For shoppers and businesses, Small Business Saturday presents an opportunity to support local businesses and take full advantage of the holiday shopping buzz. It arrives on the heels of Thanksgiving and Black Friday when many families are looking to get out of the house and take a break from their home kitchens.

In fact, 72% of shoppers said Small Business Saturday makes them want to shop and dine at independent retailers and restaurants all year long, according to the American Express 2022 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey. Last year, Small Business Saturday drove an estimated $17.9 billion in consumer spending. It’s an impactful number considering that for every $100 spent at a local business, $48 stays within the community (compared to $14 for every $100 spent at a big box store).

If your restaurant is located among other small businesses running Small Business Saturday promotions, a specific Small Business Saturday campaign is a worthwhile effort. Even if your business location is a little more isolated, a special campaign plugging your gift cards, reservations, and retail products is another way to capitalize on the excitement and local spending. Your campaign should speak to 2 audiences: hungry shoppers needing fuel and people looking to support local businesses. Looking for some inspiration? Here are some ideas to get you started. 

1. Create a dream team

A vibrant small business community is the crown jewel of any thriving neighborhood. Whether that is a reality or a work-in-progress for you, joining up with another small business will help the whole community succeed. This could mean collaborating with a retail shop and offering a small discount to shoppers who show their receipts, helping you drive foot traffic and incentivizing sales for the retail store as well. 

It’s also worth exploring product collaborations—an increasingly popular trend among consumers that leads to creative, exclusive products and greater brand awareness for all parties involved. You don’t have to be a major brand like Doritos or Taco Bell to make this successful. Simply developing a product that is authentic to both business brands will delight loyal guests and win over new ones. Think custom merchandise like hats, t-shirts, and tote bags, home goods such as scented candles or dish towels, or pantry items like sauces and marinades. 

While these kinds of projects take time and effort, collaborating with other local businesses can be as simple as giving each other shout-outs in your respective email marketing campaigns or on social media. Teamwork makes the dream work, after all.

thank you for shopping sign on the front of a small business
Small Business Saturday presents an opportunity for local shops and restaurants to shine. Photo by Tim Mossholder / Unsplash

2. Promote gift cards and retail

As soon as November rolls around, many consumers are already focused on holiday shopping and snagging the best deals and most unique, thoughtful gifts (but last-minute shopping folks… you are seen, too). Small Business Saturday is a great time to promote gift cards, reservations, and retail items that might make great holiday gifts.

Offering e-gift cards through your business website and physical gift cards on-premise presents a cash flow opportunity for your restaurant. It’s also a way for your local supporters to spread the word and spread the love. You can also position reservations and special experiences (like tastings, workshops, and set menus) as giftable. With a restaurant reservation system, you can take reservations online and boost bookings by sharing the link in your email newsletter. 

If your restaurant sells retail products, like pantry items, clothing, or other branded items, Small Business Saturday is the perfect time to publicize your wares by offering discounts and posting on social media. Selling packaged food for guests to take home and gift to their loved ones provides an alternate revenue stream that has gained in popularity since the pandemic. And in case you missed it, people love to rep their favorite local restaurants with custom merch, so if there was ever a time to get in the sweatshirt game, it’s right before the holiday gifting season.

Group of diners share plates of food in a restaurant.
Highlight shareable menu items on your specials for groups or shoppers short on time.

3. Craft a special menu

With all this talk of retail products and business collaborations, it’s easy to forget your true north: serving great food and creating an excellent customer experience. If you want to keep your Small Business Saturday initiatives focused on the food, consider creating curated daily specials for Small Business Saturday or even a custom menu for a specific type of guest. 

Particularly for the brunch and lunch shifts, guests are looking for a place to refuel and recharge in order to keep shopping. It’s the right time to prioritize speed, shareables, and light bites. Showcase a variety of dishes that your kitchen can produce quickly, helping your guests get in and out and increasing your table turn capacity during a busy lunch hour. 

Depending on your location, you might find walk-in traffic outside of usual lunch hours—people looking for a snack, a post-shopping glass of wine, or a place to relax. Coach your servers on upselling appetizers, shared plates, and dessert items to suit this clientele. If they’re not currently a big feature on your menu, perhaps consider adding a few shareable items or quick bites to your specials.

4. Work with your chamber of commerce 

A major benefit of participating in Small Business Saturday is that you don’t have to go it alone—you can tap into a network of other businesses and organizations who will support your efforts. Reach out to your local chamber of commerce to see if they have any promotions planned for Small Business Saturday. They might be able to support you with marketing, as well as more resources to ensure your campaign is a success. Also, consider joining your local restaurant association to connect with other businesses and industry experts. 

5. Go local with your marketing

Small Business Saturday presents an opportunity to tell your story to an audience actively seeking out small businesses to support. So, lean into your small business story in your restaurant marketing. What’s the story behind your restaurant? What were some of the challenges you experienced at first? How did you overcome them? What are your ties to the community where you operate? 

Create a social media campaign that tells your business story over a series of posts. Include behind-the-scenes and old photos to help the story come to life. If you have a marketing budget, it could be worthwhile to purchase paid ads on Instagram or Facebook to spread the word about promotions and exclusive deals in the local market. With integrated marketing software and customer loyalty software, it’s easy to reach out to your most loyal guests and ensure you’re top of mind when they’re planning holiday gifts, reservations, and pre- or post-shopping fuel. 

As the holiday season kicks off, a little advance planning can help you make the most of busy season. Understanding how your guest preferences might shift based on different holidays and new trends can help you adapt your menu and service style to fit the moment. How to ensure you stay nimble, stay in touch with your guests, and connect with your local community? A flexible restaurant POS is the best place to start.

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