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The college students you hired for the summer that leave in the fall, the spike in takeout orders on the day before Thanksgiving, and the dip in sales during the coldest months are all indications of restaurant seasonality. Being in the restaurant business is all about ups and downs, but there are ways to plan for restaurant seasonality changes so that you are always fully staffed and bringing in as much revenue as possible.

Seasonal Factors Affecting the Restaurant Industry

How Weather Affects Restaurant Seasonality

Warmer months will be the time where most restaurants see their highest sale due to increased tourism and locals spending more time out and about. In addition to that, many restaurants will have increased seating capacity outdoors and are more inclined to host events like live music that brings in more business.

In the winter months, restaurants will generally see a decline in business. This is more likely to be the case for restaurants located in cold, snowy climates, especially if they don’t offer any delivery or to-go options. 

How Your Location Affects Restaurant Seasonality

Your restaurant’s seasonality could be affected more by your location than the weather, especially if you are in a college town or an area that is popular for skiing and snowboarding. For areas like this, it’s important to pay attention to the population data rather than the temperature. A restaurant in a college town, for example, is going to need more help during the school year and possibly slow down in the summer. You will also want to be aware of all the local college and university graduation schedules when planning for restaurant seasonality, as you will need extra staff to cover the spikes in reservations on those weekends.

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How Menus are Affected by Restaurant Seasonality

Your menu will be affected by two things related to restaurant seasonality: what is available and what people are craving. Luckily, these two things often overlap. Adapting your menu as the weather changes will help you keep up with the demand for hot hearty stews in the winter and fresh, vibrant salads in the summer.

5 Ways to Plan for Restaurant Seasonality

1. Come Up With a Cold-Weather Game Plan

Like we said, restaurants tend to take a hit as the weather gets cold, and that is especially true now with the ongoing pandemic causing indoor dining to be limited at capacity at best. Now more than ever it is crucial to have a solid online ordering system in place for to-go orders. And even if you don’t normally offer delivery, consider offering it temporarily if you live in an area that gets very cold during the winter months – it may not be as expensive as you think.

2. Plan Ahead for Seasonal Restaurant Staffing Needs 

One of the biggest headaches (and costs) you’ll face as a restaurant owner is staffing challenges. Restaurant seasonality coupled with a high industry turnover rate means you always have to plan months ahead to ensure you are fully-staffed, but not over-staffed.

After business slows in the fall, there is likely to be another pick up from Thanksgiving to New Years, especially if your restaurant offers holiday staples to-go or as catering options. There are many people looking to pick up some seasonal shifts for extra shopping money, so hiring temporary seasonal help won’t be too hard. When things start to pick up for most restaurants in late spring/early summer, you’ll need more staff. Hiring high school and college students to fill these gaps is beneficial for both you and them, as they will be returning to school just as your high season tapers off.

Get more staffing tips in our guide: Staff Management in the Restaurant Industry

If you are in a college town or in an area that is popular for ski season, the above factors will be different for you, but the basic principles are the same. Look back on previous years to see the peaks and valleys in your sales data to help you plan your staffing needs for the upcoming months. Which brings us to the next point…

3. Use Your POS Analytics

If you can’t remember exactly when your busy season began or ended, or just how much business you did last New Year’s Eve, your POS should have your back. By looking back at your POS data you will be able to see how much staff you had on each week, how many people you cut early, your total sales volume, most popular dishes, and more. Using the information from last year, you will be able to plan even better for restaurant seasonality this year, saving on labor and food costs, streamlining service, and offering up the exact items your guests are looking for.

4. Get Creative With Seasonal Menu Ideas

The Caprese salad that was a huge hit this summer won’t go over as well once those vine-ripened local tomatoes disappear in late fall. Take a look at your POS data from last year to see what sold best, check with your vendors and local farmers to see what they have to offer and re-create those dishes or something similar. 

5. Ramp Up Marketing When Restaurant Seasonality Takes a Dip

Menu changes, seasonal events, and holiday promos will only bring guests into your restaurant if they are aware of them. Make sure you are keeping guests informed of everything that is going on in your restaurant via social media, email marketing, and in-house promotions.

Why is turnover is so high, what is the actual cost, and how do you fix it? Find the answers in our Staff Management ebook.

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Written by   |  
Stephanie is a Providence, RI native and eight-year food industry veteran. As Upserve's Content Marketing Coordinator she creates materials that help restaurateurs, managers, and service professionals succeed. When she's not writing, Stephanie is most likely traveling, cooking, or trying new restaurants.
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