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Thanksgiving is one of the biggest holidays in the United States. But for restaurants and bars, Thanksgiving Eve is even bigger.
Many people flock to restaurants on Thanksgiving Eve — either because they’re reuniting with friends from their hometowns, or they just don't have any interest in cooking before Turkey Day because their fridges are already packed with prepped dishes. This means that many restaurants see their sales skyrocket on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. In fact, in 2019, restaurants saw a 34.6% increase in sales on Thanksgiving Eve compared to other Wednesdays in November.
And when it comes time to decide which days of this holiday long weekend holiday to stay open, know that while most restaurants stay open on Thanksgiving Eve, only about 30% tend to open on Thanksgiving itself, according to Toast data from 2018 and 2019.
Here are some tips for running a restaurant during the Thanksgiving Eve rush and preparing to make the most of this busy holiday weekend.
How to Prepare for Thanksgiving Eve at your Restaurant
Stock Up On Inventory and Delivery Drivers
Ordering inventory and scheduling delivery drivers for the holidays is a delicate balancing act. You don’t want to totally sell out and have to turn away diners, but you also don’t want to hemorrhage money by overbuying or overstaffing. Look at years past and compare the numbers to make a plan that’ll work for your restaurant. Inventory planning can help, so learn more about that here.
For many restaurants, it’s about planning ahead. “It’s all hands on deck. The expectation is that everyone is cooking for Thanksgiving and they don’t want to cook the night before,” says Vincent Caminiti of 90 Novanta Pizzeria. “Many people have family visiting, and pizza is a great way to feed the troops.”
Here’s how a few other restaurants get ready:
"We expect to make over a couple of hundred pizzas. [Sales] will definitely be in the thousands. We especially stock up on the dough. We also double up our delivery drivers and schedule a ton of people to answer the phones.” - Velma Cagel, Pizza Planet
"The day before Thanksgiving we get so busy that we normally staff up the store like Super Bowl Sunday. We have between 30 and 40 carry-outs and 50 deliveries each hour.” - Johnny Michie, Papa John’s Pizza
"Nobody in the restaurant business wants to sell out, because that means there's some customers that come in later that don't get to have what they want. At the same time (taking as many orders as possible) is critical for us so we can pay the rent, staff, and food bills.” - Tyler Frazer, Tyler's Barbecue
Try Out a Holiday Menu
For restaurants that choose to stay open on the holidays, there are ways to ensure you make a profit to help boost your business through the slower, post-holidays winter months.
Having a set holiday menu will make things easier on both front and back of house staff. You can also offer a limited drink menu featuring seasonal cocktails. You can use menu engineering to make sure your holiday menus are as profitable as possible — check out our free menu engineering course and worksheet to get started.
It's also a great idea to consider a holiday catering menu. In the 2020 holiday season, thanks to COVID-19, a lot of restaurants tested out offering takeout feasts — essentially a to-go family pack of their best holiday offerings, at a price point that's very profitable for the restaurant and still a great deal for diners looking to celebrate. It's essentially smaller-format holiday catering, which is an excellent option for regulars who love your food and are hosting dinners but don't want to cook. You can heavily market this through social media, and make sure your guests pre-order their feasts if possible. Check out this awesome example from Alobar in Toronto:
Creating a restaurant staff schedule during the holidays can be an absolute nightmare. While many restaurants require staff to work on Thanksgiving Eve, some hire extra delivery drivers (or bouncers) and have different policies for the day after Thanksgiving Eve.
Your team probably wants to celebrate the holidays with their loved ones too, so staffing for any holiday should be done well in advance. Some restaurants give employees the option to choose between working Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day, requiring them to work at least two holidays. Others reward employees with double-time, as well as an end-of-shift bottle of wine for working a holiday.
Whatever the case is, make sure your staff knows how thankful you are that they’re willing to come in on the biggest days of the year – and be empathetic towards the fact that they might be giving up family time to be there.
Keep Employees Happy
Along the lines of empathetic staffing, make sure to keep your employees happy during and after the holidays. How you treat your employees affects every part of your business. An unhappy employee is unlikely to treat your customers with warm hospitality.
What better way to kick off the holiday season than by showing your staff that you appreciate them? A big family meal, generous bonus, or staff party are all great ways to support your team and make them feel appreciated.
Host a Party or Close on Thanksgiving
Most people spend the Thanksgiving holiday with family, but for many in the industry, it's the start of the busiest season of the year. Around 30% of restaurants decide to stay open on the big day, and The Black Rose in Boston, MA is one of them. They decided to open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving with a limited menu and live music. Their main message: Join us after your mid-day nap!
Some restaurant operators shared creative ways to celebrate their employees during Thanksgiving week, including, of course, simply taking the day after Thanksgiving Eve off.
- “We're ‘closed’ Thanksgiving day but hosting a free, all-volunteer Thanksgiving dinner for the less fortunate. We even have a charity taking meals to people without transportation. The support from the community has been awesome too! We've received enough in donations to feed over 300 people, along with lots of toiletries and clothes for homeless."- Susan MacDonald, The Gin Mill Jensen Beach
- “We are closed! We are hosting a Thanksgiving Eve party and then opening up again on Friday for lunch.” - Laura Bee, That Meetball Place
- “Any place I worked was always open. As my children got older they also went in to the restaurant business. We started our own holiday and called it Thanksgiving Tuesday. Friends, family - everyone came to our house. Really doesn’t matter the day; it’s the time spent together that matters.” - Anonymous
Expect Revenue to Rise
For many restaurants and bars, Thanksgiving Eve is the most revenue-generating Wednesday of the year.
Here are some of the crazy growth numbers restaurants have seen on overall sales, individual checks, and delivery sales:
“Our revenues typically rise anywhere from 60% to 100% versus a regular Wednesday night across our fifteen Bar Louie locations.” - Scott Ward, Bar Louie
“Domino’s sales increase an average of 50% on the night before Thanksgiving over a typical Wednesday night.” - Tim McIntyre, Domino’s Pizza
Use Tech to Help You Every Step of the Way
Using historical data from your POS can help you with inventory, staffing, and deciding whether or not to stay open during the holidays. These data-driven business decisions will guide you in the right direction.
Some POS systems will even allow you to determine which menu items will be the most popular during the holidays. If more people are ordering appetizers than entrees, it might be useful to double down on those nachos and cheese when ordering inventory.
If the profits you made on a slow Thanksgiving Day didn’t match your overhead costs last year, consider closing up shop. If anything, your staff will be grateful for the day off.
Restaurant operation is stressful, and the holidays can be too. It’s important to remember that the holidays can serve as a reminder of why you got into this business in the first place. What is a restaurant, after all, without food, family, friends, and good times?