If you haven’t heard, the nation is up in arms over Starbuck’s decision to remove the Christmas-related designs usually found on their cups during the holiday season. They’ve elected to go with a more conservative, yet still slightly festive, plain red cup. Backlash from social media took the nation by storm, as thousands of faithful Starbucks patrons complained that the cups, and the brand, have tried to remove Christmas from the season. What many fail to realize is that any symbols that the Starbucks coffee cups have carried in the past have had no direct correlation to the Christian holiday, but rather simple symbol the winter season, like snowflakes, fir trees, and snowmen.

While Starbucks continues to serve up its 4 million cups of red cupped coffee a day, how does a restaurant owner with a single location or a small franchise react to the outcry of many about keeping Christmas in the businesses they frequent? Essentially, the Christmas holiday boils down to religion, and in the restaurant setting, religion must be taken into consideration on both the customer side, as well as the employee side. About 90% of American adults view religion as important or fairly important in their life, so the actions that a restaurant takes during the holiday season can become significantly riskier if the proper preparation and planning is not put into action well before the holidays arrive.

When considering the customer’s views towards Christmas, there is plenty of room to still make a normally drab dining room into a winter wonderland. Snowflakes, snowmen, ornaments, and lights are all symbols of the holiday season, and are less apt to offend a patron than seating them next to a nativity scene. Treat the Christmas season as what it really is, which is a joyous time to gather with family and friends to enjoy company and celebrate the year’s accomplishments. A good way to get a feel for what levels of decoration are acceptable in your restaurant, drop by some other establishments around town that have been in the area longer than your restaurant. You’ll get some great ideas on how to add some festive cheer to your business and have customers leave with a memorable experience of a great meal in a great environment.

On the other end of the spectrum, employees’ religious freedoms must also be respected and recognized during the busy holiday season that sees 7 major holidays across 7 different religions within a few weeks’ time. Religious accommodations for employees often do not cost the business much in terms of resources. Allow employees to swap shifts or request time off for religious events, as well as allow employees to have flexible scheduling throughout their day, to allow for prayer times or religious gatherings.

As we saw in the Starbucks instance, there will always be a debate on the religious undertones of the holiday season. It’s up to owners and management to use their best judgement during the November and December months as to how they feel that customers will best respond to the décor, menu items, and other festive spins that the establishment puts in place. Be aware that pushing a personal agenda by using your business as a front can have seriously negative results if the story gains traction. With social media and smartphones, any diner in your establishment can become a world news reporter with a few taps and swipes of a keyboard.

How does your restaurant celebrate and decorate for the holiday season? Do you keep décor very general, or will you put up a Christmas tree? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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