For most restaurant owners, the holidays can be a tumultuous and unpredictable time.  There are certainly a lot of people eating out around the holiday season, but that doesn’t mean that they will all be coming to your restaurant.  But if you want to minimize some of this instability and take advantage of the holiday season as a promotional opportunity, there are a few steps you can take on your business’s behalf.  Here is a look at three unique holiday marketing ideas for restaurant owners to get in the holiday spirit.

1. Promote Gift Cards

The holidays are all about giving, and what better gift is there than access to delicious food?  As the holidays approach, start marketing gift cards to your restaurant more and more.  You can advertise gift cards in person by hanging promotional materials, as well as by approaching your customers directly with gift card offers.  For example, you could hand out information about the gift cards available at your location with each reciept.  Additionally, you can promote gift cards electronically by blasting your email lists and reaching out through your business’s social media accounts.

As you promote gift cards, remember that every gift card you sell will get converted into a meal at some point.  Gift cards can give you a great cash infusion for the holiday season, but make sure that you don’t approach them as all profit, since you will need to make good on your food commitment eventually.  As long as you frame gift cards as a great holiday bargain and a way to give a piece of your restaurant to a lucky recipient, and promote your gift cards more aggressively during the holiday season, you should see a tidy profit.

2. Offer Holiday Only Promotions

There is no better way to make sure that your regulars come out in force than by offering them a discount during the holiday season.  In order to make sure that promotions lead to boosts in holiday sales, make sure that you structure your coupons with a strict timeline that encourages your customers to redeem them during the peak of the holiday season.  Don’t give out coupons that are too big to honor, but consider being especially generous in the name of the holiday season, and the number of customers that come through your door will be higher than you might expect.

To promote your holiday coupons, start by handing out discounts to your regulars as they visit in person.  Or, to more strategically target your regular customers who you don’t see as often, reach out to your email list and social media fan bases first.  In either case, make sure that you first spread coupons amongst your already loyal customers.  From there, you can open coupons up to the general population through sites like Groupon and LivingSocial.  Just remember that the potential for exposure through these types of sites can be huge, so be conservative with the discounts that you are comfortable offering.

3. Decorate Your Restaurant!

While you might not think of holidays decorations as a promotional or marketing opportunity, if you really get into the season of the spirit and go all out with the decor, your customer base will notice and respond.  It’s important that you get really into your decorations though if you want to use your decor as a marketing opportunity.  Half measures won’t impress anyone, and if it’s obvious that you aren’t putting any effort in, your customers likely won’t notice or care.  However, if you go all out, everyone could be talking about your restaurant this holiday season.

After you have put as much time and money in decor as you can spare, make sure to promote your decor options through every channel that you can.  Reach out to your email lists and social media bases as usual, perhaps sharing some pictures of your favorite pieces of decor.  Consider even sending out direct mailing announcements if you have any experience with direct mailing in the past, urging people in your area to come into your restaurant and enjoy the festive ambiance and decorations.  As long as you make a big enough deal out of the season, other holiday lovers will respond, and may reward your efforts with patronage.

The Line Between Opportunism and Exploitation

As you take advantage of the holiday season to promote your restaurant, you always want to be sure that you are doing so in a tone that won’t turn off any of your customers.  If your regulars feel like you are taking advantage of the season and exploiting the spirit of the holidays, they won’t respond favorably.  Be sure to be genuine, have some fun, and get in the spirit of the holidays yourself, and your intentions won’t be misread.  Just make sure that you do what you can to keep your promotional efforts light and fun, and avoid looking like you are exploiting the season.