How Thanksgiving Eve and Thanksgiving Impacted Restaurants in 2019

By: Isabelle Hahn

6 Minute Read

Dec 05, 2019

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Staying open around the holidays might be the key to meeting your monthly goals. Optimizing your operations for the wintertime pays off, especially around Thanksgiving, when food is on everyone’s mind. 

Restaurateurs have come to treat Thanksgiving Eve as it’s own dedicated holiday. “The day before Thanksgiving, we get so busy that we normally staff up the store like Superbowl Sunday,” says Johnny Michie of Papa John’s Pizza. 

We published exclusive data from Toast restaurants last year, and we’re back this year with an update. 

In 2018, restaurants saw a 33% increase in sales on Thanksgiving Eve compared to other Wednesdays in November. This year, sales increased 34.6% on the day before Thanksgiving. 

The percentage of restaurants that stayed open on Thanksgiving remained about the same. 30.8% of restaurants stayed open on Thanksgiving in 2019, and 30% were open in 2018. 

Be Prepared for the Madness:

Thanksgiving Eve is the heaviest drinking day of the year. Many travelers are home for the holidays, and rather than cook the day before Thanksgiving — an all-day cooking bonanza — they venture to local bars and restaurants.

You should expect that your patrons are there to have fun, but be ready for the rowdiness at a moment’s notice. Amanda McNamara, server turned Content Marketing Manager, recalled her time at Jake & Joe’s. “Our restaurant staffed bouncers at the door on Thanksgiving Eve, just in case the night started to get out of hand.”

Whether you prepared for Thanksgiving through efficient staffing, stocking up on inventory, creating festive specials, or celebrating with a family meal, here are some tips for running a smooth ship during the holidays. 

Empathetic and Efficient Staffing

“All hands on deck, expectations that everyone is cooking for Thanksgiving and they don’t want to cook the night before. Many people have family in town visiting, and pizza and pizzeria dishes are a great way to feed the troops,” says Vincent Caminiti of 90 Novanta Pizzeria.

Your staff, like anyone else, probably wants to celebrate the holidays with their family and loved ones. 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 employees to work at least two holidays. Others reward employees with double-time as well as a bottle of wine to go home at the end of the shift 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. 

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, especially after being in the weeds all day. 

Susan MacDonald of The Gin Mill closes for service on Thanksgiving day but hosts a free Thanksgiving dinner for the less fortunate. This offers a chance for employees to bring their families into the restaurant for a meal to volunteer, with no stress of working a shift on the holiday.

Holiday Marketing and Menus

For restaurants who choose to stay open on the holidays, there are ways to ensure you make a profit whether the foot traffic is light or overwhelming. 

But first, you should always remember the cons of being open during the holidays. If you historically don’t have many customers before 5 p.m. on New Year’s, try operating limited hours to ease the burden on your staff. 

The Black Rose in Boston, Mass. 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.

Having a set holiday menu to come back to will ease both your front of house and back of house staff. You can also offer a limited drink menu, featuring seasonal cocktails.

It may also be a good idea to consider a holiday catering menu. Restaurant catering is an excellent option for your regulars who love your food and are hosting large dinners. You can even start marketing catering options on social media for the holidays. 

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 if you’re in a panic this time of year.

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 Christmas Day didn’t match your overhead costs last year, consider closing up shop for the day. If anything, your staff will be grateful for the day off. 

Happy Holidays

Restaurant operation is stressful, and the holidays can be too. It’s important to remember that the good things about the holidays are reminders of why you got into this business in the first place. What is a restaurant without food, family, friends, and good times? 

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