Although retailers, which include restaurants, feel positive about increasing sales during the 2013 holiday season, foodservice operators realize they must have a plan to manage through a more frantic time of year. Since there are 6 fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than in 2012, it is sure to be stressful for restaurants and other retail establishments.


However, many restaurant brands, especially those that are dependent on mall traffic, understand how to face a compressed holiday season. The key is to accept there is only so much that can be controlled.


Bill Dunn, president and chief operating officer of soft-pretzel giant Auntie Anne’s, said, “Approximately 25 percent of our sales occurs in the last 2 months of the year, so that’s what we’ll be measuring.”


Other restaurant leaders agree. Bill Gellert, a franchise owner of 4 Cinnabon locations in various malls through the New York metro area, realizes he has to go with the flow, even though he disagrees with shopping hours starting sooner on Thanksgiving Day. “I’m not a fan of it, but I have to strike when people are there.”


One thing he does feel good about is that this year’s Christmas holiday falls on a Wednesday. “We’re likely to get 4 days of a huge push December 21st through the 24th,” he said. “One way the calendar will help us is that Monday and Tuesday should be very strong days. It should alleviate some of the lost and traded-out shopping days.”


Rewards and Promotions

With the kick-off of the holiday shopping season starting earlier than ever before on Thanksgiving Day, retailers expected record numbers for its Black Friday sales. According to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, though, purchases fell 2.9 percent for the 4 days beginning with the Thanksgiving holiday.


Though the numbers were disappointing in the end, many restaurant chains went all out, developing highly creative programs to attract shoppers on Black Friday. The Lakewood, Colorado-based Einstein Noah Restaurant Group offered a catering special for businesses to feed its workforce. The deal included $1 per person at breakfast or $4 per person at lunch on this busiest day of the year.


Last In Concepts, the Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based multiconcept operator of 10 casual-dining restaurants, decided to give early shoppers an incentive with its discounts on company gift cards. The chain even designed a promotion in which from 12 AM to 11 AM on Black Friday, shoppers who visited any of the Last In Concepts restaurants received 50 percent off their bill with the purchase of gift certificates. From 11 AM through closing, the discount dropped to 25 percent.


This promotion also extended to Cyber Monday, where for every $50 purchased in gift cards online, Last In Concepts provided the shopper with a $20 Holiday Bonus that can be redeemed in January of 2014.


Although experts expect the shorter shopping season could amount to $1.5 billion in lost sales, restaurant operators and other retailers are doing their best to encourage consumers to make the most out of this busy time of year. The sheer number of special promotions and other reward initiatives may make a difference.


Fortunately, despite the challenges involved in a condensed holiday season, the National Retail Federation predicts that sales will rise by nearly 4 percent with online sales increasing by 15 percent. That’s good news for restaurant operators and retailers alike.


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