Retailers, including restaurants, expect to grow sales during the shopping season this year, but with six fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas compared with 2012, foodservice operators are planning to manage through a more hectic holiday.

New research from the National Restaurant Association estimated that 46 million Americans would dine out around shopping trips on Nov. 28 and 29, as annual deals for “Black Friday” would spread this year to Thanksgiving Day, when several major retailers like Walmart and Macy’s plan to open at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., respectively.

Of the respondents to the NRA’s survey who plan to shop on Thanksgiving Day, 39 percent plan to visit a restaurant while doing so, while 60 percent of potential Black Friday shoppers intend to visit a restaurant, the data found.

“More customers will visit restaurants during post-Thanksgiving shopping trips, providing a boost to restaurants located in or near shopping malls and centers,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the NRA’s Research and Knowledge Group.

In addition, Thanksgiving Day’s online spending is expected to grow 21 percent, reflecting the decision of many retailers and malls to turn the holiday into another milestone shopping day this year. That’s according to a recent “Adobe Digital Index” report from software giant Adobe, which analyzes billions of visits to retail websites to predict spending patterns.

Adobe’s report noted that aggressive offers and deals at many major shopping centers before Thanksgiving would cause further holiday creep.

Preparing for the rush

Restaurant brands, particularly ones reliant on foot traffic at malls and other high-volume shopping centers, recognize the challenges presented by a shopping season with only 27 days between Thanksgiving on Nov. 28 and Christmas Day. But leaders for those chains, such as soft-pretzel specialist Auntie Anne’s or Cinnabon, said their priority would be to focus on what they can control.

“Approximately 25 percent of our sales occur in the last two months of the year, so that’s what we’ll be measuring,” said Bill Dunn, president and chief operating officer of Lancaster, Pa.-based Auntie Anne’s. “Shopping hours are getting longer and longer. Three years ago the holiday season started at midnight on Black Friday, last year it was 10 o’clock on Thanksgiving, and this year it will be 8 o’clock.”

With the advent of Thanksgiving as a nationwide shopping day, Auntie Anne’s franchisees expect to add labor hours to staff up for the busy season, Dunn said.

“But the most important thing is to make sure that we’re hiring A-plus players that will enhance the guest experience,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re quick and efficient based on the pace of how things are moving in our malls and shopping centers.”

Bill Gellert, a franchisee with four Cinnabon locations in major malls in the New York metro area, might not like shopping hours starting earlier on Thanksgiving Day — “I’m not a fan of it, but I have to strike when people are there,” he said — but he did recognize one benefit of a shorter shopping season.

“It takes some of the lull out of what you typically see in this period,” he said. “Where e-commerce has increased, you get big peaks of sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, with a quiet period until people get panicked closer to Christmas Eve and go for the next round of deals. This should even some of that out.”