Until we did our new custom challah loaves for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur used to be the first of 4 big holidays we prepare for between September and December. It is Jewish tradition to break the fast with bagels and lox, and we serve very good bagels and lox, so we get swamped with orders. Our first two years, we were not prepared for what came, and they were traumatic experiences for us. This year, we did a bigger push operationally and strategically to be better prepared. Have a look behind the scenes with us!

(Darcy and I were talking about how daunting it is to prepare for holidays: they only come once a year so there is little practice, and it feels very high stakes with little margin for error. On a podcast called Manager Tools, he heard this issue referred to as the Christmas rule. I thought that was so snappy!)

I wish I could highlight the operational complexity of executing holiday productions, but those of you who have planned big parties or weddings can probably relate to the pressure. Last year, we disappointed a good number of customers. Only 1 year old at the time, we were rookies. Solving our Yom Kippur mistakes last year took a toll on all of us. Now that we’ve been through tough times as a team, we know what our blind spots are and can plan better.

Some of the things we did this year to prepare more than last year:

  • We got the word out early for pre-orders: We published ads on East Side Monthly, Providence Monthly and the Jewish Voice. Each ad had its own discount code for our online store so we could track the effectiveness.

  • We promoted in store starting in late August: We posted signs at the register and our front door to encourage our customers to pre-order by 10/4.

  • We moved our order cutoff to 5 days before the holiday: Normally, we can pull together a plan with maybe 3 days’ notice. Because our online store is closed on weekends, the call was to make Friday 10/4 or Monday 10/7 the cutoff. We decided the marginal sales benefit in extending the deadline to 10/7 would not be worth the stress of planning overnight to start production on 10/8.

  • We emailed reminders to customers: Our marketing intern Lily scoured through our records to find all customers who had placed prior orders for Jewish holidays and we emailed them reminders to place their orders by 10/4. In some instances, we sent personalized reminders to families who typically order from us for big holidays.

  • We did not squeeze in late orders: If we were going to do all this planning, we could not sabotage that in any way. Not accepting late orders was conflicting for us. But in practice, orders placed after the cutoff get lost pretty much every single time. Nobody is happy in that scenario. We had to turn down some loyal customers as gently as possible. In the future, we want to figure out ways to speak and cater to these last-minute planners, because they are always out there.

  • We produced extra dough: Last year, a lot of the headaches were about overselling certain flavors of bagels and not having the tools to course correct. This year, we made more dough and left the bagels unbaked so we could bake more if were short.

  • We prepared more for day-of logistics: Packing and hand-off of orders is so complicated! We dropped all orders into a spreadsheet, tallied all bagels by flavor, pre-selected assortments for people who asked for “assorted” bagels, and had orders packed and verified by several team members. All pre-orders also got handwritten notes by me, which are a great personal touch. This stack of thank-you cards also gave the front of house team another tool to keep track of orders.

This year, we had minor issues with two orders, both of which we were able to resolve quickly. What’s more: our over-the-top preparation means we were ready even when customers made mistakes with their orders! Shout-out to David, who showed up after closing time to pick up his order, only to find out he fudged the pickup date. We dropped everything and prepared the order while he waited. I was so happy we made his day — can’t imagine the horror he would face if he had to go back home empty-handed!

Darcy and I capped off a day of hard work with a celebratory trip to The Cheesecake Factory. (Let’s talk about that one day! I love that place…) We learned a few things this year:

  • People do not think about Yom Kippur until after Rosh Hashanah. No pre-orders until after the new year despite all the advance promotion. How can we get more people to pre-order early?

  • Personal touches really matter. I am starting to learn who are the families that trust us and come back to us time after time for important holidays. Some names always show up on the list! Showing our gratitude for their support with a personal gesture is never a misstep.

  • Order pickups are timed around temple schedules. This is complicated to staff to and to coordinate, pickup-wise. Can we coordinate with local temples to understand the timing and dovetail that into our operations?

  • We can consider specialty items for the holiday. We sold an unprecedented amount of whitefish salad and a customer told me fish is a thing for the holiday. I’m still learning about holidays. What else do our customers want on their plates that night?

  • We can increase convenience even more. Online pre-ordering is pretty convenient, but we can do more. This is a day when customers are particularly prone to gratitude if we go the extra mile! We have some really unique ideas here that I don’t want to reveal just yet…

We are now putting our heads down to plan for Thanksgiving… What ideas should we consider going into the holidays? Let me know your thoughts!