Improving restaurant sales through increased foot traffic and customer retention is a year-round effort, and maintaining that growth through the holiday season can be incredibly difficult. Nearly 61 percent of restaurants notice a decrease in patrons during holidays, especially during the depths of winter when people are more apt to stay home and avoid inclement weather.

A few wise marketing changes can offset seasonal sales losses and maintain — or even increase — foot traffic and customer bills. Here are a few tips to help restaurants weather the holiday season and increase sales.

10 TIPS TO IMPROVE RESTAURANT SALES DURING THE HOLIDAYS

Offer Seasonal Menus

Seasonal menus tap into people's "FEMO" – fear of missing out on deals, experiences and limited-time opportunities.  Create a seasonal menu that panders to traditional holiday foods and incorporates a unique twist by using locally-grown spices and creative recipes to entice new and old customers alike.

Seasonal drinks, like pumpkin lattes, eggnog and spiked hot chocolates, are a perfect add-on to any order, require minimal preparation and can increase overall ticket sales.  Discover what drinks and seasonal treats are trending locally, either through social media, web searches or Google Trends, and then feature those options during holiday marketing campaigns. To tap into people's FEMO factor, in a positive way, remind your servers to mention the holiday menu and emphasize the treats are only available for a limited time.

Pass Out Menus or Flyers

Once the seasonal menu is developed, create three different versions:  an in-house menu, a shorter hand-out menu for street marketing, and an online menu for social media and your restaurant's website. The holiday menus should be simple, colorful, concise and emphasize the menu offerings that have limited availability. If personnel are available, hand out the street menus in front of nearby stores to attract hungry shoppers and passersby.

Partner with local retailers to boost holiday sales

Consider using your holiday menu to partner with nearby retail shops.  Turn your menu into a special offer coupon, advertising deals for both you and your new partner store(s) for referring customers to one another. For instance, customers can pick up the flyer in one of the partner stores to receive a 15% discount at participating businesses.  While the holidays add a fun and time-sensitive element, this concept could be adapted for year-long use.

Improve the restaurant's social media presence

Relatable and frequently updated social media accounts are necessities for any modern restaurant to thrive. Restaurants should use Facebook and Instagram, at a minimum, to promote deals and new menu offerings. During the holidays, it's important to post festive pictures of your seasonal offerings. Remember to include your store hours, and possibly the price, alongside the photos. Use a social media management tool. like Hootsuite, to keep your postings on schedule - particularly important if you are pushing specials during the holiday season. You'll also be aware of any followers who ask questions or make comments on your social page and can answer in a timely way.

Promote holiday catering services

If retail shops bite on the menu partnership, then gently remind the owners about your restaurant's catering services. Holidays are the prime catering season, and restaurants that offer such services can position their menu to nicely fit holiday party needs. This message is seen not only by your retail partner, but also their customers who may need catering at home or for their office parties.

Making catering services sell themselves beyond the holidays

Placing seasonal menus in nearby stores can spark ideas for business opportunities at other times during the year. If one of your holiday partners shows interest in your catering services, consider bringing them food samples during the year, reminding them you can cater most any event - business lunches, reward dinners or other needs they may have. Sell them on your food and service, and they'll be your ambassador for their own customers.

Offer your customers gift cards

As you see your foot traffic increase, take the opportunity to remind your customers about their loved ones and friends.  Gift cards should be prominently displayed by the cash register and promoted on your website and social media channels.

Back to the basics – be environmentally sustainable

Food and food waste are environmental hot topics, and environmentally-conscious customers care about where their food comes from.  The environment is among restaurant goers top concerns, and many consider a restaurant's sustainability practices when deciding where to dine.  A few ways to make your store more eco-friendly include investing in energy efficient equipment, using digital menu boards for rotating menus, online ordering, installing solar panels, recycling used cooking oil, and reducing kitchen waste. To learn more, read this guide about how restaurants can save water, energy and money.

Sign up for Google My Business

Google My Business is a powerful and necessary tool in the mobile age. Registering a business is easy and adds immediate search presence and credibility to any local restaurant. The page shows store hours, website, location, customer reviews and photos. Menus and contact information can also be added to the listing. If your operating hours change during the holidays, that can be noted as well.

Become a charitable donation site

Last but definitely not least on our suggestions for holiday customer development is inspiring the local community to give back to people in need. The holidays often silence our inner-Grinch and motivate us to donate to fundraising drives. Organizations like Toys for Tots and the United Way frequently partner with restaurants to hold fundraising drives or serve as donation drop-off locations.  Check with local charities and see how your store can help. And don't forget to mention any charitable holiday activities on your restaurant's website and social media channels!