Thanksgiving is a special — and hectic — time of the year for everyone. As the official start of the holiday season, Thanksgiving is also one of those days that can be difficult for those in the restaurant industry to know what to do with.
Should you stay open for the day? Will you lose money having a shift on a day where so many people stay home? Will your staff be upset having to work on a holiday that’s known for comfort and relaxation?
There are no definitive answers to these questions, but looking at your business specifically (and at trends in your area) can help you decide what the right choice is for your restaurant this November.
Analyze your menu.
Does a Thanksgiving meal fit into your brand? That’s a big part of figuring out whether you want to stay open on the day or not. Fast casual restaurants, for instance, probably aren’t suited for the experience people are looking for on Thanksgiving.
But even if you’re a full service restaurant, does Thanksgiving make sense for your menu? Can your kitchen staff adapt your menu’s style to be more like a traditional Thanksgiving meal?
This doesn’t mean only American-style restaurants can do Thanksgiving service, nor does it mean you have to change your entire menu for this one day. There are certainly ways to include your star items into a Thanksgiving menu along with the holiday favorites, or to adapt the classic turkey feast to fit your restaurant’s style.
Also consider if it’s feasible to offer Thanksgiving specials in addition to keeping the regular menu. Depending on your market, there might be a real interest in celebrating the day without roasted turkey and the fixings, which is where your regular menu can come in.
That being said, you should assume some of your Thanksgiving Day guests would want the traditional Thanksgiving fare, and it’s up to you to decide if mixing your own brand with the holiday makes sense.
Look at your competition.
If you’ve decided a Thanksgiving menu is even possible to create from your menu and brand, the next step is to look at what your competitors (especially those with similar customer bases) have been doing in the past few years.
Learning one competitor closes for Thanksgiving doesn’t mean you should necessarily close (it could be an untapped opportunity), but if several or all of the long-running restaurants in your area don’t open for the holiday, that might be a sign it isn’t viable for your market.
Estimate the changes to your regular shift.
Any special holiday will mean changes to how your shift operates. Are you prepared to serve a pre fixe menu, or possibly go family style for the day? Are you prepared for ordering ingredients to fit a Thanksgiving meal?
If your restaurant doesn’t regularly offer reservations, are you prepared to keep reservations organized for this particular day? Some of these hurdles will be easier than others to adapt within your restaurant, but you should still be prepared for them if you want to do a Thanksgiving shift.
Talk to your employees.
After you’ve looked at the possibility of maintaining a Thanksgiving shift, sit down with your employees and discuss the pros and cons. You might be surprised about their thoughts on the matter! Some restaurant workers do want to spend the day with their families. Others might not have as much attachment to the holiday and would rather take advantage of the opportunity for good holiday tips from customers.
Your staff also knows your menu and brand quite well, so they’re another good sounding board for whether a Thanksgiving shift is a good idea or not.
If you have a big enough staff, there’s the chance that you’ll have enough workers who want to work that shift while you give the rest of them the day off! But even if you nix the idea due to lack of enthusiasm from the staff, your employees will appreciate that you included them in the discussion and heard them out.
Come up with a plan.
Whether or not you choose to do Thanksgiving at your restaurant, you should have a plan. If you’re opening for Thanksgiving, even for reduced hours, make sure everyone working that day is on the same page in terms of food preparation and serving. Staff should understand how it will be different from a normal shift and what your expectations are.
You should also be advertising the event starting in early November, within the restaurant, on social media, and with traditional marketing like print, radio, or signage.
It’s crucial you don’t forget the internet when spreading the word about your holiday hours – many folks making Thanksgiving plans go to Google first to see who will be open in their area. Make sure to include the event (and the menu, if that’s already finalized) on your website as well, but make sure that information is taken down after Thanksgiving so your website is consistently up to date.
If you’re closing for Thanksgiving, make sure you have that announcement on your website, your social media accounts, and on-site at your restaurant as well. This ensures that your customer won’t try to come to eat while you’re closed for the holiday, and that they know what day you’ll be open again as well.
And also make sure your entire staff knows that they do, in fact, have the holiday off, and on what day the normal schedule will resume.
Consider your alternatives.
If you don’t want to do a full service shift for Thanksgiving, there are other options. Last year, world-renowned vegan restaurant Chicago Diner decided to close their kitchen on the actual day, but offered packaged carry out reservations. Their customers pre-ordered (whether it’s just some of the sides or the whole dinner) weeks ahead of time and their cooks made the orders to be ready for pick up the night before or even the day of! This allows for their staff to take the day off and still serve their customer’s unique foodie needs at the same time.
Want to generate some more ideas to drum up business this holiday season? Download our free eBook “Restaurant Marketing Strategies for Slow Times” now: