Getting into The Holiday Spirit: Tips from an Ottawa Restaurateur on Preparing for the Busiest Season of the Year

The holiday season is typically the busiest time of year for Canadian small business owners, especially those in the restaurant industry. A 2017 Canadian Holiday Outlook Report from PwC Canada found that 58% of Canadian consumers plan to shop with local and independent retailers during the holidays, estimating that they will spend an average of $1,507 each – slightly higher than their US counterparts. Additionally, 20% of Canadians plan to dine out during the festive season.

Between early November and the New Year, many independent business owners face demanding workloads catering to an influx of customers. It can be a stressful time, especially for newly opened businesses or those who have recently undergone significant change or growth.

For Amir Rahim, owner of Grounded Kitchen, Coffee & Bar in Ottawa, a restaurant that features an all-Canadian dinner menu, growth and change have been constants since opening in 2010. Since then, Grounded has doubled in size, expanded its operating hours, and fine-tuned its catering and private events offering. Through this, Amir has learned to adapt for growth, focusing on staffing, inventory, small business financing and everything in between.

We spoke with Amir to discuss his top tips for preparing and working through the holiday rush:

Start planning in advance. Knowing that many people eat out and host events during the holiday season, Amir starts thinking and talking about the holidays early. “I will talk to my regular customers in October to see what they’re planning,” he says. “This way, we are top of mind when they start to think about venues for work events and holiday parties.”

Prepare to manage your cash flow. This is something all business owners should acquaint themselves with, whether in the restaurant industry or other. Knowing he can expect an increase in volume and traffic over the next few months, Amir reviews his budget and inventory weekly. “You’ll want to make a budget before the holidays and stick to it,” he says. “Having extra money available for staffing, training, and inventory is essential for success.” Often fast business loans are the best option for independent retailers or restaurateurs in this situation.

Don’t be afraid to take on debt to fuel growth. “Having access to additional capital can be challenging and borrowing can be scary for a small business owner, however, it’s an important step in growing any business,” Amir says. “We need to think of money as a tool, just like any other, and educate ourselves on how to best use it.” Being able to apply for online business loans often makes it easier for busy, time-strapped entrepreneurs. “In 2015, we were gearing up for a major renovation which changed the way we do business. To get through that period, I took out an online loan from OnDeck Canada to help cover day-to-day expenses like payroll, taxes, and supplier costs. Having an extra $20,000 to $30,000 in the bank meant I could focus on what I do best—serving my customers and running my business.” The key is to have cash available for both slow times and busier up-swings.

Don’t choose your busy season to make big changes. While you might be tempted to change things up right in time for the holidays, Amir says, “once October hits, it’s not the time to be making significant changes.” He advises small business owners to focus on what they really need during busy periods, such as staffing and inventory, and save the big changes for after the holidays when things inevitably tend to slow down.

Market accordingly and start early. Whether it be advertising or marketing materials, signage, social media presence, or a direct mailing campaign, think about these needs as early as possible to avoid feeling overwhelmed when the holidays begin.

Put your best foot forward. Finally, Amir says, “do whatever you can to make a memorable impression and keep customers coming back. This will ensure your business continues to thrive long after the holiday season is over.”