With the evenings still warm enough for customers to sit outside the pub, it might seem a bit soon to start thinking about Christmas, but as with any aspect of running your own business, ensuring that everyone has fun is a serious issue.
A bit of forward planning will help make sure your pub makes the most of the profit-making opportunities the festive season offers.
While most pubs benefit from a general upturn in trade as Christmas looms, there are also a great many people looking for a more organised approach, so it makes sense to market your pub as a party venue for the duration.
What can you offer?
There are three basic styles your Christmas party offering may fall into - and with businesses and organisations, as well as your regulars, looking for Christmas party venues from the beginning of December, you can mix and match on different nights according to demand.
The Christmas menu
A menu based around the traditional Christmas dinner will encourage groups of friends and even small office parties to use your pub as the venue for their Christmas bash. The classic office party booking is based around a sit-down meal, but bear in mind the following:
- Groups of friends like to sit together: Some pubs may have trouble seating a large group together, even if the total number booked is within the numbers you can cater for. If you can't accommodate a party booking at a single table or tables pushed together, let them know when the booking is taken. If you can steer larger groups towards booking a private function room, do so.
- Advertise your offer: October and early November is a good time to encourage people to make Christmas bookings. Posters in the pub, leaflets to local businesses and adverts in the local press are all good ways of letting potential customers know about your Christmas offer.
- Stick to your limits: Decide how many covers you can serve in a single sitting, and keep to it. Bear in mind both the size of the seating area and the number of waiting staff and barstaff you will have available. The closer it gets to Christmas, the more desperate the late bookers get, but squeezing in an extra booking is a false economy if the pub is overcrowded and the service suffers.
- Keep the menu simple: Many pubs suspend their normal menu for the duration of the Christmas period, and offer a much more restricted choice. This ensures that the kitchen and waiting staff can cope. As indicated, this should be based around the classic Christmas dinner, but you may want to offer a vegetarian option and perhaps a lighter alternative, such as a turkey salad.
- Make the offer clear: Most Christmas party bookings will expect to be offered a set price per head. You need to make it clear exactly what this includes. You may want to offer customers the option to pay for drinks separately, or quote a higher price that includes, say, a bottle of wine between every two or three guests and a liqueur to follow the meal.
- Entertainment: If you are offering entertainment, consider what you can provide carefully. A cabaret-style singer may be a better option than a disco if the number of tables will make dancing dangerous or difficult. Bear in mind also that different parties may finish their meals at different times, and so may be annoyed if other parties start to get lively while they are still eating. As before, encourage larger parties to consider a private booking.
Private parties If you have a separate function room, you can easily accommodate larger Christmas parties separately to smaller bookings in the main pub. However, you may also want to consider hiring out the main pub, or part of it if you have separate bar areas, for a private Christmas party.
If you are asked to take a reasonably large booking, it can make sense to suggest this option, perhaps for a less busy evening early in the week.
The advantages of this are that you can arrange entertainment such as a band or DJ without disturbing other customers. In some areas, it is also easier to obtain a late licence for a private party, but this will depend of your local licensing bench.
- Sit-down or buffet? Offer the party the option of a sit-down meal, perhaps followed by entertainment, or a buffet-style meal in a open area where guests can mingle and/or dance from the word go.
- Keep an eye on the bar tab - and decide in advance how guests will pay for drinks: Some parties may want a free drink or two included in the price per head, others may cover bar sales up to a certain price and then expect guests to pay later in the evening. If a company is going to settle its employees' bar bill after the party, make sure they are ready for just how large the final bill may look in the cold light of day.
- Suggest entertainment: Try to get a feel for the type of music the party will want, and have appropriate DJs/bands in mind. Remember that entertainers also get booked early for the Christmas party season.
Parties for customers
Organising a party for regulars is your third option - and remember, this doesn't rule out using the first two approaches as well.
Christmas Eve and, in particular, New Year's Eve, are usually the best options for this.You may also want to organise a children's party for regulars and their families in the run-up to Christmas.
If you do not already hold a Public Entertainment Licence (PEL) for your pub, the issue of whether you need to apply for an occasional PEL for a Christmas or New Year Party is not exactly straightforward.
The steps you need to follow will depend in part whether you are holding a private or public party.
To start with the basics, as you may already know, a PEL is required if more than two performers appear during a single pub session. So, a PEL is not required for a DJ playing recorded music, although you will still need to ensure you have the appropriate PPL cover.
However, particularly if the DJ is any good, once the music starts playing there is every chance that the festive mood will take over and people will start dancing - and dancing requires a PEL, regardless of whether it is to a lone DJ or a 60-piece orchestra.
The only exemption to this rule is if you can prove that you are holding a genuine private function. For example, you may be providing a venue for an office or organisation to hold its Christmas party. If you have closed the pub to casual customers or are providing a separate function room for the party guests, you should not need a PEL.
However, if the party is open to the public, you will need to ensure that dancing is covered by a PEL - and bear in mind that the authorities will not look kindly on a ruse planned simply to avoid paying for a licence.
Many pubs sell tickets or charge admission for entry on Christmas or New Year's Eve, but this should be seen as a means of limiting numbers rather than a way of turning a public event into a private one.
More preparing-for-Christmas articles: