How to Increase Business During the Restaurant Slow Months

// By Alayna Rouse // , Mar 27, 2019

Topics: Restaurant Management

Whether its the freezing winter, the holiday season, or healthy new year's resolutions, a slow business season is expected every year. But, there is still hope! No one can resist a great deal or a night of fun, so below is a list different ways restaurants can attract customers during their slow months.


Hidley-Ho Neighborino!


Restaurants should constantly be marketing to local business and residents. But even if you have an inkling of a feeling that you should be doing more to court the folks with whom you share a zip code, then your slow season is the perfect time to increase those efforts.


Ideas to Make Fast Friends with Neighbors


  • Birthday Benefits: Everyone loves to celebrate their birthday and what better way to do that than with a free birthday treat! The options are endless and completely up to your business on what you think would be the best gift. Some examples are a free drink, a free appetizer, or even a free entrée. This can this bring in a customer, but also most individuals celebrate with friends leading to larger groups and orders. One way to collect birthday information is through your website, which will increase traffic and give you the opportunity to  inform customers of other events and promotions being held.


  • Free Drink Promotion: Handing out free drink cards can be a great way to drive business into your restaurant. But first, make sure that your state liquor laws allow you to use discounted drinks as promotion. If so, then go for it.
    • Give cards out to the good people who work at businesses in your area.
    • Give them cards to hand out to their own customers, friends, and family.
    • Send cards to the homes in your area, and give them ongoing discounts based off of their zip code.


  • Work with Local Businesses: Reach out to local businesses about hosting events at your restaurant. It could be for a company's holiday party or a recurring happy hour session hosted at your restaurant.


  • Local Fundraisers: A great way to gain the support of the community is through giving back. From supporting the local baseball team to the local animal shelter, there are several different ways for you to give back. This can be accomplished through re-naming drinks or menu items to fit the occasion and donating a certain percent of the earnings.loyalty card creative

  • Local Loyalty Programs: Creating loyalty programs for people that live or work directly in your area is a great way to build relationships and create return customers. It can be a lot easier to encourage previous visitors to come again than constantly searching for completely new ones. Building a loyalty program that offers specific incentives and deals for customers in your zip code is a great way to keep your restaurant on locals' minds. Here are some awesome loyalty programs you can use at your restaurant! 
    • Referral Program: Some of the best individuals to bring in new customers are your current ones. Friends are more likely to take recommendations from those they know and offering referral benefits will surly put your establishment at the top of someones referral list. 
    • Points System: With each visit customers can earn points based off the amount of money spent. Different point levels can unlock different benefits. A great option for bars during the winter time is to offer skip the line privileges to high point earners. During the winter this can be a deal breaker to customers that don't want to wait in the cold.

    • Punch Cards: Punch Cards are a great way to encourage repeat visits and can be used for food items or drinks.


Trim the Fat


When the times get tough the tough tighten their belts, buckle down at all costs, and never say die despite the blood, sweat, and tears they shed in order to stay ahead of the game. That was a lot of clichés. But clichés are used for a reason, they help keep undeniable truths in mind. And during slow months for restaurants, the truth is that you need to cut spending and labor costs.


  • Skeleton Crews: Cutting labor is key during slow months. But you must have a strategy for reducing the amount of staff on schedule. Look at your sales and covers per night from your previous slow season and use this as a metric for staffing needs as you enter into your slow season.
    • Keep Committed Staff Members: Slow months mean you're generating less money for your business. But your staff is also subject to the financial hit. Give preference to full time staff who are committed to your restaurant and those who are high performers.
    • Clear Communication: Cutting staff can be difficult, but communicate to your staff that your business has seasonal ups and downs and that employee performance and commitment will factor into who gets preference on shifts.



  • Seasonal Hours: In theory, you want to keep consistent hours so your customers also know when you're open and when you're not. But if reducing hours will positively impact your restaurant, then it can be done. But whether you close an hour early, or eliminate an entire day from your operating hours, communicate this clearly to your customers. Remember this check list:
    • Update your website to reflect new hours
    • Make sure third party websites like Yelp or Google list your adjusted hours
    • Stay consistent with your decision


  • Reduce Spending: Cut your liquor costs. Many restaurants experience lulls in January and February, right after the holidays when people are committed to new year resolutions of spending less and living healthier.
    • Distributor Deals: At the end of the year, many distributors are looking to hit sales goals and reduce inventory. To do this, they offer really advantageous discounts on liquor, wine, and beer. Take advantage of lower product costs in December to reduce your January spending and increase your margins on products.
    • Separate Budgets: To help curb spending, create separate budgets for your slow months. Depreciating budgets are the easiest way to track spending. Budgets only work if you stick to them, so treat them as gospel and make sure you stay within your spending limits.


