For restaurateurs and other hospitality operators, the Christmas peak season is simultaneously flush with opportunities and fraught with risks. External factors like rising costs and consumer demand are beyond your control, but by surveying the current landscape you can respond to them effectively.

Closer to home, operating perils like food hygiene and health and safety can result in a Christmas nightmare for your company, imperilling its very future.

Controlling costs as opportunity knocks

As reported in January, pub and restaurant businesses over Christmas 2018 saw like-for-like sales increase by 4.1% on the previous year; however, a recent report found that rising costs were driven by factors like a higher minimum wage and the price of utilities. To that end, whatever size your hospitality business is, Christmas 2019 should be a great opportunity to maximise your profits, but twinned with the need for your budget to be as efficient as possible to guarantee competitiveness.

Preparation is king in this case. You will most likely have been planning for the Christmas rush since summer, so now is the time to review all the measures that you’ve put in place. As payroll hit nearly 30% of turnover in 2018, it’s vital that your staffing costs are under control; ensure that your staff are consistently booked over your planned shifts, with appropriate numbers to respond to the highs and lows in demand. Understaffing can result in overstretched teams that can’t guarantee safe workplaces, potentially leading to poor reviews and fines, while overstaffing leads to a waste in budget and a disengaged team. In terms of stock, look at prior years to see which dishes and drinks sold particularly well; you’ll want to maintain a balance, not having too much perishable stock and wasting money, and not being short on the goods which sell, depriving you of profits. Lastly, be realistic when it comes to your budget; ensure you’ve accurately factored in last-minute expenses and late supplier payments, or else you won’t be starting the year with the best information – or financial outlook.

Food hygiene is fundamental

From a 2019 Food Standards Agency report, just over 3 in ten survey respondents stated that they were concerned about food hygiene when they went out to eat. The outrage over food safety scandals of the past – including outbreaks of disease, and unlabelled horse meat sold in supermarkets – means that customers may be sceptical over what they’re being served, which has encouraged the FSA to reassure the public. For instance, in 2017, it was noted that the percentage of UK food businesses that had achieved a safety score of five – meaning that they’d displayed top food hygiene, venue conditions and record keeping – had reached 67%. 

So while restaurants might be getting higher ratings, prospective customers will be mindful of sanitary standards as part of a high-quality Christmas meal. You can take a number of straightforward measures to ensure your food hygiene is on point and to reassure your customers. Communicate the importance of eliminating cross-contamination, extensive cleaning, thorough cooking and effective chilling to your staff; show them these useful food safety resources if they need extra information. Ensure that your business follows best practices to score a strong food standards rating; remember that customers can find out for themselves online, and display the score prominently at your venue’s entrance. Remember that food hygiene missteps can result in fines and public shaming, disastrous outcomes for the potentially lucrative Christmas peak season.

Don’t gift your staff an injury

During the Christmas rush, you may expect each of your team members to chip in and work harder than usual, just to keep up with the pace of demand. You will have to strike a delicate balance, motivating your team as much as possible while ensuring that your venue’s conditions are ripe for them to work. Achieving this can be a real challenge; not only to make sure that your team is working safely and efficiently but to meet the legal labour requirements. Let’s take a couple of examples. 

Music, colleagues sharing information, the background noise of people talking; over the festive season, your staff will have to navigate a lot of noise as they undertake their tasks. You have responsibilities as well; under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, you and your staff have a duty to manage the risks of noise at work, ensuring the health and safety standards are met. The HSE has produced this handy chart which will help every team member understand the issues and how they can best be solved.

Keep the chill at bay. Certain staff members, such as kitchen porters retrieving ingredients from freezers, will be more exposed to varying temperatures which could have an impact on their wellbeing. Under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, your business should be at least 16 degrees Celsius (13 degrees Celsius for more rigorous labour) and you’re mandated to carry out a risk assessment to ensure health and safety. In milder conditions, ensure your heating system is working properly, your staff’s exposure to adverse temperatures is limited and the conditions are comfortable for your customers.