There are myriad reasons one might eschew good ol' home cooking on Thanksgiving and opt to dine at a restaurant: you burnt the potatoes to an inedible crisp; got stuck on the road; the neighboring Bumpus hounds broke in and jacked your turkey; you blew your grocery budget on a Word of the Day calendar (but now you know what "myriad" and "eschew" mean); Or maybe, you're just plain lazy.
The reason doesn't matter.
What does matter is that there are more than a few national chains who keep the lights/ovens running on Turkey Day, and some even go all in with Thanksgiving-themed specials. Just remember, if you are going to dine out on the fourth Thursday of November, leave a generous tip: I assure you, these workers would rather be at home with their families than with you.
Timothy DeLaGhetto and David So's Tips on Surviving Food Festivals
Many Applebee's are actually open for limited hours on Thanksgiving… but the catch is, some aren't. Unfortunately, the only way to know is to check details for your individual store (which you can find here), or retroactively build up a strong enough rapport with your local Applebee's bartender so you can just text them. The latter is highly recommended. Do they serve Thanksgiving food?: While they don't serve turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing, Applebee's does do one app and an entree for $20. And really, isn't it time we add mozzarella sticks to the traditional Thanksgiving roster?
Bob Evans made its name by preparing home-style comfort foods in a cheap, quick, chain setting. So it just make sense that the majority of their locations are open on Thanksgiving (but not all of them are open, so make sure to check). Do they serve Thanksgiving food?: Bob Evans serves Thanksgiving food year-round -- you can definitely show up in your holiday-themed romper and expect all the turkey-based trappings you'd get at Grandma's. They even have an elaborate Thanksgiving To-Go package if you want to make your friends and family think you actually cooked.
As far as poultry goes, Boston Market is obviously more invested in the chicken game (remember when they were Boston Chicken?), but they still buy into Turkey Day: all locations are open for dine-in and takeout. It's a Thanksgiving miracle. Do they serve Thanksgiving food?: Heck yes. With a la carte dishes, catered full meals for entire groups, and even some reheatable options you can buy in the days leading up to the holiday, Boston Market may serve the most Thanksgiving food out of any big chain.
America's favorite roadside restaurant/place to buy rocking chairs and walking sticks will indeed be open on Thanksgiving Day -- for takeout, and customers who want to hang out in those aforementioned rocking chairs. Not a bad Thanksgiving look, actually. Do they serve Thanksgiving food?: Not only can you get a bona fide Thanksgiving dinner inside the restaurant, you can snag a fully reheatable meal to take home. And they even keep the deal going three days after Thanksgiving, so you can keep the gut-demolishing fun going all weekend. No leftovers required.
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. And when you can't do that, you want to go to Denny's -- where you can pay everyone $10 to pretend to know your name. Denny's is open and willing on Thanksgiving, and every other day of the year. Do they serve Thanksgiving food?: They do have a special Thanksgiving day menu, but most of it consists of pancakes and snowman-themed desserts. That's cool. They always have their standby turkey and dressing dinner, which is a solid stand-in for what you'd get at a loving home.
Buffet legends Golden Corral will keep their doors open on Thanksgiving. Just steer clear of the chocolate fountains. Do they serve Thanksgiving food?: Indeed. They even have a special holiday-themed lineup complete with carved turkey, mashed potatoes, pecan pie, and everyone's favorite Thanksgiving side: butterfly shrimp.
Old Country Buffet
Like Golden Corral, but, um, older and country-er. Do they serve Thanksgiving food?: A full spread of it, plus steak, ham, pot pie, roast beef, and another chance to get that traditional butterfly shrimp!
Sometimes you just want pancakes -- tradition be damned. Luckily, the International House of Pancakes (commonly referred to as IHOP) is fully operational on Thanksgiving, if case you want to leave it all behind for the fleeting comfort of a short stack. Do they serve Thanksgiving food?: They don't do anything special for the day, but they always serve their roasted turkey dinner, which is basically a facsimile of Thanksgiving anyway. Who cares: pancakes.
Marie Callender is like the female Bob Evans. In fact, if they ever met, I bet they would really hit it off. But the same rules apply: most -- but not all -- locations will be open, and serving diner in-house and to-go on Thanksgiving. Do they serve Thanksgiving food?: Marie Callender's has a la carte Thanksgiving options, as well as full-blown meals you can take home and reheat. They also have a ridiculous whole turkey and ham option if you want to live like Caligula for one brief, bright holiday. And why wouldn't you?
If you really don't care and just want to slum it, most McDonald's (and a lot of fast-food spots in general) are open for at least limited hours during Thanksgiving. But, it really depends on the individual locations, so check first before you head to the drive-thru. Do they serve Thanksgiving food?: The McGobble is not a thing yet. Sorry. Maybe try smashing your fries into a paste with your little brother's organic chem textbook and then pouring it over some nuggets? That actually sounds pretty good.
Romano's Macaroni Grill
Like a fancier cousin of Olive Garden -- and let's be honest, Olive Garden is kind of the black sheep cousin at the table anyway -- keeps its doors open for the holiday at all locations. Do they serve Thanksgiving food?:Three courses of it, including roasted turkey breast, stuffing, carrots with candied bacon, cranberry apple chutney, and pumpkin pie, all for $24.99.
The iconic upscale steakhouse that your parents always insist on going to in every city keeps all of its locations open for Thanksgiving, giving a high-end option that feels extra homey if your name happens to be Chris and you miss your mother named Ruth. Do they serve Thanksgiving food?: The luxury chain goes all in with a three-course, fancypants Thanksgiving dinner that includes oven-roasted turkey with sausage & herb stuffing, pumpkin cheesecake, and, um, seafood gumbo. Which, honestly, sounds like a way better side than roasted squash.
Waffle House is always open. It's the only true source of stability in this crazy, mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world. Do they serve Thanksgiving food?: They have turkey bacon.
The budget steak chain that is definitely still a thing keeps its kitchen, um, sizzling for the holiday at several dozen locations, mostly in California. Check here to make sure before you commit. Do they serve Thanksgiving food?: Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, the whole shebang, plus wine. The only thing missing is your awkward semi-racist uncle, though we're sure you can find a surrogate somewhere nearby.
TGI Fridays -- where everyday is tirelessly engineered to seem exactly like Friday -- has some locations that will be open for limited hours on Thanksgiving. You know the deal: You have to check with your local location to know for sure. But keep your fingers crossed. Do they serve Thanksgiving food?: They don't serve traditional Thanksgiving food, no. This is more of a spot for people who just want to opt for a burger or endless apps instead. There is zero judgement on that front. Thanksgiving is all about doing what makes you feel good. And also giant inflatable Betty Boops, for some reason