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How to Create a Thanksgiving Menu for Your Restaurant

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. According to a 2008 survey by the National Restaurant Association (NRA), 11% of Americans eat out during Thanksgiving.1 Furthermore, 53% of Americans who eat at home rely on restaurants for some of their side items.2 These are pretty compelling reasons for restaurants to stay open during Thanksgiving. Also, since customers expect limited menu items, preparation and service can be accomplished with minimal staff.

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

According to the NRA, young adults, men and small families are most likely to eat out for Thanksgiving.3 Lack of time, limited cooking capabilities and simply not wanting to put on an extravagant production to feed a handful of mouths are the most logical reasons why this demographic frequents restaurants on Thanksgiving. Business travelers are likely candidates, too, because not everyone gets the day off, but that should not stop them from finding a restaurant in which to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner.

What Foods to Serve

As with most menu choices in the restaurant industry, the foods to be served depend largely on the restaurant's 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, too, but the main dish (turkey) can be replaced with tofu turkey, or 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

The restaurant's layout and concept will determine how the Thanksgiving dinner should be served. 
  • Brunch. Smaller restaurants or diners that specialize in breakfast, lunch and brunch items should not put on an extravagant meal for Thanksgiving. Rather, they should stick to what they are best at and what their customers expect. Thanksgiving brunch items can include pumpkin spiced pancakes, open-faced turkey sandwiches wit gravy, turkey chili, seasonal fruits and vegetables, sausage and egg cupcakes and Bloody Marys. 
  • Buffet. 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.
  • Take-Out. As stated before, 53% of Americans rely on take-out menu items for their Thanksgiving, even if they are eating at home. 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.

Thanksgiving Menu Design

Thanksgiving is a special occasion for a lot of reasons, and the day deserves a special menu. A Thanksgiving Day Menu can be easily designed using Microsoft Word, some Clipart turkeys and beige printer paper. However, there are 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.4 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.


1 National Restaurant Association, "Fact Sheet: Thanksgiving Dining and Takeout," (accessed October 20, 2010).
2 ibid.
3 ibid.
4 ibid.