Opening on Thanksgiving Day: How restaurants make it a success

For many people, Thanksgiving dinner is the most important meal of the year. For those who host the holiday, it can also be a marathon of chores: menu planning, shopping, cooking, and cleaning. Enter the restaurant Thanksgiving: a Turkey Day innovation that is growing in popularity among those who love Thanksgiving but don’t necessarily want to deal with the legwork involved in the preparation process.

Thanksgiving Eve is a long-established moneymaker for restaurants and bars. In recent years, according to restaurateurs, the demand for a dining-out option on Thanksgiving has increased as well. For many restaurants that choose to open when most other places are closed, Thanksgiving Eve and Thanksgiving Day have become a two-day revenue-generating powerhouse.

Like any other event, successfully executing Thanksgiving service at a restaurant requires planning ahead, keeping your staff happy, and going the extra mile to ensure guests are getting the warmest and most hospitable experience possible. Here’s what you need to know about streamlining service and offering holiday-worthy hospitality to make Thanksgiving a runaway success.

Create a holiday staffing schedule

Well in advance of the holiday season, hang up a clipboard that requires each member of the team to sign up to work at least one major holiday (Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve). This sets expectations ahead of time and gives people ample time to plan ahead for their personal holiday schedules.

Get the word out

If no one knows you’ll be open on Thanksgiving and what you’ll be offering, no one will show up. There are many ways to let people know spending the holiday with you is an option. You can spread the word by making special check presenters so every guest sees it before they leave. Try putting the Thanksgiving menu on the front page of your website so anyone googling the restaurant knows what’s happening. And don’t forget about social media and email. Use those channels to make it known people can leave the cooking and cleaning to you on Thanksgiving day. Here are some tips to get your restaurant on people’s radar.

Capture demand

Restaurants that stay open on the holiday see a high volume of bookings on OpenTable. To capture that demand, it’s a good idea to open your reservation book one to two months out. Many diners want to make their plans in advance. Keep in mind, guests who dine out on Thanksgiving may not be regulars but people who save these kinds of dining experiences for special occasions. They may also be travelers in town for the holiday. Ultimately, you want to deliver on their expectations and, ideally, turn the one-time guest into a champion and repeat visitor.

Design a winning menu

When it comes to major dining days, there’s an art to creating a menu that guests will love and staff can execute easily. Especially around the holidays, diners want to savor flavors from their childhood, but they also want an elevated meal and a standout restaurant experience. It can be a fine line to walk. You’ll also want to consider the number of people you anticipate. Not only does there tend to be a high volume of guests on Thanksgiving, but there are also larger parties than on typical nights. Streamlining your menu is key to a successful holiday service. Thanksgiving is not the night for experiments.

Offer the classics

A key part of menu design is hitting all the expected notes. Thanksgiving is a nostalgic holiday and certain offerings are simply non-negotiable. The absolute essentials are turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. People crave the comforting, nostalgic flavors of their childhood, and the best thing a chef can do is bring his or her expertise to the iconic meal. Instead of turning classic roast turkey into sous vide turkey breast roulade, look for subtle ways to up the flavor ante. For example, consider buying fresh turkeys from local farms instead of frozen and slow cooking them for great texture. Get the best ingredients, apply the right techniques, and let the food shine.

Celebrate Thanksgiving with employees

Keeping your staff happy on a day they might usually spend with their family is very important. Make the Thanksgiving menu that day’s family meal. It can make working a major holiday an easier sell and keep people happy while they work. Eating together before such an important service also builds community. Plus, this first-hand experience of the menu will help servers offer better hospitality when guests have questions about the food.

Don’t throw your regular menu out the window

Even on Thanksgiving, there are always guests that don’t want the traditional dishes, so you might consider offering the regular menu as an option as well. After all, not everybody loves turkey, and people nowadays have all sorts of dietary restrictions. As always, it’s good to have options. Depending on your area, you may get a number of international guests who don’t want or expect an American Thanksgiving dinner. As a restaurant, you want to be able to serve everybody if possible.

Step up service

To make the evening feel extra special, think about adding an amuse bouche to the menu or other small gratis surprises. Consider changing your usual approach to service by having servers offer seconds of sides and turkey to those who want it. It makes the experience feel both homey and a little fancy at the same time. Everyone has different Thanksgiving favorites. Make it easy for those who want some extra stuffing, dark meat only, or a little more gravy to personalize their plate.

Decorate for the holiday

The Thanksgiving table is in many ways as important as the meal itself. Consider making the decor extra-special with bountiful-looking arrangements filled with plenty of flowers and microgreens. Try to create an especially festive atmosphere for the occasion.

Ultimately, the decision on whether or not to open the doors on Thanksgiving Day will depend on your specific situation. Restaurants in tourist-rich metro areas or those that can capitalize on being open when most other places are closed can benefit by offering an effortless way to celebrate. If you choose to welcome guests on this most food-centric of holidays, these tips can help you make it a major success.