7 Tips for Making Thanksgiving at Your Restaurant a Success

7 Tips for Making Thanksgiving at Your Restaurant a Success
Hosting Thanksgiving at your restaurant, whether through full service dining, carry-out or catering, can relieve holiday stress for your guests. Plan accordingly with these 7 tips.
by Chidinma Nnamani Nov 14, 2023 — 6 min read
7 Tips for Making Thanksgiving at Your Restaurant a Success

Elaborate meals are the hallmark of Thanksgiving, but preparation can be overwhelming for many. In a survey by Omaha Steaks, respondents said not getting all the cooking done on time and overcooking the turkey were among their top two “Thanksgiving fails.” Instead, dining in or taking out from a restaurant can be an easier, more cost-effective option, and by offering Thanksgiving dinner at your restaurant, you can reduce stress for your guests while at the same time boost sales for your restaurant.

And that’s not just limited to Thanksgiving Day. In 2019, restaurant guest sales and guest counts increased by 23% on Thanksgiving Eve, according to a Restaurant Dive report. And in 2022, the American Automobile Association predicted that more than 54 million people would travel 50 miles or more from home for Thanksgiving, presenting a lucrative opportunity for restaurants with increased foot traffic and heightened consumer spending. 

Michael Ciapciak, owner of Bang Bang Pie, told Square that staying organized is critical when preparing for seasonal spikes in demand, especially during Thanksgiving. “You need to stay calm and focused and always be thinking about quality over quantity. It may be many guests’ first exposure to your products [or service], so you want to ensure that their experience is the same as if they came during a slower time of the year.”

If your restaurant will be open this Thanksgiving, whether for dinner service, via takeout, or catering, here are some tips to boost sales while ensuring things run smoothly. 

Preparing your restaurant for Thanksgiving

1. Assess your space and capacity.

First, take stock of your available seating and dining space. Consider the layout of your restaurant and how you can optimize it for larger gatherings. You can do this by assessing the capacity of each section and determining the maximum number of guests you can comfortably accommodate. This will guide your decision-making process when accepting reservations and planning for walk-in traffic.

If you haven’t already, consider implementing a reservation system that allows you to easily manage the flow of guests, especially during peak periods. For example, Square for Restaurants integrates with OpenTable’s reservation system, allowing you to view your floor plan and coursing information from one central dashboard while connecting the rest of your front- and back-of-house processes. 

Introducing reservation fees is another consideration you can make to secure commitments from your guests and reduce the likelihood of no-shows. The fees can be applied to the final bill, creating a win-win situation for both your customers and your restaurant.

2. Prepare a winning Thanksgiving menu.

At the heart of any memorable Thanksgiving feast are classic dishes that evoke nostalgia and comfort. Roast turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing are non-negotiables for many diners during this season. Make these traditional dishes the cornerstone of your menu, ensuring they are prepared with the utmost care and authenticity and highlighted on your menu.

But that does not mean you can’t offer innovative takes on classic recipes. For example, 65% of surveyed consumers wanted an alternative to turkey, with crowned ham, chicken, and roast beef topping the list. Offering these alternatives on your menu as well as experimenting with unique variations of the classics This can add a layer of excitement to the dining experience, enticing guests to indulge in the unexpected.

To appeal to more guests, try offering a variety of options for different dietary needs, such as vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and low-carb choices. Consider clearly labeling these options on your menu and training your staff to provide information about ingredients and preparation methods to guests with specific dietary inquiries. Even aspects such as whether food was sourced locally or supports local farmers can attract diners, as 67% of diners said these decisions affected their dining choices, according to Square data.  

3. Make thoughtful staffing decisions.

The success of hosting Thanksgiving at your restaurant hinges on proper staffing. Reach out to your existing staff well in advance to confirm their availability during the Thanksgiving period. Discuss the expectations, schedule, and any additional responsibilities they might need to take on. Encourage open communication to address any concerns or scheduling conflicts early on, allowing you ample time to make necessary adjustments.

If you are low on staff and are expecting an influx of guests, consider hiring contract workers. This could include additional servers, kitchen staff, or even event coordinators if you plan to host special Thanksgiving events. Ensure that any temporary staff is adequately trained to maintain your restaurant standards.

