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Customer Experience

Keeping Your Restaurant Open on Thanksgiving: Yay or Nay?

by

Katie McCann

What are you thankful for this year? 

Turns out, a lot of people are thankful for restaurants open on Thanksgiving. Over 30 million Americans are planning to eat out for Thanksgiving, and another 15 million are planning to get takeout. 

That’s a lot of pumpkin pie. 

With any holidays, however, it’s a debate on whether staying open is the right decision. But with 30 million potential diners to be thankful for this year, do you keep your doors open for Turkey day?

Before you make any decisions, we’ll go over:

  • Why Thanksgiving is important to your restaurant and the major benefits
  • The pros and cons to staying open
  • Considerations to take into account if you decide to stay open

Let’s get started!

Why Is Thanksgiving Important for Restaurants?

Many Americans aren’t making extravagant Thanksgiving dinners anymore. Instead, they’re making reservations for the restaurant down the street. 

If 30 million Americans are dining out, staying open gets you a slice of that pie – and what’s Thanksgiving without pie? 

Also keep in mind that the number of Thanksgiving diners is increasing every year. When you keep open your restaurant now, you’re also earning loyalty – future diners who could make your restaurant part of their annual tradition. 

The fact is, there are people out there looking for a restaurant that’s open on Thanksgiving, somewhere to get their holiday feast on. When you choose to keep your doors closed, you’re missing business opportunities. 

But no decision is ever that easy! Naturally, there are reasons to go either way.

Two couples sharing a thanksgiving dinner, at a restaurant open on thanksgiving

The Pros and Cons of Staying Open

To be (open), or not to be? That is the question!

Here are some of the pros and cons you’ll have to weigh when deciding if you want to keep your restaurant open on Thanksgiving. 

Pros to Staying Open

1. Get more sales

If you weren’t going to keep your restaurant open on Thanksgiving, then staying open gives you the opportunity to cash in on holiday profits. You can add specials – and a price tag to them – that will boost your bottom line. Extra sales on highly profitable items is always something to be thankful for!

2. Appeal to new customers

If all the restaurants in your area aren’t staying open, you could take some regulars from your competitors or find yourself some brand new diners. People dining out for Thanksgiving for the first time also may find themselves booking a table with you. This is a great way to reach new customers with potentially less competition – if all the restaurants in your area are closed, there are fewer venues to choose from. Bring on the full house!

3. An excuse to try something new

Holidays are a great excuse to have some extra fun! Break out the decorations, try out some new menu items, or turn the day into a whole event. There’s so much room for creativity when you choose to stay open on holidays. 

Cons to Staying Open

1. Holiday staffing can be tricky – and expensive!

Naturally, your staff also have Thanksgiving plans. Creating a schedule can be tricky since you can expect a handful of time off requests. You’ll also likely have to pay your staff a holiday wage, which means it can get pretty pricey, compared to a normal business day.

2. Potentially create a precedent for other holidays 

If you’re open for Thanksgiving, your diners might assume you’re open for all holidays. Every holiday is a different decision, but just make sure you’re communicating your hours clearly for each to avoid disappointment. 

3.  You risk a slow day

While there are a lot of diners banking on restaurants being open on Thanksgiving, you’ll want to make sure these diners are in your area! Things can vary from city to city. If you don’t ensure that diners in your area require your services, you could end up with a very empty restaurant.  

Turkey on festive platter decorated with fruits and vegetables sitting on dining table

What to Consider When Staying Open 

If you opt to keep your restaurant open on Thanksgiving, here are some special considerations you’ll want to note. 

Time to Promote

Have you heard the saying, “If you cook a turkey in the woods, but nobody’s around to eat it, is there anything to be thankful for?”

Nope? That makes sense. 

But the principle is there!

If you prepare a Thanksgiving feast, make sure you have the time to promote the specials. You don’t want to put all this effort to schedule staff, make any menu changes, or have tables available to book if people don’t know they can join you for the holiday. 

Here are some quick and easy ways to spread the word:

Life of Pi(e) – Change Up the Menu

People eat an estimated 50 million pumpkin pies over the long weekend. If these Thanksgiving staples aren’t on your menu, you’ll want to consider adding them for the festivities. 

