In Christmases past you would have realistically expected to take as much money through the tills in the single month of December as you would in an entire quarter during the rest of the year.

Yet in 2020, the continuously evolving coronavirus situation is seriously jeopardising the most lucrative time of the year for the hospitality industry. So much so that it’s questionable whether Christmas parties will go ahead or not per se.

Feedback from the teams at some of Manchester’s key bar and restaurant venues suggests that teams remain stuck in the middle of nowhere for now. Provisional bookings from a lesser than usual volume of businesses making enquiries are being pencilled in to diaries. Some deposits payments are being taken. Though naturally under a non-committal proviso, to reassure bookers that there’s nothing to lose if things don’t ultimately pan out.

Nobody has a magic wand to wave to make the very clear and present issues in the hospitality sector disappear. Or a crystal ball to predict when that desperately needed glimmer of hope is finally going to show itself on the horizon.

But life can’t all be doom, gloom, and negative energy. That’s not the hospitality way!

With 30 people being the current maximum number permissible for gatherings (as of 21st September), it’s a regrettable assumption that the big parties with megabucks bar spend aren’t going to be provide rich pickings this year.

But, necessity can be the mother of invention, as the saying goes…

Brainstorm Creative Solutions & Collaborations

What you can and can’t do in terms of bookable spaces, Christmas packages, and collaborations, is completely individual to your venue. With that in mind, a few top of the head ideas that might be worth fleshing out with your team are:-

  • Offering food and beverage deliveries to local businesses that are arranging socially distanced Christmas celebrations on their own premises.
  • Making the most of undercover heated outside spaces that can realistically be used for serving Christmas food and beverage packages to parties safely, and also comfortably in case of inclement weather conditions.
  • Creating individual Christmas party packs for businesses arranging virtual Christmas parties this year, for their team members to enjoy at home when logging in to their online bashes.
  • Probing partnerships with local attractions to create joint food, drink and activity experiences on a gift voucher basis. For businesses to buy in bulk and gift to their staff in place of a Christmas party this year, valid for redemption for the first six months of 2021.


Consider Discounting Meaningfully But Not Haphazardly 

It’s always traditionally been the norm to discount Christmas packages Sunday-Wednesday to plug early-mid week gaps.

The burning question this year is will offers work, when the entire existence of Christmas parties hinges on so much more than the money?

Things seemed to be on the up and up in the earlier days of unfurling, unlocking, and Eat Out To Help Out. Until the predictable second wave, now causing renewed lockdown measures, and a 10.00pm curfew for hospitality businesses.

Does this indicate that any amount of Christmas discounting will be futile?

Then there’s the end of the furlough schemes in October, potentially triggering a tsunami of mass redundancies. Again, discounting may not be a feasible solution for companies that don’t have the budget, or can’t be seen to be spending on Christmas parties under the circumstances.

Even if Christmas parties are able to go ahead in some shape or form, is there going to be the appetite? 

These very same dilemmas are impacting the venue finding agents and event management companies that ‘feed’ the hospitality and events industry. They are also receiving a pitifully reduced number of Christmas enquiries from their corporate clients.

But it’s certainly worth being at the forefront of their minds for the enquiries they do have, which might benefit you next year if not this.

Might you be able to offer increased % commission rates to venue finding agents and event management companies, to encourage them to make the Christmas or after Christmas enquiries they do receive with you?

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes to help you come up with reasonable answers. Better still, ask some of your regulars who have booked Christmas parties with you in previous years. What might like to see to tip the balance in your favour, whilst ‘insuring’ against loss of their – and your – money in case of short notice regulatory changes?

Ask For Help From Credible Service Providers 

My first Christmas actually on-site in a venue was at Tiger Tiger in 2001. It was brand new, the biggest and most glamourous multi-purpose venue in the Manchester city centre. Back then we had the exact opposite problem!

We were the ‘place to be’ and the economy was booming. Our bugbear was having to turn enquiries away due to lack of availability. We could have filled the big Thursdays-Saturdays ten times over! Happy days, bonus banked!

Not so now. All the more reason why Christmas propositions and messages need to be communicated to the right people at the right times, consistently, creatively, and reassuringly.

There are rafts of highly credible, experienced and talented sales and marketing service providers who niche in the hospitality industry. Turn to them for help if you’re short on time, and/or people.

Many have been working in partnership hospitality businesses for years on an outsourced freelance basis. Others are newer to the freelance game, having decided to try their hands at going it alone due to recent redundancy.

They can bespoke plans and prices for you, depending on your venue size, your Christmas propositions, who you want to sell to, and the personnel you have in-house or not.

Don’t be put off by the thought of unrealistic external spending in the current climate before skimming beneath the surface. Bear in mind that everybody is going through the same storm this year.

Being a service provider to the industry is as precarious right now as being an operator in it. Yet there’s a huge amount of goodwill and camaraderie around, coupled with the very genuine need to work and earn a living.

Without anybody under-selling their souls, you might just find some very attractive and affordable price points on offer to suit your pandemic purse!

A Worthy Cause Or A Lost Cause? 

Right now, your Christmas team would be in the thick of things if it didn’t feel like we’re living in a parallel universe! Promoting, hosting Christmas showcases, dealing with a ridiculous volume of enquiries.

With my background of hospitality Christmases, and the fact that I love Christmas in general, it’s been on my mind since lockdown started. How very different the autumn/winter 2020 season is going to be for hospitality sales, marketing, and ops teams.

So, what are you doing right now to squeeze what you can out of the 2020 Christmas party season? 

Are you sure you aren’t missing any tricks that might just be lights at the end of the uniquely challenging 2020 tunnel?