7 tips to boost restaurant covers in winter

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Harvest Newrybar is extending its Sourdough Breakfast hours over winter

When the winter chill sets in and darkness descends earlier and earlier each day, it’s understandable that even the most fanatical foodies could be tempted to stay indoors under a doona and order in instead of heading out to dine.

At this time of year, restaurants and their chefs need to work harder to entice them out to dine. Here are some tips to encourage patronage during the colder months and help restaurants increase sales.

1. Extend breakfast hours

Harvest Newrybar head chef Alastair Waddell has noticed over the years that customers like to stay in bed longer during winter, so the restaurant is extending its Sourdough Weekend hours, from 10am to 1pm, to enable regulars to have a relaxed morning and still have time to stock up on their baked goods.

“As well as the famous sourdough and pastries we will also increase our offering with individual pizzas, calzones, flat breads and meat skewers straight out of the 116-year-old wood-fired oven to be enjoyed in the warmth of the bakery, surrounding gardens or taken away,” he says. And seeing the flames of a fire is also lovely in winter.

2. Highlight seasonality

Waddell also says winter vegetables are just as exciting as summer veggies and it’s great to showcase the seasonal produce on offer. “I love cooking with Jerusalem artichokes, Brussel sprouts and local pumpkin,” he says. “We also have many wild greens that Peter Hardwick, our forager and wild food researcher, collects for us, such as chickweed, swamp dock and wild cress to play with.

3. Winter cocktails

As well as a hearty winter menu, including a fish pie and prawn curry, Love.fish owner Michelle Grand-Milkovic suggests creating a few cheeky winter cocktails.

Its menu includes a Flaming Winter Spice concoction – a flaming hot toddy with old river rum, orange jam, winter spice (cloves, star anise, wattle seed) and cinnamon. The restaurant also offers blankets and portable heaters and closes off its indoor space to make sure the space is as toasty as possible.

4. Offer that little bit extra

Kids dine free deals, a free glass of wine or special invitation-only event might be the bait that gets patrons out their door and into yours, Chefs Garage founder Grant Jones says. “Also make potential customers feel special by going to the trouble of using their first name from your database when you invite them to an exclusive event,” he adds. Inviting a winemaker to be a guest speaker could also help bookings roll in.

5. Target visiting friends and relatives

While local clientele tend to support their favourite restaurants regardless of the season, food and tourism marketer Holly Galbraith suggests winter can be a time to reach out and reward local loyalty plus remember that these people often have visiting friends and relatives in town. “The VFR (visiting friends and family) market, of course, relies on advice from friends/locals to guide their decision making on where to eat, so restaurants marketing to locals will translate to a broader market,” she says.

Tactics to attract the VFR market could include geo-targeted Facebook ads directly mentioning an offer for those with visiting friends and relatives, cross promoting with other local businesses such as gyms and sporting clubs and creating menus that showcase the best of the local area. “This could be suppliers, produce or even the local highlights so visitors feel like they are gaining local insights,” she says. Galbraith also recommends promoting the stories of local staff and their insights in the local media or across your own social media channels and considering working with guest chefs from a ‘rival’ area to create special dinners or other events that will appeal to locals and their visiting friends and relatives alike.

 6. Capitalise on special events

Rebecca Lines, co-owner and head sommelier at Banksii Vermouth Bar and Bistro at Sydney’s Barangaroo, says venues should leverage special events happening in the area. “Create themed drinks and dishes that are available for a limited time only,” she says. “For example, we partnered with Martini to create several light up cocktails for this year’s Vivid.” 

 7. Make sure your venue is warm

Ensuring your restaurant is warm and free of drafts is crucial, according to Ken Burgin from hospitality equipment funding company Silver Chef. “Floor staff are always on the move and usually don’t feel the cold, but customers sit still and notice it,” he says. “Do a temperature and comfort audit of your whole restaurant space – check near doors and windows. When you have chilly areas, people will ask to move and won’t be back. Fix the drafts, screen the front door, install more heaters and offer knee rugs, so 100 per cent of your seating space can be filled with happy customers.”