If you’re a New Englander, you’ve either accepted or resigned yourself to a few key truths: Tom Brady is the G.O.A.T., the only real clam chowder is white, and you’re going to be piled on by a few feet of snow every winter. But in addition to the annual January slump, a snow day for commuters can mean big dips in sales for restaurant owners.
So take a note from the pros. Many Boston-based restaurants have gotten proactive making sure to spread the word that their doors would be open and even offering “snow day” specials to entice patrons to venture out of their cozy apartments and make the trek to their local establishments in inclement conditions.
“A while ago, three years maybe, we decided to make it a point to message to our guests that whenever it snowed enough to result in a snow day we would offer a seriously discounted menu to incentivize people to get off the couch and come into the restaurant,” says Will Gilson, owner of Cambridge’s Puritan & Co. “Although our average guest check drops, the restaurant is full of people eating and drinking and having a good time together. It’s actually pretty amazing to see.”
We are lucky to have a reputation for staying open during snowstorms, and have become a snow day destination in Boston.
Caroline Markham of Boston cocktail bar Eastern Standard agrees that it’s a sense of conviviality and community that makes a snow day at a restaurant particularly enticing. “We are lucky to have a reputation for staying open during snowstorms, and have become a snow day destination in Boston,” she says. “Additionally, being next door to Hotel Commonwealth allows folks trapped in their hotel rooms to enjoy sustenance, a nice ambiance, and other humans.”
It’s a sentiment shared by many hardy Bostonians, including Patrick Lee of Harvard Square’s Russell House Tavern. “Depending on how big the storm is, business can dip significantly, but the locals that do come out appreciate that we are open. The shared experience between the staff and guests on these snowy days can create great memories and friendships,” Lee says.
But while the ambiance inside such establishments on snowy days is warm and uplifting, serious drops in sales can leave their owners’ coffers cold and empty. “We usually see a drop in sales—and by usually I mean, always!” laughs Ian Grossman, director of operations/partner of Andy Husbands’ The Smoke Shop BBQ in Cambridge. “Anywhere from 50- to 90-percent depending on the severity of the storm that is hitting our area, as well as which day of the week or weekend it may be.”
Jack Bardy, co-owner of jazz-influenced restaurants The Beehive and Beat Brasserie, located in the South End and Cambridge, respectively, says that his restaurants see a 30- to 60-percent drop in sales, depending on the intensity of the storm, and the day of the week. But, he says, “We still see a strong showing from our neighborhood regulars. We think of it as providing a service to our regulars.”
Gilson has found that it’s actually the day before a big storm that affects his business the most. “The news and media scare everyone into thinking that the impending snow storm is the worst natural disaster to ever strike the city,” he explains. “The supermarkets are cleaned out and everyone rushes home, making the traffic unbearable. The humor that I find in it is that we have these storms multiple times every year but still everyone freaks out. The day before a snow storm our business can drop as much as 60 percent.”
We fill all the seats, the staff is busy—which makes it worth while for them to come to work themselves—and the kitchen gets to be creative with the inventory we have. The guest check is lower but it still makes it worthwhile to everyone.
Markham agrees. “I’ve found that our sales tend to dip significantly the day before a big snowstorm when people are stuck in long lines at the grocery store stocking up on essentials,” she says. While Eastern Standard doesn’t offer any specials or deals to get folks in the door, Markham says they make efforts to let their patrons know they’re staying open. “We try to get the word out on social media that we’re open with our full menu, and have found that many guests request our hot cocktails such as the popular Hot Buttered Rum,” she says.
But other restaurants go the extra step, creating special deals only available on snow days, to encourage people. At Puritan & Co., Gilson offers a special three-course “storm menu,” including a select appetizer, entrée, and dessert for just $30, whenever it snows more than three inches. “Everyone loves a deal, and if they can get to us on foot then they get to capitalize on it,” he says. “It’s kind of like a public service and a neighborhood outreach, but idealistically we want everyone to feel like we are all in it together. We fill all the seats, the staff is busy—which makes it worthwhile for them to come to work themselves—and the kitchen gets to be creative with the inventory we have. The guest check is lower but it still makes it worthwhile to everyone.”
I think that over time a consistent special on days like this can generate a small increase in business. Hopefully we are building goodwill and fond memories for guests so that they will return at other times—not just snow days!
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At Russell House, Lee and his staff offer dollar oysters on snow days—including the recent Bomb Cyclone that rocked the area. “I think that over time a consistent special on days like this can generate a small increase in business,” Lee says. “Hopefully we are building goodwill and fond memories for guests so that they will return at other times—not just snow days! We offer $1 oysters every night after 11 pm, which generates a fun late-night crowd, so when we announce $1 oysters during snow events our guests are quick to respond!”
Winter isn’t over yet—not by a long shot. Check out all the snow specials in and around Boston, to be prepared with inspiration for your own menus when the next storm hits.