And it’s not just pie you’ll want to consider – though it’s a great place to start. See if there’s anywhere you can add some Thanksgiving classics to your holiday menu for a short period of time.

Some staples you could add to the menu for the weekend include:

  • Turkey in any form: People will eat 46 million turkeys over this weekend, so find a way to add it to your menu. Think roast turkey, turkey sandwiches, or a turkey stew.
  • Pie: Apple, pumpkin, pecan, or chocolate… is there really a bad pie?
  • Festive sides: Besides being thankful – of course – Thanksgiving is all about the good side dishes. Add mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, fresh buns, or roasted brussel sprouts.

Make sure to plan any menu changes early!

You don’t want to be scrambling a few days before to whip up a whole new menu. Give yourself time to try any new recipes, get your back of house staff familiar with the dishes, and source any ingredients you may need.

Get Tables Booked 

With this many potential diners, you want to know exactly how many people to expect. Implementing online reservations at your restaurant is a great way to ensure a smooth experience for guests and staff alike. You can even consider making the night available by reservation only. Give it an exclusive feel and know your numbers to plan food and staff with even more accuracy!

When you give people the ability to book their tables ahead of time, you and your diners both benefit!

Your business benefits with transparency in food needs, a glimpse into how many staff members are actually required, and the ability to plan your seating. You also minimize the risk of diners forgetting their dinner plans with automatic reminders going directly to your Thanksgiving guests via email or SMS!

Your diners also get the peace of mind knowing they have a guaranteed table. People hate waiting for turkey already. Imagine having to wait for a table to wait for dinner after that!

Guests can also let you know ahead of time of any food allergies or special requests right through their profile as they book! When they give you all this information ahead of time, it helps you deliver the best experience – which they will inevitably be expecting for the holidays.

Man carving turkey at table with family at a restaurant open on thanksgiving

Offer Takeout Options

If you don’t want to fully commit to keeping your operations on full blast, you can offer takeout options.

Adding takeout options to a holiday menu will appeal to the 15 million people dining at home.

If takeout is a special holiday treat, you’ll have to decide if you want to do this early. Some things you’ll want to consider with takeout options includes:

  • Takeout packaging: How are people getting their food from your restaurant to their house? Just brown bagging it won’t cut it! Ensure you have the proper takeout packaging ready to send thankful diners on their way with no issues.
  • Menu options: Do you want everything on your menu available for takeout? Probably not – chances are not every dish travels well! If things are best fresh out of the oven, they may not taste as good after traveling to somebody’s home. And a bad takeout experience is worse than not getting the sale – diners aren’t likely to return to give you second shot.
  • Delivery: If you’re offering takeout, is it only takeout, or are you going to offer delivery to your diners as well? Keep in mind, you’ll have to look into having a driver for the night and any local insurance needed.

Leftovers

If you think the best part of Thanksgiving is the weeks of turkey that follow, you aren’t alone! You may want to consider upping the portion sizes if you keep your restaurant open for Thanksgiving – nearly 80% of Americans value their leftovers more than the actual meal.   

Boost your portion sizes so you can send diners home with a delicious doggy bag of leftovers. Nobody wants to meal prep after a weekend of turkey!

Staff

You’ll be extra thankful for your staff – both full time and seasonal.

If you decide to keep your restaurant open on Thanksgiving, evaluate your staffing needs early. Your team will have their own Thanksgiving plans, so set a clear window for your staff to book time off and try to accommodate as best you can. 

Avoid a staffing headache by using your POS reports to create smart schedules. You can base this off past holiday traffic (if you were open previously and have the data), or use reports to ensure you have your top performers on the schedule. People expect VIP service for holidays, so you want to ensure you have a team that can deliver. 

There’s no real right or wrong answer when it comes to deciding on keeping your restaurant open on Thanksgiving. You have to consider your business and what’s best for you – don’t stay open or close up shop just because your neighbor is! 

But remember – 30 million diners are looking for somewhere to enjoy some turkey. Will that be at your restaurant? 


Katie is the Content Marketing Specialist at TouchBistro where she writes about food and restaurant experiences. She doesn’t shy away from the finer things in life, but no matter how much success she continues to acquire, she stays true to her roots and still considers imitation crab as gourmet. If she isn’t writing, you can find her on a patio with friends and a pitcher of white wine sangria.

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