Creative Restaurant Marketing Ideas for the Holiday Season

The holidays are a challenging but potentially profitable time for restaurants. Demand picks up, as does competition from other restaurants. Developing a robust holiday marketing plan well ahead of time is crucial for success at this time of year. 

These creative holiday promotion ideas for restaurants can help you stand out from the crowd and build lasting customer relationships.

And of course, remember that no matter how you decide to get creative with your promotions this holiday season, keep your staff and customers’ safety top-of-mind. Restaurants operating during the COVID-19 pandemic face a special challenge this holiday season. Always keep local regulations and CDC recommendations as a priority when developing your holiday marketing plans.

Get the tools and guidance you need to find new customers and keep your regulars coming back for more.

Send a holiday card

One simple, inexpensive marketing approach is sending a holiday card to wish customers a happy holiday season and let them know about your holiday promotions. 

Motivate customers to spend part of the season with you by offering a BOGO coupon or small gift card. Keep mailing and printing costs down by creating a postcard version of your holiday card and get more bang for your marketing buck by repurposing this content on different platforms. Share a digital version of your card on your social media channels or as part of an email campaign.

Offer a special family takeout meal

Offer your customers the gift of time by taking care of a special holiday meal. You can put together some of your most popular dishes or go off-menu and create a takeout menu brimming with traditional favorites. 

You’ll also need to decide if you want to offer hot takeout meals or dishes that your customers can heat up at home. Don’t forget dessert!

Share your takeout promotion on social media early in the season. Encourage customers to schedule their holiday meal pickup well in advance so you can plan accordingly and create maximum anticipation. 

Create a special holiday menu

Invite customers to come out and enjoy your limited-time holiday menu. It’s up to you to decide if you’ll replace your standard menu with your holiday menu or offer a short list of additional holiday specials. 

Tease your holiday menu on social media by revealing some of the details, but promise some holiday surprises for customers who dine with you. 

Offer a holiday gift with purchase

restaurant holiday promotion ideas
Including a bonus gift as part of your holiday promotion is a generous gesture your customers will appreciate during the season of gift-giving.

Thank your valued customers while enticing new customers to try your restaurant by giving away a small gift with purchase. Here are a few ideas:

  • Small bonus gift certificate with the purchase of a gift certificate of a certain amount
  • Exclusive glass or beer stein with purchase of a holiday drink special
  • Free dessert with purchase of an entree
  • A branded calendar for the upcoming year

Promote your holiday gift-with-purchase campaign through email, in print advertisements and mailers, and throughout your social channels. 

Incentivize your staff

Boost staff morale and increase sales by incentivizing your staff. For example, you could offer cash bonuses for servers who sell the most holiday drink specials or gift certificates. 

Remember, your staff members are juggling their own busy holiday schedules outside of work. If your holiday promotions work as you hope, you’ll be keeping busy all season long — which is great for revenue, but a potential recipe for stress for your workers. 

Be sure to let them know how much you appreciate their help all year. Not only will this boost in morale improve the work environment, but service will shine too. 

Target your best customers with an exclusive gift

Choose a handful of your most frequent, loyal customers and send them an exclusive, high-quality gift. For example, commission an exclusive, branded holiday ornament or a box of mixed chocolates and send the gifts directly to customers’ homes or offices. 

Include a handwritten note encouraging them to order catering for their holiday meals or come in for your special holiday menu. While this promotion is more expensive per customer than other options, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy a high rate of engagement with this technique. 

While you’ll be reaching out to a targeted group of customers, don’t forget to publicize this promotion to a broader audience. Consider establishing some parameters that qualify customers to join the elite group next year: “Dine with us 21 times in 2021 to receive our exclusive holiday gift, reserved only for our most loyal customers.” 

Introduce a holiday savings coupon book

Issue a coupon book or page of coupons with weekly deals throughout the holiday season. For example:

  • Week one: Free appetizer with the purchase of an entree
  • Week two: BOGO free holiday drink specials
  • Week three: Dessert to-go with the purchase of an entree
  • Week four: Percent off discount
  • Week five: Gift certificate for future dining with purchase of dinner and a drink

Make sure you include a mix of discounts that appeal to different customer segments. This promotion is well-suited for print advertising, but you can also create a digital version of this campaign for email and social media

Offer printable coupons as well as coupons customers can pull up on their smartphones. You can also send out text messages to remind customers of each week’s holiday deal. 

Partner with a local charity 

Support a local nonprofit and build goodwill in your community by sponsoring a toy or coat drive. Act as a collection point for the drive and promote your involvement through email and social media. You might also consider reaching out to local media for more publicity. 

Another way to support several nonprofits at once is by donating a percentage of sales to different charities on specific dates. Publish your list of dates on social media and in your print advertisements, encouraging customers to come in for a great meal and a great cause.

Promote your charitable partnerships with an email campaign that introduces customers to your partner charities. Include links for customers to make direct donations — this will underscore your authenticity in addition to helping some deserving local organizations.

Offer limited-time holiday desserts for pick-up

If your restaurant has a pastry chef or a fantastic dessert crew, showcase their talents by offering holiday pies, cakes, cookies, and other treats available to order and carry out. Invite customers to order their desserts ahead of family gatherings all season long. 

Spread the word through email marketing, print ads, and throughout social media. Include gorgeous photography of completed desserts to entice customers to place their orders as soon as possible. 

Host holiday-themed happy hour events

restaurant holiday promotion ideas
A holiday-themed happy hour will be a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the season.

Create a calendar of holiday-themed happy hour events like World Holiday Trivia Night. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic restricts our ability to gather, you can get creative and find ways to power on safely — including hosting a virtual event. You’ll foster a festive atmosphere throughout the season and give stressed-out customers a fun break.  

Promote your happy hour events in all the usual spots (email, social media, and print ads). After each event, feature photos of the fun on your social accounts.  

Make the most of the holiday season

The holiday season poses many challenges for restaurants. Customers and staff are being pulled in many directions, and your competitors may be stepping up their marketing game as well. You can stand out from the crowd by offering your customers recognition, appreciation, and ways to make their busy holiday season a little less expensive and stressful. 

The Constant Contact guide to online marketing for restaurants is filled with tips that can help you showcase your holiday promotions and improve your everyday marketing efforts. 

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