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How to Create a Profitable Restaurant Holiday Menu

How to Create a Profitable Restaurant Holiday Menu

Jenny Day

Jenny Day

For restaurant operators looking for creative ways to entice crowds into their restaurants to increase sales volume while driving profitability with popular low-cost dishes, a holiday menu might be the answer.

What is a restaurant holiday menu?

Holiday menus are temporary menus designed and created for specific holidays and typically feature seasonal favorites and incorporate foods that are purchased and consumed while at their peak. Holiday menus will change based on the occasion and time of year.

What is the purpose of a restaurant holiday menu?

While your normal menu is great, you can help your patrons celebrate even more with a specific holiday menu. Holiday menus are a great way to temporarily expand your restaurant menu, connect with new customers, and bring in extra money. When you offer a holiday menu, you’re encouraging people to come try new dishes and drinks while the season lasts, and diners will jump at the opportunity.


The Ultimate Guide to Recipe Costing & Menu Engineering

What are the benefits of a restaurant holiday menu?

Taking the time to craft small menu additions that use popular holiday flavors and foods allows you to make a sustainable expansion. You can offer your guests a new, special experience without breaking the bank with too many new ingredients or confusing your servers with too many new items to memorize.

Efficient inventory management

From a logistical standpoint, the pre-set menu facilitates efficient inventory management and cost control for restaurant operators. With a set menu, chefs can accurately forecast ingredient requirements and minimize food waste by utilizing ingredients across multiple courses. This strategic approach to inventory management helps restaurants optimize their supply chain, reduce overhead costs, and improve overall profitability while maintaining quality and consistency.

Streamlined restaurant operations

A pre-set menu streamlines the dining experience for both guests and restaurant staff. By offering a set menu with predetermined courses, chefs can plan and prepare dishes in advance, optimizing kitchen workflow and reducing wait times. This streamlined approach enables restaurants to deliver efficient service without compromising on quality, ensuring a seamless dining experience for patrons.

Reduced labor

Holiday menu items are more predictable and are often batch-cooked items which can decrease labor needs and ticket times during peak service hours. Consider budget-friendly comfort foods that include chili, stew and soup, meatloaf, or pot pie. These options are always a big hit in the cold winter months.

Lower food costs

Foods that are in season cost less. It is a simple rule of supply and demand. As seasonal crops become abundant, farmers can sell them at lower prices based on sheer volume, giving operators better buying power.

Quicker table turns

By eliminating the decision-making time before ordering and providing servers the ability to quickly bring out pre-prepped meals, servers can reduce their table turn times without making guests feel rushed. Customers will be happy with decreased wait times and speedy food service while your restaurants will be able to serve more people, leading to increased profits. It’s a win-win situation.

Stay On Top of Trends

Just like food trends, beverage trends, and produce trends, the holiday restaurant menu trend is one that establishments should follow in the restaurant industry. The world is ever-changing and to stay relevant, restaurants must adapt to the changes and trends to stay competitive.

Holiday menus allow restaurants to stay relevant and on top of their game year-round. This is what will keep customers coming back and interested. The current trends may be Pumpkin Spice flavored dessert for the fall season or a hearty beef stew to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Whatever it is, the goal is to keep people talking about your restaurant.

Increased marketing power

A pre-set menu can serve as a powerful marketing tool to attract new customers and drive revenue growth. Repeat customers may be delighted to see new menu options being offered for their date night. Change, even when temporary, can pique the interest of a current customer base and put a restaurant on the radar of new prospects looking for something different to try.

Why your holiday menu should include seasonal flavors

Including seasonal produce into your holiday menu improves the flavor profiles. The taste of seasonal menu items is just as important as the cost savings allowed. Most of the food that operators purchase is held in warehouses and transported quite a distance before it ever makes it into inventory, which affects the taste. Buying locally grown seasonal items allows us to create great dishes with higher quality, flavor, and texture using fewer ingredients.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, spring fruits apricots, kiwi, pineapples, strawberries, bananas, and more. These could be incorporated into salads, cost-effective batch desserts such as cobblers, and even muddles into delicious cocktail specials to use up leftover fruit on hand.

Summer vegetables include bell peppers, green beans, okra, summer squash, eggplant, corn, celery, and more. While some of these vegetables might sound pedestrian, they can also be transformed into luxury menu items like eggplant parmesan or a velvety corn chowder.

Fall brings in several comforting seasonal vegetables that are perfect for pleasing crowds looking for traditional Thanksgiving comfort foods. Think Brussels sprouts, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and yams, turnips, parsnips, rutabagas, and winter squash.

Winter produce is very similar to fall produce. The good thing is that many of these warm, comfort foods can be offered well before and after the holidays. Perhaps daily or weekly specials are just what your customers are looking for to fight off the cold weather.

Also, be sure to source locally when you can. Sustainable eating is on the rise, and diners are increasingly health-conscious and mindful of the food they eat. Partnering with local farmers to get ingredients on your holiday menu creates a fresh dining experience that highlights the origins of your dishes to attract customers.

