Slow Season: 5 Ways to Survive a Slow Restaurant Season

Nicole Georgiev
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    The hospitality industry is seasonal, and it’s proven through restaurant seasonality. Seasons affect different restaurant establishments in various ways. However, they all seem to experience the slow season, even with efficient business systems

    One day you may find yourself begging to get customers to walk through the door and the next you’re turning them away due to reaching max capacity. So, how do you survive the slowest months for restaurants?

    Slow restaurant season usually occurs when there’s a drop in business. This can be either in the summer or winter due to different factors, such as the location of your restaurant. Slow seasons are expected to happen each year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare for restaurant success

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    Slow Season Meaning for Restaurants

    The slow season meaning for restaurants refers to a time period where business drops and establishments start competing for fewer customers. There is a smaller customer pool which means that most establishments have to increase their restaurant marketing strategies. One way to do this is by offering restaurant promotions.

    Every company will experience a slow period, even if they aren’t a seasonal restaurant. The source of the slow season is easy to identify when you use the proper tools such as POS analytics, location, and the time of the year.

    It’s possible for restaurant businesses to experience slow periods that are not due to holidays or the change in weather. These are unexpected changes and are considered dangerous because the source is not easy to identify. In turn, it can be difficult to plan for or combat the slow period. 

    What Is the Slowest Time In the Restaurant Industry?

    The slowest time in the restaurant industry tends to occur during the winter season (December through February) and after the North American religious holiday period. However, the slowest time for each restaurant may vary based on the establishment’s location, the weather, and its offerings. 

    Most restaurants will see a temporary drop in customers at some point during the year, no matter where they’re located. As a restaurant manager or owner, it’s crucial to keep track of these slow periods. This will allow you to plan ahead.

    Changes in the restaurant industry are common and hard to avoid. Implementing proactive measures will provide you with many opportunities to keep customers walking through your doors. 

    Key Takeaway: The slow season may be tough for most restaurants to deal with. However, there are ways to combat the slow months and bring customers in year-round.

    2 Slow Season Factors That Impact Business

    Seasonal changes have a huge impact on the fluctuation of business in the restaurant industry. These changes make owners rethink their restaurant marketing budget and seek out new restaurant marketing tips. Common slow season factors that impact business include winter weather and seasonal holidays.

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    1. Winter Weather

    Cold and harsh winter weather often has a negative impact on the restaurant business. During the winter, customers are less inclined to travel and go outdoors. This includes dining out at restaurants, especially during icy or snowy conditions. 

    Fewer customers results in emptier restaurants and a decrease in food sales. However, a way to increase restaurant sales during this time may include offering the best food delivery service possible. This will allow customers to use online menu ordering platforms and online ordering apps

    Having an online ordering platform for your establishment may increase restaurant sales during the slow season. The restaurant ordering platform you use, such as Revolution Ordering’s Order One platform, will capture and transmit the order and allow you to finish the order fulfillment process without customers being physically present.

    2. Seasonal Holidays

    Restaurants often see a decline in customers during holidays and major occurrences like sports events and large concerts. This is due to the fact that customers are less likely to venture out to eat during this time. Instead, they’re focused on spending time with their families and preparing meals on their own. 

    However, fast food and casual dining restaurants often thrive during the holidays while dine-in restaurants suffer. This is because customers are more likely to grab a quick meal in between running errands, shopping, and entertaining guests. 

    5 Ways to Survive a Slow Restaurant Season

    There’s a lot that restaurants can do during the slow season to get customers coming in the door. Even the slowest months for restaurants can be profitable. If you're interested, check our article on are bars profitable.

    Here are five ways to survive the slow restaurant season: 

    1. Run Events and Promotions

    Promotions don’t just mean menu specials and sales. While those are suitable ideas, there is also room for creativity when it comes to promotions. The promotions should make people keep your restaurant’s name in conversation. 

    Such promotions may include hosting live music events, cooking classes, or trivia nights. These events and promotions will get the drinks and food flowing across the tables, even during the slower months. 

    It’s also possible to offer certain promotions to your most loyal customers through your restaurant loyalty program. Your loyalty program may feature exclusive discounts, menu items, or promotional events.

    You may even consider offering happy hour deals during certain hours of the day. Explore different happy hour times and happy hour themes to take advantage of. 

    2. Take Advantage of Holidays

    While some holidays may slow down the restaurant business, they can also be great opportunities to bring in fresh business. Taking advantage of the holidays by running food and drink specials may increase foot traffic to your restaurant. 

    Holidays such as New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day are great examples. Consider hosting New Year’s Eve parties, champagne toasts, Valentine’s Day dinner promotions for two, and Galentine's parties for the ladies. 

    3. Ensure the Freshness of Your Ingredients

    It’s common for restaurants to get rid of inventory at a slower pace during the slow season. That’s why it’s crucial to implement strict inventory control methods and take advantage of proper inventory management practices. 

    Common inventory management techniques to follow include using the FIFO method. FIFO stands for first in, first out. You may also consider investing in restaurant inventory software to automatically update your stock levels. 

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    4. Offer Delivery

    It’s no surprise that cold weather keeps people indoors. With that being said, if your restaurant business is negatively affected by the cold weather, you may want to consider bringing your food to your customers. This is possible through delivery or curbside pick up options. 

    Promoting your delivery options during the off-season may increase your restaurant profit margin. You can calculate your profits using a restaurant profit and loss statement

    Consider having different types of menus, including a separate delivery menu. Be mindful of the fact that not all food is deliverable. Raw seafood and fried foods should be eaten immediately and are not often a good idea to include in your delivery menus. 

    The food items you deliver should maintain the same quality level it would have if served at the restaurant. This will ensure customer satisfaction

    5. Seasonal Changes

    During the slow season, it’s common for customers to look for reasons to get out the door. A way to get them into your restaurant is by offering limited-time menu changes. This is possible with a seasonal menu.

    Seasonal menus create a sense of urgency for the customer because the selections are only available for a limited time. They also promote the use of fresh produce and seasonal flavors. This means that the dishes your restaurant prepares will be full of flavor. 

    Offer in-season menu items and give customers what they’re craving during the off-season. This will help you get them in the door even when business is slow.

    Frequently Asked Questions About the Slow Season for Restaurants

    The slow season may feel like it’s dragging on. However, if you want your restaurant to thrive, there are ways to combat the slow period. Here are some commonly asked questions about the slowest months for restaurants and how to survive during this time. 

    What Are the Slowest Months for Restaurants?

    The slowest months for restaurants are typically between January and February, after the holidays. However, some restaurants may experience slow periods during the summer months, depending on their location. The slow period for a restaurant is determined by its location, the time of the year, and its current offerings. By calculating inventory turnover, you have the ability to determine how much of your inventory you're selling and when.

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    How Do Restaurants Deal With Seasonality?

    Restaurants deal with seasonality by offering specials, seasonal menus, delivery options, and taking advantage of holidays. By implementing minor restaurant changes and adapting to certain changes, restaurants will thrive year-round. 

    Does Restaurant Business Decline In the Winter?

    Yes, restaurant business will typically decline in the winter. However, not all restaurants experience their slow season in the winter. In fact, some restaurants have their busy restaurant season during the winter, such as those located near skiing and snowboarding areas. 

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