Winter and the coming holidays provide a wonderful opportunity for marketing your brand. With so many festivities in motion, this can be one of the most crucial times of the year to promote all aspects of your restaurant. No matter what their religion, consumers enjoy eating, drinking and being with family during the holidays. Of course, local or state laws may impose restrictions and dine-in capacity limits while the pandemic continues. For any holiday promotion held at your pizza shop or restaurant, make sure you follow all pandemic-related restrictions to the letter to avoid problems. Enforce social distancing and mask/facial covering rules and do your part to keep the coronavirus from spreading.

Even with the pandemic going on, the holiday season provides ample ways to increase profits and get the community involved. But planning ahead is crucial. Determine what specials and sales-driving promotions you’ll want to create, and devise a timeline for execution. Here are 8 tips to get you started:

1. Partner and give. The holiday season is a great time to give to those in need. Partner with a local organization, such as Toys for Tots or The Salvation Army, to donate money or goods to charity during the holidays. Place a donation box or bin in your restaurant for guests to donate canned goods or toys throughout the holiday season. Be sure to create a flyer or poster for the event, promote the event heavily on social media, and provide event information to the area media and surrounding businesses. Make sure you invite the local press or foodie influencers to participate!

2. Decorate. With the weather getting chilly, people want a comfortable, cozy and inviting atmosphere to make them forget about the winter weather. Put candles on the tables; decorate in holiday colors, such as metallic shades of red, green and silver; and incorporate other touches, such as mistletoe in doorways and poinsettia plants at the register.

3. Merchandise. When guests are busy shopping during the holiday season and stop in for a bite to eat or to pick up an order, be sure to appeal to their holiday impulse-buying behavior. Have a well-lighted merchandise shelf or unit with signs and prices for T-shirts, mugs, sauces, or any other examples of your brand’s signature items. If your pizzeria has enough merchandise items, put together gift baskets and display them with signs and pricing. Spice up the holiday atmosphere with branded items for guests to purchase, and make sure to feature photos of these items on your Facebook, Instagram or Twitter accounts.

Related: Thanksgiving pizzas have become a holiday tradition at pizzerias nationwide

4. Create a holiday treat. Offer festive treats for a limited time, such as a dessert or beverage on your menu that uses traditional holiday flavors, or incorporate seasonal ingredients, such as pumpkin spice, cinnamon or peppermint. A special pumpkin spice latte, peppermint cheesecake or pumpkin pie can be a welcome addition to your holiday dessert menu, or you can even hand out small cookies in a little bag with your restaurant logo on it as a thank-you at the end of the meal or with to-go orders. Find a local bakery to provide the specialty items at an inexpensive price for you to sell, or ask your food distributor about holiday items.

5. Motivate staff. Get your staff excited about the holiday. Create a contest for a specific menu item or beverages with a holiday focus or launch a gift-card selling contest. Make the prize for the staff winner something valuable, such as cash, gift cards or movie passes (they’ll probably prefer cash). Have a holiday party for your staff members to thank them for all of their hard work. This is a great opportunity to show how much you appreciate them.

6. Sell gift cards. Gift cards are an easy and instantly satisfying gift, and it’s important that you make them accessible and obvious to your customers. As pandemic conditions likely worsen this winter, remind customers that these gifts will be great for their friends once things get better! Create an interesting display that attracts the attention of your customer right when he walks in the door. Use lights and decorations with your logo and a holiday theme to interest your guests. Another way to increase gift card purchases is to create an offer with purchase, such as “Buy a $25 gift card and get a $5 gift card for you!” Create a staff contest to see who can sell the most gift cards, and let them help promote the specials.

7. Give back. Be sure to send holiday cards to your staff, important community members, nonprofits and businesses that have helped your business throughout the year. Send an email blast to loyal customers thanking them for their business all year. Once again, make sure that you order holiday cards well in advance so that they are delivered in time.

8. Plan for the new year. Finally, get excited about the approaching new year. Let’s assume a vaccine is coming and that business will start booming again! Meet with your team to talk about their goals for the upcoming year. Develop a promotional calendar for the coming year—which months will you promote which items? Add any important dates (i.e., school’s out, anniversary of your business, new menu item introduction, etc.) to the calendar. Be sure to share the year’s plan with your employees to keep them involved and motivated, along with clear expectations for after the holidays.

This article, written by restaurant marketing consultant Linda Duke, has been edited and updated from the original version that appeared in the January-February 2012 issue of PMQ Pizza Magazine.

Marketing, Web Exclusives