Restaurateurs say: Don’t stay home for holidays

Christmas Eve has typically been a slow night in the restaurant business as many consumers would huddle by the fire at home waiting for Santa.

But not any more.

Now, Christmas Eve has become a popular night to dine out, almost rivaling New Year’s Eve, and an increasing number of restaurant operators are promoting elaborate Christmas Eve feasts to boost slow December sales.

Payard Bistro in Manhattan, for example, is scheduled to be open on Christmas Eve for the first time ever, as well as remain open on Sundays through December, when the restaurant is typically closed. Chef-owner Francois Payard is offering a three-course Christmas Eve prix fixe menu featuring roast duck and the patisserie’s traditional holiday buches de Noel cakes for $35 at lunch and $45 at dinner.

Frustrated that dismal economic news is keeping diners at home, Payard said he hoped consumers would enjoy the spirit of the holidays by sharing a festive — and reasonably priced — meal out.

“We don’t have to spend $200 on wine to be happy,” he said.

Le Titi de Paris near Chicago is also open on Christmas Eve for the first time this year, in part because a longtime customer has booked the restaurant for a party, and owners decided to open the other half since they were working already. The restaurant was about 70 percent booked by mid-December.

“A couple of restaurants near us are always open for Christmas Eve and they do 200 plus.” said co-owner Susan Maddox, referring to the booking of more than 200 customers. “It’s a really popular night for them. Normally I’d love the night off, but I really wanted to do this party for this customer. I think it will be a good night.”

Though Christmas Day remains one of few holidays for which restaurants remain closed, those that do open are expecting brisk business.

The restaurant Dragonfly at Hotel ZaZa in Dallas, for example, is offering a $75 four-course prix fixe menu on Dec. 25. The restaurant did a similar feast for Thanksgiving this year and saw a turnout of about 150 patrons — about the same as the previous year, despite the down economy.

Tavern on the Green is traditionally open on Christmas Day, but this year the Manhattan restaurant is taking a new approach.

Because so many consumers are staying at home, the Tavern for the first time is offering a take-home menu for pick up or delivery. Diners can choose between prime rib or filet with trimmings serving between one and four; five and eight; or between eight and 12 people. Pricing had not been set at press time. On Thanksgiving, the restaurant offered a take-home turkey feast starting at $12.50 per person and sold nearly 100 meals, according to Shelley Clark, a Tavern spokesman.

Many operators expressed concern that employees would be reluctant to work through the holidays, but at Tavern on the Green, Christmas Day is a popular shift.

“We have a large built-in Christmas business and the wait staff knows they’re going to do quite well,” said Clark.