What Restaurant Owners Need to Know for the 2021 Holiday Season

North American restaurant owners are keen to attract the crowds back for their holiday celebrations. Small Biz Sense surveyed 600 restaurateurs and 1,100 diners across the US. It found that some guests might not want to go back to the restaurants for this holiday season. 

In this article we’ll cover:

Report on the 2021 Global State of the Hospitality Industry

Over 2000 restaurant guests shared their opinions on managing the labour shortage, restaurant technology and the future.


What should holiday-season restaurant owners be expecting?

Over one third of North American restaurant owners expect to return or surpass their pre-COVID holiday sales. This is fueled by corporate holidays parties.

Respondents to a question about holiday planning in the United States included:

  • 46% anticipate a return of holiday sales at pre-COVID levels
  • 38% anticipate holiday sales to surpass pre-COVID levels
  • 33% anticipate corporate holiday parties returning

These expectations may be lower in Canada than they are elsewhere, but it is not much.

  • 32% anticipate a return of holiday sales at pre-COVID levels
  • 29% of respondents expect holiday sales levels to be higher than pre-COVID.
  • 28% of corporate holiday parties expect to be back

Although guests will likely be back at bars or restaurants for casual dining, large-scale party planning may not be possible. 

The USA:

  • 44% of respondents plan to get together at a restaurant or bar for drinks and food with their friends and families.
  • 39% intend to host a party in a restaurant/bar for their family/friends
  • 31% intend to host an event for corporate clients at a bar or restaurant.


  • 15% will meet at a restaurant or bar for drinks and dinner with family and friends.
  • 15% will host a family or friend party at a bar or restaurant.
  • Only 5% of respondents plan to hold a corporate event in a bar or restaurant.


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. We have all learned that diversifying revenue streams is the key to success.

Gift certificates

43% of US diners and 37% from Canada intend to buy gift cards for restaurants this year.You can stock up on gift cards and promote them heavily from now through Christmas Eve. This will ensure that your restaurant is top of mind for last-minute shoppers and planners alike. Plus, gift cards are a low-cost, high-reward way to gain extra revenue—The average American has $167 USD worth of unused gift cardsThis will result in pure profits for your business. 

Here are some popular gifts cards for the holidays:

  • Gift cards at a discountA gift card can be purchased at a discounted rate if you offer a percentage discount. You can reduce the percentage if the customer spends more. Example: Gift cards of $50 and $100 are eligible for 10%, 15% and 25% discounts respectively. 
  • Purchase includes a free itemAt the time guests order food, or even takeout, many will pick up a gift certificate. With a purchase of a minimum amount, you can get a free appetizer, dessert, or drink.
  • BOGO.If guests purchase a gift certificate as a surprise, they can give one back to them. You can make this tiered so they receive more for themselves the higher they spend. Example: Buy a $25 Gift Card and Get $5. Purchase $50 to get $10.

Catering and Takeout

29 percent of Americans and 13 percent of Canadians plan on ordering to-go catering to celebrate the holidays this year.Many restaurants will cater to the holidays and offer traditional Christmas meals. However, diners are likely to be seeking out unique options for smaller gatherings or office celebrations. You can promote family-style dining and your restaurants’ catering options early on, no matter your cuisine.


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 shopYou can easily find it and share it often through your social media profiles.

Are you looking for technology partners to assist with your holiday planning and operations? Talk to one of our specialists today for more information How Small Biz Sense Can Help.

Cyndy Lane

Cyndy is business journalist with a focus on entrepreneurship and small business. With over a decade of experience covering the startup and small business landscape, Cyndy has a reputation for being a knowledgeable, insightful and approachable journalist. She has a keen understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing small business owners and is able to explain them in a way that is relatable and actionable for her readers.