Preparing your restaurant for the festive season – a chat with Norman Hotel

As the days count down towards the festive season, expectations and excitement build like a tropical storm. For hospo workers, there is the sure and steady planning and preparation. The menus are revised, the customers are booked in. There’s ordering, decorating, staffing. Then the parties come through the front door, full of excitement for their end-of-year do. For people in hospitality, it comes naturally to welcome the guests, make them feel special, and look after them until the last one leaves. And for a few weeks of the year, we get ready to do it all over again the next day. That is the nature of what many call the silly season.

The festive season at the Norman Hotel

One person who has seen more than his fair share is Frank Correnti, Executive Chef of the Norman Hotel in Brisbane’s Woolloongabba. The Norman is a beautiful historic and ornate Victorian corner hotel with room for 450 diners, extensive space outback and upstairs, downstairs and more in other spaces. “There is a sense of expectation as the bookings come in,” says the chef who has seen 16 Christmases with this Brisbane institution. “And when the guests come in with their Santa hats, everyone gets a real buzz.”

How to handle bookings

The festive season is vital to large swathes of hospitality, with revenue rising from anywhere from between 5-25% more turnover during the period between the week after Melbourne Cup Day and New Year’s Eve. It is also a period where new customers are introduced to the venue as they are invited by employers, family and groups. Frank says he’s ready for the festive season by the time August swings around, with the pace of bookings picking up by mid-spring. “We will have already started communicating with customers with in-house promotional material, direct email and social media since the beginning of spring,” he says. “We communicate our core values of affordability and flexibility. They may go for platter food, look at set menus. We could have 600 booked across the Norman in different-sized groups. There could be a booking for 50, and some might not turn up, but that is OK because we are known for being easy-going, accessible and offering old-school hospitality. We are not forcing them into paying a deposit of pre-ordering a main.” Frank says it is essential to listen to customers and offer them what they need. He goes from doing the whole Christmas feast with mulled wine, stuffed turkey and plum pudding to more modern Australian seafood feasts.

The importance of staff

Frank says, like any hospitality business, staff are the backbone. He has a full-time kitchen crew of 22 with eight qualified chefs. He puts on more staff doing prep and plating up but still finds himself elbow deep in the sink some nights doing dishes. COVID has seen restrictions on customer movement so he has increased the number of staff running plates and will up this even more during the festive season. “When it’s the Christmas season and the boss is paying, the drinks can flow a little faster, so we need the right number of people behind the bar and bussing glasses,” he says, “as well as paying attention to our RSA responsibilities.” Frank also understands that if groups are ordering a la carte, they might undergo the ‘wagyu effect’, upselling themselves to higher-end items on the menu. “Our motto is that we never sell out, so we make sure we pre-empt what people will order,” he says. This might involve looking back at last year’s stock breakdown over the festive season to see what people were ordering and when.

The importance of staff

With more stock being ordered, the festive season will be putting the stock rotation system to the test. “It is essential that the labelling systems are foolproof, and all staff members understand the (coloured) day dot system, read dates and understand stock rotation protocols,” says Frank. “Here, it is embedded into everything we do.” Frank says it is essential to use suppliers who are reliable and have your back during the busy times.

And after the hard work is done and customers are back home or away on summer holidays? “We reward ourselves after Christmas,” says Frank. “We acknowledge how important staff are to us not just by looking after them all throughout the year, but by having a get-together under the Queensland sun when it quietens down,” he says. “It is a time of the year when everyone is working at the height of their skills. As professionals, it is a time of the year we really look forward to.”

Visit the Norman Hotel’s website to view their menu and make a booking.

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