and evaluation.
The first step, in early October, is creating a calendar of important dates over the next five months. This will guide you through the season and ensure you don’t leave anything too late.
This stage is also the time to organize inventory, marketing, hiring and secure financing.
Analyze last year’s inventory and stock accordingly. The benefit to placing your orders early is saving money through early-order price incentives offered by some wholesalers and distributors.
For restaurateurs, this is the time to plan the menu and accessories. Will you offer the regular menu or include seasonal items or a prix fixe option for larger party bookings. What specialty items such as champagne or ingredients for seasonal recipes need to be ordered? Logistics should also be considered. For instance, menu changes may require different dishes. Introducing new dishes may require time for refining the recipe and training the staff. Beyond the food, festively-themed accessories and table settings should be considered now.
Booking ads, graphic design work, printing and mailing take time, so even a simple campaign should be taken care of early.
There are many ways you can entice customers to your business: flyers, social media, print and online ads, email and partnering with another company to tap into their customers. Are you simply trying to raise awareness, or are you tempting people with a special offer? No matter what you do, the key is to be methodical in whom you are speaking to and what you are offering them.
To manage the influx of customers and maintain excellent service, most businesses hire seasonal staff. The key to finding great seasonal staff is to invest time in training them, and also to treat them well so they return year after year. For more on how to get the most out of seasonal workers, read Best practices for hiring seasonal staff.
Purchasing inventory, staffing up and spending on marketing will add up, so plan your cash outlay carefully. Credit cards, while the easiest to access, have 30-day terms. iCapital’s financing is ideal for payback over a longer period. Whatever financing options you choose, be sure you are realistic about your cash flow projections so that the most lucrative season of the year doesn’t turn into the most costly one.
The peak spending period, November 23 to January 1, is the time to introduce new menus, prepare for hosting regular parties and holiday functions and extend your hours of business. Regularly review the plan you created in October to ensure you don’t miss an important deadline.
One of the most critical things to manage during this period is the customer experience. Staffing and operations have to be carefully watched during the December rush—with so many new and existing customers coming through your door, you must protect—and build—your reputation. Hire temporary staff to handle back and front of house demands, and invest in training them properly. If you are understaffed, it is easy to stretch your workers too thinly. Special promotions and new menu items may also slow your staff down—so invest in comprehensive training.
In recent years, a growing number of businesses have kept their doors open as long and as often as possible, even on Christmas and New Year’s Day. Analyze the cost-benefit to justify staffing (availability and cost) on a holiday.
January and February tend to be the slowest months of the year for hospitality and retail. Holiday parties are over and shoppers’ wallets are empty. Businesses that mismanage their profits risk ending up in the red; hence the importance of planning for the highs and lows of the winter period.
Take advantage of this time to establish new goals and forecast for the months ahead. Use last year’s statistics to gain accurate insight on how to scale down on inventory, staffing and other operating costs.
Though every year is different from the last, one thing is guaranteed: every holiday season is demanding. Taking this methodical approach to managing the season will put you in the best possible standing for making the most of the holiday rush, riding out the post-holiday slump and building your reputation in the process.