Leverage technology to streamline staff management during the Thanksgiving season. Square Staff Management tools, for instance, can help you anticipate staffing needs so you can make real-time adjustments as required, ensuring a well-coordinated and efficient operation.

Lastly, recognize the dedication and hard work of your staff during the holiday season by offering competitive pay and appropriate incentives and perks, such as bonuses or extra paid time off. Creating a positive and supportive work environment during this busy period not only boosts morale but also encourages your team to provide excellent service.

4. Plan for to-go orders and Thanksgiving catering.

Takeout is often in high demand around Thanksgiving, reaching as high as a 20% increase. So, it’s wise to make plans to accommodate the increased volume of to-go orders, especially if dine-in services are not feasible for your restaurant.

Streamline your online ordering process to ensure a smooth customer experience. Square Online, for example, offers a robust online ordering solution that seamlessly integrates with your back-of-house operations. This not only simplifies the ordering process for customers but also ensures that your kitchen staff can manage orders with ease. The integration can streamline communication between front-of-house and kitchen teams, minimizing errors and enhancing efficiency.

The success of to-go orders extends beyond the culinary experience to the presentation and packaging. Invest time in reviewing and optimizing your packaging to ensure that it maintains the quality and freshness of your Thanksgiving offerings. Consider eco-friendly options and packaging that enhance the visual appeal of the dishes.

5. Create Thanksgiving-themed promotions and special offers.

Thanksgiving-themed promotions can add a festive touch to your restaurant’s offerings and attract customers looking for a special holiday experience. Here are some creative ideas you can try

6. Get the word out on your Thanksgiving offers and plans.

Promoting your Thanksgiving services and events effectively is crucial to attracting guests and ensuring a bustling holiday season. 

Consider all your marketing channels — social media, email, website, and any other communication you maintain with your customers. For example, you can start a countdown on social media platforms to build anticipation for your Thanksgiving offerings. Each day, reveal a different aspect of your celebration, whether it’s a sneak peek of the menu, behind-the-scenes preparation, or a spotlight on your talented chef.

Send an exclusive email or text message to your subscriber list offering an early glance at your Thanksgiving menu or a special discount code for early bookings. You can manage all your email and text campaigns seamlessly with Square Marketing.   

Ensure your website is updated with accurate and detailed information about your Thanksgiving offerings. Make it easy for visitors to find the information they need, such as how to make reservations, order to-go meals, or attend special events. If you own a Square Online site, you can easily update these details at any time via the site editor.

Clearly communicate any changes in operating hours on your website, social media platforms, and other communication outlets so customers and prospects can plan their visits or orders accordingly. If you are offering extended hours or specific Thanksgiving events, highlight these details prominently.

7. Ensure excellent customer service.

Customer service expectations are usually high on special occasions, so the key is to not only meet but exceed customer expectations.

Train your team to remain calm and composed under pressure, prioritize tasks efficiently, and handle customer inquiries with patience and courtesy. “Realize that everyone will be crazed and stressed during this time,” Ciapciak says. “Just focus on providing a happy experience for them, regardless of how busy you may be.” 

Consider practice drills to prepare your staff to perform at their best during busy periods. For example, conduct a simulation where staff members act as both servers and customers, ordering and serving dishes from the Thanksgiving menu. This helps reinforce menu knowledge, ensures accurate order taking, and enhances familiarity with the specific offerings during the holiday season.

When guests finally start to arrive, ensure that reservations are managed efficiently and guests are seated promptly upon arrival. Leverage your table management tool to optimize table turnover and provide a seamless experience. Adapt the service pace based on guest cues, ensuring that each table receives the level of attention and service they desire.

Craft a memorable Thanksgiving experience.

Hosting Thanksgiving celebrations at your restaurant is not just about serving delicious meals. Creating a warm, festive, and attentive atmosphere helps guests leave with fond memories that can spark return visits. Leverage the Square ecosystem of tools to stay organized and efficient, enhancing both staff performance and customer satisfaction. 

Chidinma Nnamani
Chidinma Nnamani writes about the food industry, digital marketing, and technology — and explores the fine spaces where they intersect. She works with B2B startups and agencies, helping them deliver clear, actionable, and insightful content for business audiences.


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