Party On!

Ilya Moshenskiy

Restaurants are preparing for the month-long celebrations that come with the December holidays. Are your menus ready?

As the winter holidays approach, restaurant operators and chefs are trying to be extra-inspired in their culinary creations and planning. It’s all part of an effort to draw more companies, organizations and cadres of friends to celebrate the season with them.

Even though it’s still early for making predictions, restaurateurs are guardedly optimistic that holiday bookings will continue to improve over previous years that were snagged by the Great Recession of 2008.

Most operators report a slightly higher or similar number of Christmas parties being scheduled this year, both in the restaurants and catered, than in 2010. Dollars budgeted are up a little, too.

Although December sales are not quite as important to restaurants as to retail stores—the holiday season represented nearly 20 percent of total retail industry sales last year, according to the National Retail Federation – they are still vital for an eatery’s business.

Mother’s Day is the busiest “holiday” for restaurants, with more than a third of the nation’s moms dining out on the second Sunday in May. Independence Day and Halloween are bigger days for holding parties.

But the Christmas season stands out, because it lasts an entire month, capped off by New Year’s Eve parties.

“December is always one of the largest and most important months for restaurants,” says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the research and knowledge group for the National Restaurant Association, which claims more than 380,000 restaurant members.

“Expectations for retail sales are definitely higher this year over last, and restaurants should mirror that situation,” he adds. “While sales growth might still be modest compared to historical rates, it’s still a positive environment.”

A cautious outlook

The retail federation is predicting holiday retail sales will rise 2.8 percent this Christmas season, half of last year’s increase. So, while there is room for optimism, it’s tempered.

Many of the culinary trends that are appearing during the holidays this year are similar to the overall trends that full-service restaurants have been seeing.

“This may well be the year of the heirloom everything and the year of the local everything,” says Clark Wolf, a veteran New York food and hospitality consultant. “We will be celebrating and giving thanks for what we have around us.”




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