Thanksgiving Marketing Ideas for Restaurants in 2024

By Katherine Pendrill

Chef cutting into a big turkey.

As the unofficial start of the holiday season in America, Thanksgiving is the perfect time for restaurateurs to ramp up their marketing efforts. Your guests are eager to gather with family and friends, so show them your restaurant is the place to be with these creative Thanksgiving marketing ideas!

In this article, we’ll explore why it’s worth your while to stay open on this holiday traditionally known for home-cooking. We’ll also serve up 15 ideas for Thanksgiving promotions you can run to show your guests how much you appreciate them this season. 

Why Your Restaurant Should Stay Open On Thanksgiving

With so many people eating Thanksgiving dinner at home, why should restaurants stay open on Turkey Day? We’ve got a few reasons that are sweeter than a slice of apple pie.

First and foremost, staying open on Thanksgiving is a profitable move. You don’t want to wait to take advantage of the restaurant holiday rush. Making a big splash with Thanksgiving marketing ideas will keep your restaurant top of mind with diners all the way through November and December, and will keep the sales rolling in.

In fact, in 2022, “With consumers trending toward experiences, in-person dining at restaurants was up 15.1% year-over-year,” reported Supermarket Perimeter. “The holiday season brought consumers out, from gathering with co-workers to dining with friends and family.” This is all the more reason for your restaurant to get in on the action. And, you just might draw some regulars from neighboring restaurants that have shut down for the holiday.

Serving Thanksgiving dinner at your restaurant is also a great way to show gratitude to your guests. It’s a way to take care of them while they relax and dine out, instead of worrying about cooking and cleaning up. Sounds like a recipe for customer loyalty!

Finally, Thanksgiving is just plain fun. It’s a time for your team to get inspired and whip up some new holiday menu items or Thanksgiving specials, or even make an event out of the entire week with creative Thanksgiving promotions.

Man sitting in a restaurant doing work on a computer while a woman is standing behind him helping.

15 Thanksgiving Marketing Ideas for Restaurants

Now’s the time to ditch the restaurant halloween ideas of last month and move on to the next festive occasion. Here are 15 Thanksgiving restaurant specials and ideas to inspire you.

1. Create a Thanksgiving To-Go Bundle

The best restaurant marketing ideas consider your customers’ needs first. For instance, people may not want to cook on Thanksgiving, but they might still want to stay warm and cozy at home. You can help them do that by serving up a festive Thanksgiving meal to-go.

Looking for ideas to include in your to-go bundle? Stick to the traditional fixings like turkey, stuffing (or cornbread for a Southern spin), and vegetables to make it feel like a home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner. Be sure to include gravy and cranberry sauce too, as well as a treat like a slice of pumpkin, sweet potato, or pecan pie.

2. Raise Money for a Good Cause

Thanksgiving is about being grateful. One way to show your gratitude for your community is by giving back to those in need. You can do this by donating a portion of your restaurant’s proceeds from the entire week of Thanksgiving to charity.

If you’re wondering what organization or cause to support, your staff will likely have some wonderful ideas, so consider involving them in the process.

3. Serve a Three-Course Dinner

Every list of Thanksgiving marketing ideas needs a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. To make the occasion extra special, try teaming up with local farmers to source your ingredients for the three-course meal. Be sure to also offer a vegetarian option for those who don’t eat turkey (think portobello mushroom steak).

With your menu set, you can then use Thanksgiving email marketing to generate buzz for the event and encourage guests to make reservations for the big day. In the spirit of gratitude, you can even offer a coupon for a free dessert to redeem another time to the first 10 (or more!) people who reserve a table.

4. Plan Kid-Friendly Activities 

Thanksgiving is a family-oriented holiday, so you’ll want to have some options for kiddos as well as adults. Start with a kids’ menu featuring dishes like turkey nuggets, or chicken nuggets in the shape of turkeys if you want to get really creative!

Also, be sure to have Thanksgiving coloring books on hand. Kids can stay busy at the table while coloring fall scenes with smiling pumpkins and other fun and festive images. Bonus points if you ask a local artist to create the coloring books, then team up to share the news about the collaboration on your restaurant social media channels.

5. Give Extra Loyalty Points 

What better way to show your most loyal customers some love than by offering extra loyalty points to those who dine with you Thanksgiving Day. Try running the promotion before dinner to encourage guests to come in for a quick bite before their big meal. 

Get the invitation out to your guests via email, and consider recording a short video for a personal touch. Let your customers know you’re grateful for their business and you want to reward them for visiting you on such a busy day.

6. Host a Pre-Dinner Service

You don’t need to stick to dinner for your Thanksgiving restaurant menu. Give Thanksgiving hosts a break from cooking by offering a special breakfast service instead.

Entice fall fanatics with festive drinks like pumpkin spice lattes or apple pie punch, and a variety of savory and sweet breakfast dishes that incorporate the flavors of autumn (think chicken apple sausage, roasted squash and bacon hash, and cranberry scones). 

