What Restaurant Owners Need to Know for the 2021 Holiday Season

After a highly restrictive holiday season in 2020, restaurant owners across North America are eager to bring back the bustling crowds for family reunions, corporate holiday parties and casual get-togethers that are often the norm for the month of December. However, Lightspeed surveyed over 600 restaurant owners and 1,100 diners from the US and Canada and found that your guests may not be quite ready to bring the parties back to restaurants this holiday season. 

In this article we’ll cover:

2021 Global State of the Hospitality Industry Report

Over 2,000 restaurant operators and guests share their views on restaurant technology, managing the labor shortage and how they envision the future of the hospitality industry.


What restaurant owners should expect this holiday season

Across North America, over one-third of restaurant owners currently expect to return to or exceed their pre-COVID holiday sales, fueled by the return of corporate holiday parties.

When asked about holiday planning, US restaurant owners surveyed said:

  • 46% expect a return to pre-COVID levels of holiday sales
  • 38% expect to exceed pre-COVID levels of holiday sales
  • 33% expect corporate holiday parties to return

In Canada, these expectations are lower, but not by much:

  • 32% expect a return to pre-COVID levels of holiday sales
  • 29% expect to exceed pre-COVID levels of holiday sales
  • 28% expect corporate holiday parties to return

However, while guests may be returning to bars and restaurants to dine out casually, a large planned-party season may not be in the cards. 

In the US:

  • 44% plan to meet up at a bar or restaurant for drinks and meals with friends and family
  • 39% plan to host a party for family/friends at a restaurant or bar
  • 31% plan to host a corporate event at a restaurant or bar

In Canada:

  • 15% plan to meet up at a bar or restaurant for drinks and meals with friends and family
  • 15% plan to host a party for family/friends at a restaurant or bar
  • Only 5% plan to host a corporate event at a restaurant or bar


Diversifying revenue streams to meet guests’ holiday expectations

While the demand and need for in-house parties and gatherings is lower than many restaurateurs are anticipating, that doesn’t mean the holidays will be a total bust for restaurants. The key, as we as an industry have learned the past two years, is to diversify your revenue streams and provide options beyond the dining room.

Gift cards

Forty-three percent of diners in the US and 37% in Canada plan to purchase a restaurant gift card this year, so stock up and start heavily promoting them from now until Christmas Eve to keep your restaurant top-of-mind for planners and last-minute shoppers alike. Plus, gift cards are a low-cost, high-reward way to gain extra revenue—the average person is sitting on $167USD worth of unused gift cards, resulting in pure profits for the business. 

Some popular gift card promotions around the holidays include:

  • Discounted gift cards. Offer a certain percentage off of the purchase price of a gift card. The percentage can get higher the more the customer spends. For example: 10% off gift cards up to $50, 15% off up to $100 and so on. 
  • Free item with purchase. Many guests will grab a gift card at the same time they come in for a meal or order takeout. Offer a free app, dessert or beverage with a minimum amount gift card purchase.
  • BOGO. When guests buy a gift card as a present, give them one to use themselves the next time they visit. This can also be a tiered offer where they get more for themselves the more they spend. For example: Purchase a $25 gift card and receive $5 for yourself, purchase $50 and receive $10 for yourself and so on.

Takeout and catering

Twenty-nine percent of US diners and 13% of Canadian guests plan to order to-go catering for a holiday celebration this year. While many restaurants will focus on the holiday itself and cater to traditional holiday meal items, many diners will be looking for unique offerings for small friend gatherings, office celebrations and other non-traditional parties. No matter what type of food your restaurant offers, start promoting your catering and family-style meals early and often.


While Americans (29%) are more enthusiastic about restaurant merch than Canadians (8%), you’ll want to offer your merchandise both in-house and online to capture last-minute shoppers and to offer as an add-on item to go along with gift card sales. (It’s always more fun to unwrap a present than just an envelope.)

Whether it’s t-shirts, hats, mugs, magnets or your restaurant’s famous sauce, make sure your merchandise is front-and-center. In-house, display them front-and-center so that guests can’t miss them; on your website, make sure your online shop is easy to find and promoted often on your social media accounts.

Looking for a technology partner to help you manage and streamline your operations through the holiday season and beyond? Get in touch with one of our experts to see how Lightspeed can help.

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