Holidays – off peak or peak?

(13 /02 /2015)

Guest Blogger: Natasha Wicks has her say…

Everyone deserves a holiday, right?  You work hard, do long hours and generally, front up to the “office” for 48 weeks a year…you definitely deserve that four weeks break!  But for those in the hospitality sector, particularly cafés and restaurants, is shutting up shop for a week or two actually a good idea?  I know, I know – I just said everyone deserves a break!  But consider this…

The holiday periods like Easter and Christmas are pretty much boom times for hospitality businesses.  People are on holidays themselves, they’re relaxed and have time to sip a coffee or savour a lazy lunch.  And there are a lot of people about!  Go into any café during school holidays, particularly in these prime holiday periods, and you will be sure to see parents having coffee and milkshakes with their kids probably spending more than they normally would. I certainly enjoy a freshly made espresso at my local café, even with the cherubs in tow who get thoroughly spoilt I might add, during my holidays.

But back to the question at hand – what are the risks of small hospitality businesses taking a break particularly during these peak times?  My local café did in fact close for two weeks over this recent Christmas break.  I only knew about it because I’d grabbed a coffee on their last day of trading and the barista mentioned it.  I didn’t see any signs indicating the closure period and I certainly didn’t see any advertising in my local paper.  I obviously wasn’t the only one as I observed a number of customers showing up for coffee and lunch dates the following day who were obviously left disappointed once they realised the café was closed.

Two things come to mind here – one, the loss of potential earnings from patrons was obvious and two, the potential for bad word-of-mouth from customers who’s expectations weren’t met.  The other thing I observed is that when the café did reopen, customers again weren’t aware so there were staff at the ready with no one to serve.  So money wasn’t being made but worse still, money was being lost in staff wages.  Things are back to “normal” now that most people have returned to work and the café is busy once again.

But how can customer expectations be managed when you want to take a break?  And can you avoid the post-holiday “lull”? I don’t think we can realistically expect these small hospitality businesses to give up their holidays but I think there are ways to account for loss of earning potential and manage the “lull” that inevitably occurs after reopening.  Advertising of the closure period needs to be undertaken to ensure patrons know what to expect; perhaps its worth considering employing a “skeleton” staff for the first day or two after reopening or until patron numbers increase to normal so excess wages aren’t being paid out; maybe consider a small price increase to help cover the potential earnings loss during the holiday break; or consider taking a reduced holiday during peak times and having a longer break at another time during the year.  Certainly cafes and restaurants in holiday “hot spots” remain open and do a roaring trade – maybe this is part of the answer, consider your location to determine whether closing for a break makes good business sense.

So what do you think? I’m sure there’s no one answer to this issue and perhaps a combination of approaches will work for your business but I’d be very keen to hear how you’ve tackled this issue and whether or not you’ve had a holiday!

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