How to Plan for a COVID Festive Season

In any other year, ask someone in the hospitality industry how they are during the festive season and you usually get one answer, ‘Busy!’ But this year is a different festive season. This year is the year COVID-19 engulfed the planet and changed almost everything. 

As restrictions ease across the country, hospitality venues can finally welcome guests back into their dining rooms, albeit under COVID-19 rules and restrictions. 

Restaurants that never offered takeaway and home delivery in the past now have it as part of their business models, dining has time limits, hand sanitisers and waiters with masks are ‘normal’. 

Just how is the industry preparing for a busy December, COVID-style? What we do know is that many are playing it safe with this unpredictable virus and staying their course while making sure their guests have a wonderful experience. 

Set menu stays the course 

Dylan Campbell, co-owner of Southeast Asian diner Sum Yung Guys in Sunshine Beach, Queensland adapted the business after the national lockdown and will continue on that path into December. 

“We are currently restricted to 50 diners per service where we used to have 85,” he says. “We also cut back on the number of services to have one team working from Wednesdays to Sundays.”

One thing that was pivotal to their adaptation was introducing a set menu at $65 per person, children included. 

“Some people are happy to pay $65 for their kids, others aren’t, and that’s okay. We had to guarantee a minimum spend from a business perspective,” Dylan says. 

They plan to maintain this set menu structure through the festive season, although they may change a handful of dishes. They will open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, from December 14 to accommodate tourists, who mainly visit from other parts of Queensland and South Australia. 

Embracing the city and the sea

In Victoria, chef and restaurateur Peter Roddy who owns French bistro Noir in Melbourne’s Richmond is fastening his seatbelt for this festive season. He is reopening his ‘newish’ restaurant, Pier Street in Port Arlington on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula, which he opened for ten weeks over summer 2019/20 before he had to close the doors due to lockdown.  He’s hiring staff and preparing for a beach-side Christmas with a seafood-focussed menu and a small grocery offering of eggs, coffee and wine retail. 

At Noir in Richmond, Peter has had to change their reservations focus leading up to Christmas. “We can’t take large bookings and have been having to decline Christmas party requests because of restrictions,” he says.  Even though they can’t take large groups, they are turning over tables. “We are currently experiencing Christmas-level trade and expecting it to continue,” he says, “with an a la carte menu and great support from our locals.” 

Through using OpenTable, Peter has established a savvy bookings framework for the small restaurant, accommodating 32 people inside and 22 outside for two dinner sittings Tuesday to Saturday and lunch on Sundays. “We need to watch it so carefully, and keep on top of staffing, too.” 

Deck the Halls with Diversification

The Grossi family, one of Melbourne’s most respected hospitality families who own and operate, Grossi Florentino, Grossi Grill, The Cellar Bar, Ombra and Arlechin established Grossi a Casa during lockdown. The home delivery and takeaway service extended the menu and their hospitality ethos into people’s homes. It’s here to stay. 

“Grossi a Casa is in full swing for the foreseeable future,” says Carlo Grossi. “We plan to keep it going as diversification of product and revenue streams are so important.” 

The Grossis are planning hampers, lunch packs and a festive menu leading up to December 25. “We’ll have specials rotating regularly as well as traditional sweets like Christmas puddings, Panforte and Torrone,” says Carlo. The Festive packs also include; Grossi olive oil, jars of grappa cherries, jars of Midnight Sauce, Granola and Grossi Prosecco. 

High End Favourites Bring it Home  

Providoor, the food and drink delivery platform, from Shane Delia of Maha Restaurant was established during Victoria’s lockdown and is growing exponentially. 

The platform works with top-tier and quality restaurants – think Cutler & Co., Flower Drum, Hazel and Lucy Liu, among many others – across Melbourne to deliver meals to homes throughout Victoria. They are expecting to boom over the festive season. 

Each restaurant is putting together a specific occasion menu. There’ll be barbecue packs, traditional European Christmas lunches with roasted meats, gravies and vegetables alongside Australian Christmas dishes of cold salads and seafood and canapé selections for New Year’s Eve parties.

Each restaurant plans to express their brand and style with the at-home version of who they are this time of year. 

Shane Delia’s Maha will be in the mix on the Providoor platform with a scaleable canapés menu, as well as menus to celebrate Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve for delivery. 

Working with customers and communicating clearly was always vital in the hospitality industry. Now, as businesses adapt to a new way of operating and the new frameworks being built to help businesses and customers, anticipating need and clear communication are more important than ever. 

Prepare for a successful festive season with this 2020-specific checklist pulled together with input from chefs, restaurateurs, and other hospitality experts.

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