Ho! Ho! Ho! How does your restaurant tap into the holiday season?

Some concepts look to indulge their guests with unique menu items, while others embrace a more whimsical approach.

The Sublime
Latitude 41 Restaurant, a Dean James Max concept that serves modern American cuisine, is going for the indulgence route. Beginning on December 9th, the concept, located in the Renaissance Columbus Downtown Hotel, presents holiday-themed cocktails for its “12 Days of Christmas” promotion. Chef Michael Koenig spoils customers with a special cocktail of the day, such as Chocolate Peppermintini, featuring cream de cacao laced with peppermint schnapps and Godiva chocolate, or Three Wise Ohio Men & A Baby, with two kinds of bourbon—Bulleit and Oyo—Ohio maple syrup, and a cream topping.

At New Orleans’ Red Fish Grill, the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group looks to regale with its Redvillion menu, a twist on recipes from a classic Louisiana Créole Christmas Eve feast, available through the month of December. Chef Austin Kirzner creates regional specialties that honor the region’s rich Créole heritage, such as Duck Confit Louisiana Citrus Salad with Plaquemines Parish Citrus and Roasted Portabella Mushrooms, and Charred Tomato Lobster Beurre BlancAlso on the menu, a crimson signature Redvillion cocktail—a Jingle Julep with house infused cranberry and rosemary simple syrup, served with Maker's Mark bourbon over powdery crushed ice and garnished with fresh cut mint.

The Ridiculous (or At Least Very Silly)

Houlihan’s Restaurants looks to spread holiday cheer—and offset some of the stress affiliated with the season—with its annual White Elephant Gift Exchange. Think of it as the ultimate re-gifting event. Participants send a “gift so bad it’s good” to Houlihan's Restaurants headquarters in Kansas. In return, they receive (in the mail) a white elephant gift sent in by another participant, along with a $25 gift card to Houlihan's. The rules are simple—no gift is too wild or weird, but it has to have an approximate retail value of  $10, with the understanding that it can be difficult to assign value to some gifts (i.e., that 25-year-old animated Hula dancer still in its box). All “gifts" have to arrive at headquarters by January 3, 2014.

For guests looking to avoid the post office, or who can’t bear to part with their white elephant, a photo contest via social media is also in play. Using #HouWhiteElephant, participants post pictures via Instagram or Twitter of their worst holiday presents and are entered into a photo contest. The first-place winner is rewarded with free Houlihan's for a year (a gift valued at $1,200); two second-place winners each receive $100 Amazon gift cards.

Topping the ridiculous chart are “Ugly Sweater” parties, which have taken on a life of their own (there’s actually a website called myuglychristmassweater.com). While an extremely popular bar or lounge event, restaurants, too, are getting in on the fun. Entoria Restaurant Wine Bar in Sacramento, California, is holding its annual holiday party and ugly sweater contest on December 21st. Customers are treated to canapés and wine while mingling with the competition for the best—or worst—ugly holiday sweater. The contest winner receives a grand prize $150.00 gift card, second place receives a magnum of Rombauer Cabernet, and third place receives a bottle of champagne.

By Joann Whitcher

Beverage, Industry News, Marketing & Promotions, Houlihan's