How to create a profitable restaurant holiday menu

The first step in creating a profitable restaurant menu is menu costing, which refers to breaking down every item on a menu to its individual ingredients and determining exactly how much it costs to create each dish.

If operators choose to do this process manually, start by listing all ingredients used in a specific menu item. Be sure to include items such as spices and cooking oil. Then calculate the cost of each ingredient in a specific dish based on the cost of the individual food items used to prepare it. Do not include labor costs in the menu item calculation.

For example, if one egg costs $.17 and three eggs are used in the sweet potato breakfast hash, the egg cost for the dish is $.51. Repeat that step with the sweet potato, bacon, bell pepper, seasonings, cooking oil, etc. to calculate the total costs of ingredients. Add the cost of purchasing those items (only the food cost percentage related to the food items in the specific recipe) to the cost of ingredients to arrive at the food cost for the sweet potato breakfast hash.

Beyond tracking usage, it’s important to track the yield from each food item to get an accurate cost on recipes, especially on items used in multiple recipes. Operators need to know how much yield they get from each sweet potato to determine the total cost of each recipe. Update recipe costing (the ingredient cost portion) every time there are price changes in food items from suppliers. 

Restaurant holiday menu design tips

Once operators have created profitable recipes, it’s important to guide guests to these menu items in the short time they spend looking at the restaurant menu. While much of restaurant menu engineering can be measured with data, some of it can also be based on psychological behaviors and trends.

Consider these psychological tips and tricks to nudge customers towards ordering specific dishes.

  • Use visual cues to highlight specific menu items. Place a box, asterisk, or label special or new items in each menu section as “new” or “for a limited time only.”
  • Mimic the “Golden Triangle” concept, coined by psychologists, which shows that our eye movements tend to start in the middle of a visual first, then the top right corner, and then the top left. Place your key dishes in these naturally highlighted areas.
  • Psychology studies also show that people tend to remember the first and last item in a series. Place the most profitable dishes either first or last in each section to guide customers to order those items.
  • Present your pricing information within item descriptions, prompting customers to focus on the item rather than the price.
  • Avoid using a non-round number (like $8.99) and keep it simple by pricing only in 50-cent increments. The item cost would appear on the menu as 15 or 15.5 rather than $14.99 or $15.50.
  • Use appealing language to describe your items. Instead of describing your seasonal dessert as, “apple pie,” try “fresh, seasonal apples covered with our chef’s signature caramel sauce with a hint of cinnamon and spice.” The more elaborate description commands a higher price point.

Alternative ways to display a holiday menu

Since holiday menus are temporary, consider these less expensive yet hard-to-ignore alternatives.

  • Table tents
  • Chalkboards or whiteboards
  • QR codes
  • Digital menu boards
  • Floor signs
  • Sandwich boards
  • Window markers

How to upsell a restaurant holiday menu

Now that you have created a delicious holiday menu, it is important that your staff is trained to properly sell these items through the art of menu recommendation. Menu recommendations are more than just suggestions to customers who are unfamiliar with your new holiday menu. Proactively training your staff in the art of menu recommendations and upselling can boost everything that your restaurant business thrives on: sales, positive experiences, and strong relationships.

Other benefits of upselling a restaurant holiday menu over your traditional menu when it is available include:

  • Improves the customer experience and retention through server engagement
  • Reduces food waste by quickly moving product on-hand
  • Lowers food costs through the use of seasonal or locally sourced ingredients
  • Boosts your bottom line by advertising higher-margin dishes and upselling compatible cocktails or desserts
  • Optimizes staffing by increasing sales of fast-prep dishes

How to use data to determine if your holiday menu is profitable

Evaluating restaurant data from your financial reporting software will let you know if holiday menus are a good idea for your business. By understanding the analytics of your top-selling items, as well as your items with the highest profit margin, you make crucial decisions about which items to promote, which to discontinue, and which holidays just are not a good match for a special menu.

According to Investopedia.com, there are four types of analytics that all businesses should use. All these analytics are crucial to the restaurant industry because they use customer data to figure out if your holiday menu is doing well and where it could use some help.

  1. Descriptive analytics: This describes what has happened over a given period of time. Have the number of customers gone up? Are sales stronger this month than last?
  2. Diagnostic analytics: This focuses more on why something happened. This involves more diverse data inputs and a bit of hypothesizing. Did the weather affect anticipated beer sales during St. Patrick’s Day? Did that latest Valentine’s pre fixe menu impact sales positively or negatively?
  3. Predictive analytics: This moves to what is likely going to happen in the near term. What happened to sales the last time we had a holiday menu? How can you plan better for the next holiday?
  4. Prescriptive analytics: This suggests a course of action. If a convention is planned on March 1st, then inventory and staffing will need to be increased to meet demand.


A holiday menu can help grow a restaurant’s profits and improve guest satisfaction. Incorporating these temporary menus into your existing restaurant menus will help you grow your business. At the same time, you’ll have the chance to take advantage of the delicious fruits and vegetables that are in season and stay on top of food trends.