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Planning well makes the holiday rush more manageable.

5 Ways to Prep Your Restaurant for the Thanksgiving Rush

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Use these tips to make sure the holidays aren't a headache.

By Laura Price November 2016 Vendor Bylines

If history is any indication, this Thanksgiving could be a banner year for restaurants around the country. According to the National Restaurant Association, as many as 80 million Americans are expected to dine out or take out meals on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, a number that has steadily increased over the last few years.

For restaurateurs, the holiday crush can be a double-edged sword. The boon to business is certainly welcome, but ensuring proper staff levels while also giving employees time to spend with their families can be a challenge. Here are five quick tips to help you gear up to make the most of the holiday weekend:

1. Plan Festive Specials and Limited Time Offers

Thanksgiving isn’t all about the turkey and trimmings—it’s also the official kickoff to the holiday season. Attract new and repeat customers with holiday-themed drink and entrée specials, Thanksgiving weekend-only offers, or even partner promotions, giving discounts, a free appetizer, or other benefit for showing receipts from Black Friday purchases made at partnering retailers. And, don’t forget Small Business Saturday: locally-owned establishments in particular should consider creating special offers for customers who shop small.

2. Promote Holiday Parties and Catering

While larger get-togethers are likely already in the works, consider offering your venue or catering services to smaller groups for more impromptu holiday gatherings—the local book club, a ladies’ day out, a men’s shopping excursion, professional groups, or small businesses, for example. With many customers planning to welcome guests into their homes for the holidays, promote catering packages that take the stress out of large family meals, allowing families to spend more time with one another and less time slaving over the stove and dishes.

3. Avoid Overstaffing

It might be tempting to call in all the help, but servers standing around or getting in each other’s way is not only frustrating for management and staff, who’d much rather be enjoying the holiday, but it also lowers productivity and increases costs. Resist the temptation to overstaff by consulting historical data and only schedule the staff you need based on hard numbers. And if take out is a large part of your Thanksgiving business, be careful not to consider those sales in the staffing equation.

4. But Also Avoid Understaffing

While trying to serve more with less does reduce personnel costs and keeps everyone busy, it’s also a recipe for staff burnout, poor service, and reputation damage. Building a staffing schedule based on actual sales or guest volume, while taking into account variables like weather, events, and marketing programs can help optimize labor planning and spend.

5. Use Forecasts to Get it Right

Lots of variables factor into creating the perfect staff schedule or holiday promotion, including weather, local events, sports schedules, knowledge of the regional business climate, and more. By accurately tracking and using historical data to create realistic forecasts, restaurant managers can configure promotions and staffing levels based on hard data, ensuring optimal productivity, staffing, and service.

Thanksgiving is a perfect time to show your gratitude to repeat customers for their loyalty and to welcome new customers to your table and give them an experience that will keep them coming back. By implementing promotional and staffing plans that capitalize on the opportunity, restaurants can kick off the holiday season with success.