How to Create a Thanksgiving Menu for Your Restaurant


Americans are eating more and more of their meals at restaurants. This includes eating out during Thanksgiving. The National Restaurant Association (NRA) stated in a 2008 survey that 11% of Americans eat out during Thanksgiving. Furthermore, 53% of Americans who eat at home rely on restaurants for some of their side items. These are pretty compelling reasons for restaurants to stay open during Thanksgiving.

Advertising Openness

Social media is an increasingly popular method to inform potential customers that a restaurant will be open during Thanksgiving. Twitter, Facebook and the restaurant’s website are great starting places; they are also free. Be sure to post the hours of operation and show the menu so customers know what to expect. Also, a big sign on the restaurant door that says “Join us for a special Thanksgiving Day Dinner” is another effective and free way to advertise to your existing clientele.

Who to Expect

Young adults, men and small families are most likely to eat out for Thanksgiving. Lack of time, limited cooking ability and simply not wanting to put the effort into feeding everyone are the most logical reasons why people go to restaurants on Thanksgiving. Business travelers are likely candidates, too, because not everyone gets the day off. But that won’t stop them from finding a restaurant serving Thanksgiving dinner. So take advantage of the opportunity.

What Foods to Serve

The foods you decide to serve depend largely on your main client base. Most guests will expect a traditional menu, but there are those who have special dietary needs.

  • Traditional menu items. Turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, dinner rolls and pumpkin pie are the menu items one thinks of most during Thanksgiving. For most restaurants, it is best to stick to the basics, because people who eat out during Thanksgiving Day will want a traditional turkey dinner without all the hassle that comes with making it themselves.
  • Kosher menu items. Restaurants located in primarily Jewish communities will want to have kosher items on their Thanksgiving menu. Kosher Thanksgiving items include roast turkey with caramel glaze, parve stuffing, cornbread muffins, sugar almond lettuce salad and pumpkin pie.
  • Vegetarian and Vegan Menus. A lot of kosher menu items can be used for vegetarians and vegans. But the turley can be replaced with tofu turkey, better known as tofurkey. Also, make sure to have plenty of non-animal product dishes available (like butter-free potatoes) since vegans do not eat any animal products.
  • Locally-Sourced Ingredients. With the growing trend towards sustainability and locally sourced food items, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to further showcase your establishment’s dedication to the surrounding community by purchasing from local growers.

Methods of Meal Service

Your restaurant’s layout and concept will determine how the Thanksgiving dinner should be served.


Smaller restaurants or diners that specialize in breakfast, lunch and brunch items should not put on an extravagant meal for Thanksgiving. A restaurant like this would fare better by giving a Turkey Day spin on their menu items instead. Thanksgiving brunch dishes can include pumpkin spiced pancakes, open-faced turkey sandwiches wit gravy, turkey chili, seasonal fruits and vegetables, sausage and egg cupcakes and Bloody Marys.


Restaurants that only want to offer traditional Turkey Day fare can save a lot of time and labor by setting up some buffet tables and chafing dishes. A buffet makes it seem more like a Thanksgiving at home, which are typically buffet-style. Plus, a minimal staff is needed to prepare the food and make sure the empty food pans are replaced.

Prix Fixe Menu

Sit-down and fine dining restaurants will primarily want to put together a prix fixe menu with limited Thanksgiving Day offerings.


A take-out option is a great choice for restaurants as well. Some people will look for entire prepared meals whereas others will look to fill out their side items with pre-made items from a restaurant. Either way, every restaurant that intends to stay open on Thanksgiving should have some items available for carry-out. It’s a great way to increase business.

Thanksgiving Menu Design

Thanksgiving is a special occasion for a lot of reasons and the day deserves a special menu. There are several menu design websites like with holiday templates.

If it fits with your concept, you might be able to train your servers to orally deliver the menu to every table instead, thus avoiding a print menu altogether.

Giving Back to the Community

Restaurants are important elements to a community, and NRA numbers show that 90% of restaurants engage in some sort of charitable activities. Thanksgiving is the perfect time of year to help those in need by donating meals to a homeless shelter and giving those in need a bit of holiday cheer. It not only looks great from a customer perspective, but it feels even better to be the business doing the giving.

photo credit: anthimeria via photopin cc


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