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October 31, 2016

How to Open on Thanksgiving Without Making Your Entire Staff Hate You

By: Piet E. Jones

Thanksgiving_foodcentricGreat, you’ve decided to open for Thanksgiving. Now the next question, how do you pull this off without sending staff morale into the basement? Competition for both front- and back-of-house staff is fierce, especially for experienced and competent employees. Sure, you may get through the holiday without anyone actually quitting, but a month or two down the line when the new locavore bistro around the corner opens or there’s a position at a downtown high-end hot spot, your staffers may remember not being able to spend a holiday with their family and be more open to making a move. Watching that sous chef you’ve spent the last year training and grooming or the bartender who created your hot cocktail program walk out the door represents a lost investment and can be disruptive to your future earnings.

Striking a balance for both the business and your staff is key. Some restaurants, especially those in hotels or resorts, are expected to be open. Others have a long history of holiday dining. Employees recognize this but, in terms of your staff, make sure days like this aren’t taken for granted. A few relatively simple steps can go a long way toward making them feel better about missing time with their families.


1. Plan Early

People plan Thanksgiving far in advance. Don’t leave the schedule announcement until the Saturday before. Let people know. There will be a little grousing and perhaps a few shift trades, but there will be less resentment overall than if people have to miss a dinner held in their own home because they didn’t find out until a couple of days beforehand.

2. Staff well, but don’t overstaff.

Sure it’s tough to be at work on a day like Thanksgiving, but being busy will make it go by fast. Standing around polishing glasses over and over again… not so much. If you don’t have the reservations to justify everyone you scheduled, let them loose, preferably the day before. Same with servers on call. No one wants to be on-call ever, but on Thanksgiving it’s worse. Sadly, sometimes it is necessary. Don’t make your servers wait any longer than they have to and make sure they know you appreciate them being on standby. You’d be surprised how far a cheap bottle of wine will go as a thank-you gesture.

3. Streamline Your Menu

This is especially important if you’re going to offer a Thanksgiving-themed meal. The kitchen will already be producing a number of dishes that aren’t normally on the menu, so bogging them down with prepping the entire regular menu on top of that can lead to consistency issues and more work than is necessary. If you do offer regular items alongside your holiday menu, create a shorter menu filled with your hottest sellers and most seasonally relevant dishes.

4. Embrace Prix Fixe

A set number of courses will streamline service for both the front and back of house staffs, especially for large parties that might want to get the meal over as quickly as possible.

5. Sell Your Menu

Most restaurants are closed on Thanksgiving, for a good reason. Simply opening your doors won’t make it worthwhile for you or your staff, especially if you’ve never done it before.  Social media, Facebook and Twitter are good places to start hyping being open, as are emails to your list of regulars. The more successful you can make the day, the more your staff will feel like it was worthwhile.

6. Serve a Family Meal

Even if you don’t normally do a staff/family meal, do one today. Pull everyone together, from busboy to GM. Sit down and break bread. It will help set the tone for the rest of the day and encourage the feeling of family and team.

7. Be present.

Yes, you, the owner, chef, head honcho.  Stopping in for a minute to pick up a couple of things from the kitchen to take to your home for your family dinner?  Bad idea.  That’s the kind of thing staff will remember for years to come and not in a good way.  Be there for the whole grueling shift. Have your family come in for the last seating.  As staff members stop by to say hi, have your family share with them how much their presence means to the success of the business.  As it wraps up and the customers slip away, call your staff together and ask them to share a glass with you and your family.  That’s the kind of thing that will keep their resumes dusty and un-updated for years to come.

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