A restaurant experience is so much more than turning up, having a bite to eat, paying and leaving. From multinational fast-food chains to top-tier restaurants, and the rich variety of venues in-between, restaurateurs devote a painstaking amount of time and money to make every detail of their establishment right.

Over the Christmas peak season, your business may employ different methods to bring in as many customers as possible, from themed playlists to limited-time menus; but just how deep does it go? Adopting psychological hacks in relation to how your restaurant looks and operates can have a profound influence on your customers, whether it’s what they buy, how much they eat and for how long they stay. 

Music: Not too fast, not too Christmassy 

Research by the University of Strathclyde found that when a restaurant plays leisurely tunes, customers are encouraged to stay for longer and spend more money, while louder and faster music drives customers to chew faster and eat less. Findings from the University of Oxford found that music can have an effect on how a meal tastes, and another study found that the kind of music a venue plays influences people’s perception of it. Suffice to say, the presence of music has a tangible impact on your customers; perhaps, in order to create a natural ambience, you don’t even use it at all.

Consider how you use music in your venue. Previous coverage has highlighted the emergence of Christmas creep, where festive decorations, food and music become visible earlier in the year, so think twice before debuting your Christmas playlist just after Halloween. Bear in mind whether your customers are coming in to grab a light bite and go or to stay awhile and talk. Find a compromise with your team; play Christmas hits for your customers, but not the same playlist daily over much of November and December, it’ll grate quickly.

Comfortable and practical lighting 

From a 2017 interview with the Independent, interior design expert Tom Strother explained that: “One of the key aspects to a restaurant’s design is the lighting. It has to be soft and flattering to make guests feel comfortable so that they are confident and relaxed and enjoy their stay in the restaurant”. It’s vital for restaurateurs to understand the importance of suitable ambient, task, and accent lighting; the first to provide general visibility, the second to assist customers and workers as they interact with restaurant interior, i.e. making meals and reading menus, and the third to help create an atmosphere.

As the Christmas season usually brings dark and dreary weather, people prefer to stay indoors, lit by the glow of lamps, wood-burning fires and fairy lights. If your restaurant has a dimmer switch or low-lighting as a standard, you’ll be able to seamlessly complement it with seasonal decorations like a tree or Christmas cards. However, if you’re aiming to offer premium value, for the sake of coherent design, it may be best to avoid putting a neon Santa anywhere near your premises. If your restaurant has a wood or gas fire, ensure it’s clean and fully operational before using it over the Christmas season, and that your staff have training and awareness as they complete their tasks.

Keep your menu simple

Picture the scene. It’s Christmas time and your want to escape the cold, get settled, chat, eat and drink, not spend hours combing through your menu. Research by the Georgia State University found that on average respondents only spend 109 seconds looking at the menu before they order. So how do you know that customers are going to be choosing premium dishes, adding extra options, and not just opting for Caesar salad and tap water? The truth is, unless you’ve thoroughly analysed your menu design, you don’t. However, there’s help out there.

This BBC Future article – “The Secret Tricks Hidden Inside Restaurant Menus”  outlines a few key points, backed by industry experts, for how restaurant owners can optimise their menus to maximise their profits. For instance:

  • Choose the right type. Citing an example of wine labelling, consumers’ perceptions of a menu item are influenced by the font used to detail it, with italics associated with quality for instance.
  • Language matters. Describing menu items using evocative language can help drive the notion of premium quality and drive sales. You’re not serving a ‘steak and chips’; you’re serving a ‘flame grilled, aged steak with triple cooked chips’.
  • Use space wisely. Research shows that customers’ eyes linger on the top right of the menu, and it’s wise to offer a number of menu options, but not too many; five to seven dishes per section is the recommended average. 

Perhaps your venue is producing special menus over Christmas; incorporate these points, measure the impact on your sales, and consider whether it’s time to revamp your menu in the new year.