PR Machine: Turn Famine to Feast

Sharp ideas to get butts in seats.

From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve, the holiday season is one big profitable blur of sold-out nights, company parties and higher check averages. But when the confetti settles, reservations start looking lighter.

Well-timed, appealing promotions can boost business during an otherwise sluggish period. Buy-one-get-one offers, date-night deals and coupons for future visits are just the start—you’re limited only by your own creativity.

FIND A HOLIDAY AFTER THE HOLIDAY

You could call them faux holidays, but national fill-in-the-blank days have gained traction in  recent years. “Social media has been the impetus behind the growth of those days. They’re kind of internet-created holidays,” says Michael Caldwell, marketing team leader for Margaritas Mexican Restaurants, which has more than 25 locations in the Northeast.  

Margaritas Mexican Restaurant picks up traffic after the holidays with National Margarita Day on Feb. 22. The group runs a weekend-long celebration that includes games, giveaways, $5 margaritas made with a partner tequila brand and premium options for diners looking to upgrade. “We have the deal-seekers, but we also have the ones who don’t mind spending the money; they want the premium tequila,” Caldwell says. 

It’s not a stretch to say there’s a food or drink holiday for almost everything: Jan. 4 is National Spaghetti Day; Jan. 11 is National Hot Toddy Day; and Feb. 2 is National Tater Tot Day. The list goes on. Choose celebrations that are relevant to your concept.

“When you get a full buy-in from all your people, that translates into that positive experience for guests. The energy comes from the top,” Caldwell says.

CATER TO RESOLUTIONS

In the weeks following Jan. 1, New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier can keep diners at home or lead them only to restaurants that serve lighter food. That presents a challenge for restaurants serving heavy cuisine, such as the rich Creole fare served at Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group’s seven New Orleans-area restaurants.

To meet demand for healthy options, RBRG restaurants offer a spa plate promotion, which features dishes of lean protein, whole grains, vegetables and lighter sauces. For example, Cafe B in Metairie, Louisiana, offers gulf shrimp with a light Creole tomato sauce and green onion quinoa, while Red Fish Grill in New Orleans serves wood-grilled lemon fish with roasted Roma tomatoes, grilled red onions, sauteed baby spinach and tarragon-Dijon vinaigrette. 

RBRG runs the promotion in tandem with a companywide weight loss competition for employees, Get Fit with Ralph, which Brennan launched in 2012.

MAKE PROFITABLE PARTNERSHIPS

In Las Vegas, wintertime is high season, while tourist traffic slows during the hot summer months and from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. “This is your time to experiment and keep the staff inspired and involved,” says Chef-owner Rick Moonen of Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood and RX Boiler Room in the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino.

During the busy months, wine dinners can be a pain, Moonen says. However, slow times are ideal for partnering with liquor companies with budgets to promote their products. He teamed up with Southern Wine & Spirits to host Skinny Summer Sip & Savor, a health-focused networking dinner for women at RX Boiler Room in mid-June. New wines were paired with gluten-free, pescatarian and vegan courses. Southern brought in a large number of women, creating buzz about the restaurant and introducing it to a new audience, Moonen says.

Chefs can also serve as a source for inspiring partnerships. “Get together with other chefs to promote your core values, your causes,” Moonen says. He’s planning a November dinner with Chef Ned Bell of Four Seasons Vancouver and nonprofit organization Chefs for Oceans to raise awareness about sustainable seafood. “You’re putting butts in seats, and we all know the most expensive thing in the restaurant is an empty seat.”