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The lights are up, the calendars are being opened and the brandy’s in the cupboard. Christmas is definitely coming, but luckily for you the worst thing spilled should be mulled wine, even if the turkey carving seems like a Game of Thrones-style execution.

Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) Christmas Hat

The number of restaurants open on Christmas day has been steadily rising over recent years with record numbers choosing to dine out in December – and why wouldn’t they? Dining out means a lot less fuss and no washing up but whether you’re focus is the big day or build up we have some great tips on how to decorate a restaurant for Christmas.

First impressions

It is also rooted in ancient European pagan festivals such as Yule, which took place in midwinter. During these festivals, people would bring green foliage inside as a reminder of the new growth that would come with when spring eventually arrived. Light was used to ward off the forces of cold and darkness, and bells were rung to scare off evil spirits.

Restaurant customers want a special time at Christmas; they want to feel that they are having a treat. What they don’t want is to feel that they are on a production line. If they are to be customers who will come back throughout the year and again next Christmas, it will pay to invest a little time, effort and money and go beyond just bells and baubles to make their Christmas dining experience a memorable one.

Add some light and warmth

So let’s begin with light and warmth. Your customers’ first impression of your restaurant begins outside, and it’s easy to introduce light here. Lights can be trailed or arranged in patterns; trailed around a door front, around window frames or around signage adding instant sparkle. And why not have a brazier of burning logs outside the front entrance? This is an easy, eye-catching and inexpensive way to add warmth and spirit. Passers-by will notice it, and perhaps pause to warm themselves.

Festive Christmas LED Lights

The front door, of course, should have a wreath, but one that’s distinctive; there’s no point in having the same wreath that everyone in the neighbourhood has bought from the local DIY superstore, so in order to make an impact, it’s worth ordering a bespoke wreath from a florist. Special or unusual decorations cause people to stop, talk and ask questions – all excellent ways to improve your customer engagement.

At the reception area, the front desk could be decorated with subtle trails of Christmas lights. A big jar of Christmas sweets at the reception area for passing children is also a nice touch that sends out a message of generosity without actually costing too much.

As for lighting indoors: anyone who has visited the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in London, a reproduction of a theatre from the 17th century which is lit entirely by candles, will be aware that there’s something unique about candlelight – it seems to make everything and everyone it touches look glowingly beautiful. So a good sprinkling of candles will add to the festive atmosphere. And let’s not forget that Christmas is about smells, too, so some of these candles could be scented, with wintry, spicy aromas – cinnamon, cloves, orange, and fig.

Inside the restaurant, if you have a fireplace that’s usable, it must have a good, roaring fire in it. If the fireplace can’t be used, you can still make it a focal point with green foliage draped around it (this also adds to the fragrant atmosphere), with pine cones (perhaps sprayed with a dash of silver), with lights. Or if you are seeking a less fussy look, a simpler arrangement could be created from an array of birch logs (they have attractive silvery bark) and plain pine cones. Sometimes, simple is better.

Go bold for maximum impact

Indeed, it’s easy to overdo Christmas decorations; too much can make a place look cluttered and overpowering. When it comes to your restaurant interior it’s best to make your statements bold but sparing. Paper chains and tinsel can be seen as old-fashioned these days, so perhaps should be avoided. Red and green are the classic Christmas colours, traditionally in the form of holly and its berries, plus pine, and so on, so sprigs of these can be placed strategically around the restaurant, in vases, perhaps, or in bunches. But the poinsettia plant, with its vivid red foliage, has also become very popular; these could sit on windowsills or at the centre of each table. 

Poinsettia Plant

Another possible table centrepiece is a Christmas bouquet which mixes fresh flowers such as red roses with classic Christmas elements such as sprigs of spruce and berries (artificial one are fine). The ideas website Pinterest is an excellent source of inspirational suggestions, such as this Christmas centrepiece featuring foliage and colourful citrus fruits. Also on the table, napkins folded into festive shapes can be another talking point – a Christmas tree shape is easily done, as demonstrated in this YouTube video.

An awe-inspiring tree

The tree itself is of course an essential part of Christmas décor – but again, beware the over-cluttered look. And a Christmas tree is not the only place for baubles. These can be arranged and displayed in a large glass vase, for instance, perhaps with pine cones scattered through them. Or a large outdoor lantern can be filled with a combination of different sized baubles and fairy lights for a wonderful glowing effect. Another unusual look can be achieved by half-filling large square glass vases with salt for a ‘snowy’ appearance, then ‘planting’ this snowscape with natural branches of birch or willow.

Leave them feeling happy, wanted and full

Christmas crackers will inevitably be part of the occasion, but when these are cheap or from the high street, people will notice, so it’s worth seeking out something a little more unusual; the website has an excellent selection. Your guests will appreciate something to keep them amused and entertained, so perhaps each festive table could be provided with an array of party props such as these from Pipii – your guests will have fun wearing these and photographing each other (or, in this age of the selfie, themselves) in fake moustaches, hats and suchlike.

As for the waiting staff: rather than the ubiquitous red and white bobbly Christmas hat, it would be worth getting creative and coming up with your own Christmas-themed accessories and trimmings: a white fur band with a sprig of holly (or even mistletoe) worn around the head for the waitresses, perhaps with earrings in the form of Christmas tree baubles; chaps might wear a festive bow tie and red and black clothing, perhaps with a festive buttonhole flower such as a carnation or a rose.

Finally, what customers don’t want to see is the same tired old Christmas stuff being brought out year after year. They will notice. Each Christmas is a chance to freshen up the traditions that go back thousands of years – while still keeping that essential Christmas spirit.

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