Many local restaurants aren”t immune from the lackluster holiday spending season, with most reporting declines in spending, holiday party bookings and gift card or certificate sales, compared to 2008.
The amount of customers booking their holiday parties at The Golden Horn is “a little below average,” said Manager Brian Westoby, although the sales of gift cards are “probably on par” for the season.
“They just don”t have it in the budget, this year, for parties,” he explained.
“We don”t have as many parties,” said Beth Rogers of J. Broussard”s. “And I”ve noticed people have been waiting until the last minute and a lot are doing smaller (parties).
“Things are less busy than the year before,” she continued, referring to overall restaurant sales for 2009. “But we also had one of our best years we”ve ever had last year. The first half of this year was phenomenal. We felt so lucky to have what we had. It”s really been the second half of this year that”s been bad.”
“Compared to last year, we”re actually down some, in both holiday parties and gift certificate sales,” said Woody”s On The Water Executive Chef Benji Perkins, noting the restaurant, through Cumulus Broadcasting, is offering $50 gift certificates for $25. “(The promotion) might have affected sales. But we also closed at the first of the year (for six months), which might have left a bad taste in people”s mouths.”
“Gift certificate sales are down from last year,” said Doug Pellum, owner of Zachary”s. “As far as holiday parties, there are none this year. Businesses have cut out what they were doing in the past.
“(In overall sales,) we”re about even from last year,” he added. “We had a great January and February. It started going down in March, but January and February are two of the biggest months I”ve ever had.”
“December”s not our biggest month at either restaurant,” Owner Sarah Labensky said of Front Door/Back Door and The Green Olive. “Holiday parties are definitely down at both restaurants and I”m going to say gift card sales are as good or maybe a little better than last year. But we”ve definitely seen a fall off in the number of parties people are doing. And (yearly) sales are definitely down (from last year) at both places.”
“Business has been encouraging” for the Eat With Us Group, which owns restaurants in Columbus — Harvey”s, The Grill at Jackson Square and Sweet Pepper”s Deli — and Starkville — The Cotton District Grill, Harvey”s, Bulldog Deli and Sweet Pepper”s Deli, said company spokeswoman Arma Salazar.
“It has not increased necessarily nor has it decreased,” she explained. “Our repeat customers are staying with us and it seems that guests are eating out more often, but maybe are having smaller meals, such as an appetizer and a beverage or ordering an appetizer and sharing an entree. While that may not be the case in our full-service restaurants — Harvey”s, Cotton District Grill and Jackson Square Grill — we are seeing some guests come in more often.
“During the holiday season, friends and family tend to go out to eat for lunch more often and there is an increase of office groups going out to lunch, as the year comes to an end,” she continued. “At Harvey”s in Starkville, the Bulldog Room is perfect for holiday parties and is taking reservations. There is room for more bookings, but the best dates may be taken already. The good thing is that our regular guests are booking the room and we have been able to pick up some new groups, but there is not a big difference from last year.”
Salazar noted “catering numbers,” at Sweet Pepper”s Deli, “still look good” in response to newly offered breakfast catering.
“In addition, there seems to be fewer weeks in between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year,” she said. “We are receiving catering orders for holiday parties that are during the work hours or right after work. It”s easy for them to just pick up the trays or pies while time is short. Numbers at Sweet Peppers Deli haven”t taken big dips.”
Salazar attributed the deli”s success to new programs, like online ordering.
Regarding gift card sales, she noted an increase as holidays approach.
“Gift card sales started off slow,” she said. “Consumers are trying to stretch their dollars and ensuring that they are making the best decisions with their money. However, we have seen a pick-up just this week, with Christmas already next week. Consumers want a guarantee for their money. Eat With Us restaurant customers are staying loyal to us, because they know they”re getting their money”s worth. We feel good about where we are, but there is always room for growth.”