Killing Seasons: How Restaurants Can Beat Slow Months

Killing Seasons: How Restaurants Beat Slow Months

Slow seasons affect restaurants at different points of the year. For some, the summer months send business away to shoreline eateries or lake house tranquility. For others, the winter months’ frigid temperatures and snowfall keep patrons indoors and saving money. You can eliminate your slow season by adjusting your marketing strategy.  It takes some creativity and persistence, but you can avoid seasonal depressions and beat your 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

  • 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 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. 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.


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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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


Online Goliath

Killing Seasons: How Restaurants Can Thrive in Slow Months

Photo by Wilfred Ivan

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. Your social media accounts, newsletters, and overall online presence are a low cost way to increase marketing efforts.

  • Social Media: Increase your facebook, instagram, and all social media output. Get creative with it. Uncorkd has written about how interactive social media marketing can help to successfully launch a new menu. Many of these tips – announcing specials online, crowd sourcing menu item ideas, and giving out promotions – are great ways to thrive during your slow months.
  • Deliver Good News: If your restaurant has an active newsletter (which it should), utilize this to reach out to your followers. Promote specials, events, and any reason they should come to your restaurant.

Dust off Your Party Hats

Photo by Alex Holyoake

Photo by Alex Holyoake

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.

  • 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 Hours: Create more enticing happy hour deal to get people into your restaurant before they head home or make other plans after work.
  • 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.

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. Events are great for slow season. Especially 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.


Kyle Thacker

Kyle Thacker

Kyle handles marketing and PR for Uncorkd. Aside from bartending and restaurant management, he's covered the Chicago dining scene as a freelance writer. He enjoys Miller High Life and getting yelled at by Chicagoans for supporting Boston sport's teams.
Kyle Thacker