Download Backbar's Liquor and Drink Cost Calculator


  • Trim Your Menu: Analyze your food and beverage menus and take off low performing menu items. Use menu engineering as a strategy to identify high cost items that aren't generating enough revenue.


Online Goliath


Slow months means that restaurants are competing for fewer customers. Your marketing to customers has to increase in order to grab the attention of a smaller customer pool. Hosting new events and different promotions are great ways to drive new customers, but these efforts can be wasted if there is little to no awareness.Your social media accounts, newsletters, and overall online presence are a low cost way to increase marketing efforts.


  • Deliver Good News: One way to achieve better awareness is through email newsletters. They provide the prefect way to inform customers of exciting new deals and events.


  • Social Media: Increase your facebook, instagram, and all social media output. Get creative with it. Some great tips are announcing specials online, crowd sourcing menu item ideas, and giving out promotions - are great ways to thrive during your slow months.Creating Facebook events and sharing fun pictures of different events is a great way to let potential customers know what is going on at your restaurant too. 


Dust off Your Party Hats


The bottom line for staying successful during your slow months is that you have to change how you normally do business. Reservations and walk-ins reduce, so you have to find new ways to bring customers in.


  • Influencers: Visibility is very important and another way to reach a larger audience is to work with local influencers. These individuals have strong follower bases on social media and are able to communicate with their supporters easily through social media. By providing influencers with a special coupon for their supporters or them documenting their experience ,is a great way to bring in new customers and spread the word about different events.


  • Host networking events: Reach out to other industries that could benefit from your restaurant as an event space. There are many networking groups, charity organizations, and businesses that will want to use your restaurant. Hosting these events is a great way to increase traffic, and also draw new customers into your restaurant that may not have normally visited your establishment. happy hour createEspecially if the event requires a ticket to attend. This gives you more revenue to use, and gives you the opportunity to test new dishes, and find success outside of normal service.


  • Happy Hours: At most places happy hour menus never change and can get old rather quickly. So changing up your happy hour menu can get customers excited all over again.


  • Off Season Pop-ups: Pop-up restaurants are seriously becoming a thing. And they are more than just novel ideas, or ways for chefs to serve meals without an actual restaurant to call home. A pop-up event can be really fun. But recreating yourself in your off season for a limited time can be a great way to drum up press and business. A pop-up lets you explore new territory , work out new ideas, and even tap talent from other restaurants in your area. Obviously, a pop-up doesn't have to be long term. You can run one for a weekend, or a week. What they will do is give customers a new and exciting reason to visit you.


  • Live Entertainment: What better way to liven up a party than with live entertainment. This can happen with local bands performing on slower nights or even on the weekend. Another option is with open-mic nights. Different performers bring friends and family for support and tons of business for your restaurant or bar.


  • Themed Nights: Themed nights can take many forms. For instance they can focus on your food and drink menu such as Taco Tuesday. On the other hand, themed nights can be aimed at attracting a particular customer. For Instance ladies night, singles night, or a decade night. These fun events can get customers excited to visit your establishment while also having a great time. 


  • Game Day: Game day is huge money maker and with  different sports running year long, this is the perfect way to bring in business during the slow months. Between College Basketball and the NFL playoffs, there are tons of sports fans looking for the best places to watch the game. Game day specials and different sports related events are the perfect way to attract new and old customers a like. Some creative ways to stand out is with speciality game day food and drink menus.


Key Points

  1. Surviving the slow months means you have to change how you normally do business. Business as usual won't work in this environment.
  2. Marketing is supremely important. You've got to keep your restaurant in front of customers' eyes. 
  3. Get creative! Change up your menu, host an open mic, the options are truly endless. The more creative you become the more you standout to customers and can even turn your slow season into a peak season!
Alayna Rouse

About the author, Alayna Rouse

Alayna is currently a marketing intern at Backbar. As a current graduate business student she stays up to date on all the newest marketing trends. She is also a wine enthusiast who has traveled the world studying wine and alcohol production.

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