As the year counts down to a close, the holiday season begins to ramp up for stores around the country. Thanksgiving and Black Friday are only days away, and Christmas is quickly rising over the horizon. For restaurants and bars, the unofficial opening to the holiday season comes a little sooner on what’s come to be known as Black Wednesday.
Around the country, families are gathered, college students are home for the holidays for what amounts to a winter break, and people are looking to reconnect with friends they likely haven’t seen for an extended period. All of this together adds up to a night of drinking and festivity that some bartenders and restaurateurs say rivals or surpasses New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day in terms of patron turnout and sales, potentially tripling or quadrupling regular Wednesday night business.
Being one of, if not the busiest nights of the year, it takes special preparation to make sure the night goes smoothly and successfully…
And it all starts with staffing, and getting out ahead of the rush. First off, schedule appropriately. Anticipating the rush can help you get ahead of it, help you maintain it, and keep patrons happy throughout the night without putting undue stress on yourself and your employees. Not to mention, employees looking for a few extra hours will find ample opportunity on this busiest of bar nights. Proper staffing isn’t just ensuring that all hands are on deck and battening down the hatches. It’s making sure that the night runs efficiently, and preparing to do just that ahead of time. In the words of BevSpotter and veteran bartender Chris Bobola:
“Black Wednesday is a unique, mid-week ‘party’ where everyone is getting home for the holiday and getting the chance to see old friends. This is a night where you can expect a large showing from the younger demographic at the bars. Restaurants will see a bump for dinner but bars will see significant traffic post-dinner.”
“A lot of this is depending on locations also. Neighborhood spots where people are coming home to will see a busy night. City spots without a large residential might not have the same type of business. Staffing based on historical numbers is a great measuring stick (meaning, look at historical performance of the establishment on Black Wednesday – provides a measuring stick for type of business you can expect). This can give you some guidance on staffing pars.
Can definitely be a wild night where monitoring your guests is important. Being proactive where you see necessary to cut people off assures you don’t lose control of the room and run into problems.”
It isn’t just making sure the staff is on hand. Preparation can be vital. Make sure that your staff communicates with one another. Know what to do in case of an emergency or upset and rowdy patrons. The better trained and prepared you and your staff are, the higher the likelihood that every holiday night is a success for you and your patrons.
And while it is beneficial to lay in extra staffing to manage the crowds, it will also help to avoid having to 86 your best performers later in the week. With a potentially chaotic night in the middle of the week, extra staff or an effective technology-driven solution afford restaurants and bars the ability to take a mid-week inventory not only for a potential additional order to replenish supplies, but also to take note on sales throughout the night and the holidays that follow if they don’t already.
Thus informed, savvy restaurateurs can ensure not only preparation for future Black Wednesdays but can avoid over-ordering and wasting money when in fact they could be positioning themselves for a fantastic night.
Despite all of the potential, yet easily managed, doom and gloom, Black Wednesday and the weeks of holidays that follow are superb opportunities to turn good nights into great ones. Customers are looking to get shopping done, and are receptive to and even expecting deals and promotions while they both shop for Christmas and holiday gifts and take a break from the rush to eat, drink, and relax.
For stores that offer gift cards, these promotions offer free extras such as buy $50 get an additional $5 or $10 and double as a way to encourage more business at a later date. Taking a tip from big-box retailers, a common method is to load the bonus money onto promotional gift cards that don’t activate until after Christmas, thus encouraging repeat business, rather than having a patron buying gift cards simply to earn free money they can use immediately. Other common promotions such as buy one, get one merchandise, meals, or drinks can increase business, customer goodwill, and add on the potential for repeat business.
For all this advice, most customers don’t come to any one place for a specific drink or meal. They come for the atmosphere, the attitude, the place that they know they can enjoy themselves with friends and family before Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or whatever holiday they plan on celebrating.
A restaurant that actively plans their inventory for a busy night, and schedules and trains staff to deal with the rigors and inevitable frustrations that come with the high traffic, will find themselves in a position to not only succeed on one of the busiest nights of their year, but to thrive.