Be sure to spread the word in advance to your restaurant’s email list and on social media. Create a sense of urgency by requesting that guests RSVP before spots fill up.

7. Run a Thanksgiving Contest

Share the warm, fuzzy feelings associated with Thanksgiving by offering your customers a chance to win a sweet prize for dining at your restaurant. You can set the rules so that any meal ordered during the week of Thanksgiving will be eligible to win, as long as the guest also posts a photo of the dish on social media and tags your restaurant.

With this Thanksgiving marketing tip, you’ll not only be boosting customer experience – you’ll also be growing your restaurant’s audience on social media. It’s a win-win!

8. Throw a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Party 

Millions of Americans watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade every year. With that much interest in the event (which has been a longstanding tradition since 1924), hosting a parade-watching party at your restaurant could be an excellent way to bring more guests through your doors.

Depending on where you’re located, the parade will take place in the morning or afternoon, so plan your party accordingly for breakfast or lunchtime. Get the word out to customers as part of your Thanksgiving email marketing campaign, and post about it on social media to welcome first-time diners as well.

9. Offer a ‘Friendsgiving’ Buffet 

‘Friendsgiving’, or having Thanksgiving dinner with friends instead of family, is a common tradition for many Americans – 17% to be exact, according to 2022 data from Statista. The concept is especially popular among the 25 to 34 age group.

So, why not cater your Thanksgiving restaurant specials to these diners by offering a ‘Friendsgiving’ buffet at some point during the week? You can make it extra special by setting up a photobooth where friends can snap fall-themed shots together. Don’t forget to post the event on your restaurant’s website and social media channels beforehand to hype it up!

10. Invite Guests to Watch a Football Game

If your restaurant has a more casual vibe, welcome the sports fans among your customer base to join you for a Thanksgiving football-watching party. Deck out the restaurant with Thanksgiving and football-themed decor to create a fun atmosphere for the occasion. 

Serve up a festive dish like turkey wings or a drink like pumpkin-flavored beer to complete the Thanksgiving themed event.

11. Host a Sweater Weather Party 

While some locales will still be relatively warm on Thanksgiving Day, there will be a chill in the air in many other places. Depending on where your restaurant is located, a sweater weather party could be a great way to celebrate Thanksgiving with your guests.

If you have a patio, invite people to gather outside around a bonfire (or candles), and serve warm apple cider to help their hands stay toasty. If your space is indoor-only, put the focus on the sweaters and host a contest for the best fall sweater. Post the winner’s photo on social media afterward to keep the Thanksgiving marketing ball rolling.

12. Create a Thanksgiving-Themed Specialty Drink 

While specialty cocktails are perfect for summer holidays like the 4th of July, your guests might crave something a little warmer on Thanksgiving. This is the perfect time to add a drink like a hot buttered rum or a cranberry hot toddy to your Thanksgiving restaurant menu. 

Another fun way to engage your customers is by sharing a behind-the-scenes video on Instagram or TikTok that shows your bartender making this delicious drink. As pop singer Ariana Grande says, “I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it!”

13. Offer Live Music

Add some entertainment to the culinary experience at your restaurant and delight your guests with local live music on Thanksgiving. Spread the word about the event in advance, and team up with the artist(s) to post about it on both of your social media channels to amplify your reach – guitar pun intended.

14. Host a Thanksgiving Trivia Night

Keep your customers on their toes with a round of Thanksgiving-themed trivia at your restaurant. Here are a few question ideas to include for inspiration, courtesy of Parade:

  • Question: What meats were served at the first Thanksgiving celebration?
    Answer: Venison, swan, duck and goose were likely – not turkey!
  • Question: Who was the first President to pardon a turkey?
    Answer: John F. Kennedy
  • Question: When was the first Thanksgiving football game?
    Answer: 1876
  • Question: How many turkeys are prepared for Thanksgiving in America each year?
    Answer: About 46 million
  • Question: What city has the oldest Thanksgiving Day Parade?

Answer: Philadelphia

15. Thank Other Local Businesses

Show your gratitude for your local business community on Thanksgiving by shouting out to various shops and other businesses on social media. Involve your staff in the process and ask them which local business they’re most grateful for and why. Then, post their answers online (with permission, of course) to spread the love!

You now have 15 Thanksgiving marketing ideas to help your restaurant create buzz this holiday season and boost your sales. Which one will you try? Post about it on social media and let us know! While you’re running your Thanksgiving promotions, you can also get a head start on planning your Christmas promotion ideas. And in case no one has told you lately, thank you for everything you do to create an amazing customer experience for your guests. We’re thankful for YOU.

Photo of Katherine Pendrill
by Katherine Pendrill

Katherine is the Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, where she writes about trending topics in food and restaurants. The opposite of a picky eater, she’ll try (almost) anything at least once. Whether it’s chowing down on camel burgers in Morocco or snacking on octopus dumplings in Japan, she’s always up for new food experiences.

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