By Nathan Sykes, Contributor
Just like everyone else, restaurant owners need to prepare for the inevitable winter, except your to-do list can be even longer sometimes. There's a variety of seasonal tasks you should take on to ensure your establishment is ready to serve patrons all winter long, safely, comfortably and memorably.
Let's take a look at five of the biggest ones below.
Tackle Building Maintenance Items
Every structure has needs that change throughout the year and according to the weather outside. And for buildings located in wintry climates, this kind of maintenance is even more critical. A lot can go wrong on your premises when the temperatures drop if you don't take precautions. Here are some of the top-priority maintenance items to tackle:
Have a professional inspect your heating system before each winter, and make sure to change the air filter regularly.
Tackle pest control. Restaurants do constant battle with pests, but extra critters come indoors in the winter.
Have a professional appraise your plumbing system. The last thing you want is a burst pipe during peak business hours.
Preventive seasonal maintenance is your chance to make sure your entire building and its infrastructure not only looks spic and span, but also presents a cozy, comfortable and, above all, safe environment for your patrons.
Make Seasonal Menu Changeovers
Seasonal menu changes are about far more than just pumpkin hysteria every fall. Every patron out there, no matter how much they love a particular restaurant, gets a kick out of a menu switch — especially if it takes advantage of seasonal changeovers in available fare, like seafood and produce. Then, naturally, there's the question of comfort foods. We eat even more for pleasure in the wintertime than the summer, imbibing hot beverages, chowders, soups and more.
You don't have to mix up your whole menu, but you should add some cold-weather favorites. Also, take a look at everything that becomes available in your region in the wintertime, such as cranberries, artichokes and avocados in California, and come up with novel uses for them. And if you serve alcohol, you might have a grand time looking at some favorites that become more widely available in the winter, such as stouts and porters, plus beers incorporating chocolate, coffee and other rich, soothing flavors.
Sometimes, just keeping a couple of old-fashioned soup kettles going all winter long is a great way to entice holiday shoppers and revelers to come indoors for a spell.
Consider Adding a Delivery Program
Not many of us go out of our way to be outside when the temperatures drop and the flurries begin. As a result, the demand for high-quality food delivery services sees an uptick in wintertime. Is this the season you finally pull the trigger on adding delivery services to your menu? Doing so might help you recover some of the foot traffic you'll lose as conditions take a turn outdoors.
There are a few caveats here, naturally. One mistake some restaurants make when they add delivery to their capabilities is allowing the quality of the food to take a back seat to convenience. Don't do this. More than 80% of restaurant patrons will think less of the restaurant itself, rather than the delivery driver or courier service, if the roasted vegetables arrive mushy or a once-piping-hot soup or fresh-baked calzone arrives lukewarm.
If some of your foods travel better than others, perhaps consider a separate take-out menu. But if you don't want to make compromises, maybe the thing to do is nix one-at-a-time deliveries and add a full catering service during the winter instead.
Address Snow Removal & Other Customer Safety Concerns
It's time to consider the reason for the season: all the snow we can expect during a typical winter. An impassable parking lot means guests can't reach you, which is an unnecessary reason to see your profit margin shrink this season.
Restaurants have some options on this front. Establishments that open first thing in the morning might have to pay a premium for priority snow removal. If your restaurant opens later in the day, for the lunch and dinner crowds, you've got some breathing room and might even be able to negotiate a discount from a local plowing service that performs a lot of higher-priced rush plowing in the mornings, but isn't as busy later in the day.
What you probably don't need to sign a contract for, however, is caring for your steps, ramps and walkways. All of these, and even your interior floors, can pose a trip-and-fall hazard for your patrons. Apply de-icer outside regularly on your trafficked surfaces, and if you have tiles or other potentially slick walking surfaces inside, consider putting down durable area rugs, so all the salt and melting snow has someplace to go besides puddling onto your floor.
Get Proactive About Your Staffing Needs
Finally, remember how important it is to ensure shift coverage throughout the winter. Even if you plan to close your doors to observe some of the seasonal holidays, there are still the days and weeks before and after, when employees will likely have vacations on the brain and will be requesting time off.
Your trends from previous years can help take some of the mystery out of the process, and it will likely help you determine which portions of the season, if any, you'll have to bring new hands aboard to pick up the slack.
With these precautions, suggestions and tasks in mind, you should be well on your way to an enjoyable and profitable winter — and be in an even better position to repeat the whole thing this time next year.