Restaurant customer pointing to a menu.
Adobe Stock

When it's time to retire your holiday menu at the end of the year, you want your staff to remember it fondly.

5 Tips for Building a Holiday Menu that Won't Drive Your Staff Crazy

Keep things simple, sustainable, and consider special dietary needs.

As the 2021 holiday season edges closer, you might be starting to think about offering a holiday menu. Holiday menus are a fun way to boost sales and give customers something new this winter season.

On the flip side, though, holiday menus can also mean more holiday headaches for your employees. New menu items can create more memorization for your wait staff, and new dishes can be an already complicated job for your kitchen staff. Add in the shadow of the global Covid-19 pandemic and a national labor shortage to the mix, and it’s never been more important to keep your staff’s wellbeing in mind when adding new holiday options.

There's no one "right" way to build a holiday menu, but your goal should be to provide a unique experience customers can't wait to come back and try again next year. This could include all new holiday entrees or a wintery spin on a traditional dish. But before you decide on which items to serve, consider how you can minimize unnecessary frustration for your staff. 

An over-complicated holiday menu that doesn't meet your usual standards can hurt business before it helps boost it. So how do you avoid these holiday pitfalls?

Here’s seven simple tips for creating a holiday menu that will make everyone happy to stay on payroll through January.

Tip 1: Simple, yet elegant

Creating a holiday menu means asking your staff to memorize a laundry list of new items, their ingredients, and the stories behind them. To prevent staff fatigue on the front-end, offer no more than 4 new menu items per category, (e.g., 4 appetizers, 4 drinks, 4 entrées, 4 desserts). This will help quicken the switch for staff, as well as streamline the choosing process for customers. Keep the menu items themselves as simple as you can. No server wants to say, "Compart Natural Duroc Scaloppine is Pork Tenderloin" hundreds of times per day.

Tip 2: Keep sustainability in mind

When developing your holiday menu, try to stick with ingredients you normally use for your regular menu. A grass-fed burger can become meatballs or a favorite wine can become sangria. New seasonal ingredients are fun, but if you add too many, you risk overcomplicating the job for your cooks and line cooks. Besides making memorization easier for staff, this will help offset ingredient shortages. Make sure to stay in touch with your local suppliers and stock up on packaged goods to keep a stocked menu.

Tip 3: Cover your dietary bases

Most restaurant staff know that juggling various dietary restrictions is an art form. Consider the following common dietary adjustments when planning your menu to help your servers out:

Vegans and vegetarians—Add one vegan entrée or a delicious meat substitute option to your menu.

Common food allergies: Avoid using milk, egg, peanut, soy, wheat, tree nut, shellfish, and fish throughout your entire menu. Diversify your portfolio of dishes to ensure there’s something tasty for everyone.

Religious restrictions: Make your menu transparent by including all ingredients used. Add a key to state if a dish is halal, kosher, vegetarian, vegan, etc. at the bottom of your menu.

While there’s no way to ensure that your entire holiday menu can adapt to every dietary restriction, covering the major bases will help your staff.

Tip 4: Receive feedback from staff

Your staff's lived experience may prove useful in developing your holiday menu. Create an anonymous survey to gather input on the menu, or host a staff tasting party. Make yourself available to answer any questions and listen to feedback with an open mind. The more input your staff has in the formation of your holiday, the more ownership of it they will feel.

Tip 5: Encourage up-selling

You may find that your most expensive entrée may not have the highest profit margin. Include plenty of upsell options for servers like seasonal appetizers or drinks. Share stories or unique experiences that went into building the menu with your staff. Stories that can easily be remembered will help servers upsell and consequently get bigger tips.

Tip 6: Create an online Holiday menu

A professional online menu with your holiday specials, holiday hours, and reservation details can make life much easier for your staff. Not only will it prime customers and help staff turn tables quicker, it can also help save time when fulfilling online orders. Then, sync your online menu to a POS system to help prevent a bottleneck of orders.

Tip 7: Remind customers to be kind and tip well

Many restaurants will experience slower-than-normal service this holiday season. Include a message on the front of your menu thanking customers for their patience in advance. At the end of the meal, add a note to the receipt copy reminding customers to tip well. Make generous tipping easier by auto-generating percentages they only have to circle.

Happy staff, happy holidays

To review: keep things simple, sustainable, and consider special dietary needs. Take your staff's feedback in stride. Create opportunities to upsell and prepare guests with a beautiful online menu. Don't forget to remind customers to be kind to your staff and tip generously.

When it's time to retire your holiday menu at the end of the year, you want your staff to remember it fondly. That means doing a little more work up-front that will pay itself off. In the end, happier staff will mean happier customers and more holiday income for your restaurant. Good luck, and happy holidays to you and your staff.

Sydney Ahmadian might be the world's biggest peppermint mocha fan and is a resident copywriter with