With the holiday season upon us, some proactive guests are already making plans and holiday reservations. Luckily, getting a system in place and setting your staff up for success isn't that hard and is worth the time investment. With a little preparation, your restaurant will be in the position to react during an already busy and stressful time of year. Here are some tips to guide you in being proactive this holiday season.

Understand Your Guests' Habits

Understanding your guests and their behavior should drive decisions in regard to handling reservations during the holidays. Start by looking at data from previous busy seasons, and if you don't have that information—whether you just opened or you simply haven't collected it—make educated guesses. Then consider whether the word is out about your amazing accommodations for large groups or if you only have small booths. Once you have thought about the potential for larger groups making holiday reservations, assess the seating situation in your establishment. Determine which table and section configurations make sense for large parties, and make sure to consider how the rest of your restaurant will function while the group is present. Sectioning off a corner or a complete section often makes sense because it keeps the rest of the space from being disrupted by the noise and back-and-forth from the kitchen.

Use a Service to Help You

Using a service like OpenTable can be helpful when guests are making holiday reservations, but managing the system is imperative for success. The most convenient feature of OpenTable, and many services, is that it can be used on a mobile device, making it extremely convenient. Make sure to use the controls and settings in order to prevent frustrations for your guests and staff. Adjust the time slot for large groups because there's potential for them to be there a lot longer than other tables.

Communicate Policies

Guests are used to following restaurant policies for large parties and during busy seasons, but try to limit the rules you set in place. It's also important to educate your staff on how to share and explain these policies to guests. Should you choose to set a per-person minimum for large parties, make it doable by considering the price of a midrange entree and drink. You may also want to consider putting a cancellation policy in place in order to encourage guests to follow through with their plans and reservations. Try collecting a credit card number to hold a reservation and then determine a reasonable fee for a day-of cancellation. Need two days for cancellations? Go for it, but make sure to communicate this policy to all staff members and guests.

Above all else, the most important thing about holiday reservations is to be prepared. Set policies based on data and educated decision-making, inform your staff of the rules, and clearly communicate information to guests. Dedicating some time to this now will lead your restaurant to its best holiday season to date.