With the average cost of a holiday meal prepared at home up 13 percent this year, an increasing number of restaurant chains are promoting take-home feasts as a cost-effective and time-saving alternative to cooking at home.
Some operators are offering take-home holiday dishes for the first time this season, while others are expanding their offerings, in part to take advantage of increased demand from consumers who are weary of climbing food prices at grocery stores.
The American Farm Bureau Federation estimated last week that the average cost of a Thanksgiving Day dinner this year is $49.20 for 10 people — 13 percent higher than last year’s average of $43.47.
That’s for a meal that includes turkey — the big ticket item at $21.57, almost $4 more this year — bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream and coffee and milk.
Competing with the grocery store
Boston Market estimates that the average American family spends about $12.22 per person and more than six days planning and shopping to create a holiday meal.
The Golden, Colo.-based chain has long offered take-home dishes during the holidays, but this year is promoting the option as a more affordable solution, with meals offered for as low as $5.50 per person.
Boston Market’s website offers a cost comparison between its 11-pound turkey dinner with spinach-artichoke dip and crackers, mashed potatoes, vegetable stuffing, cranberry relish, gravy, dinner rolls and two pies, all to serve 12 people for $89.99, which breaks down to about $7.50 per person. The price of the ingredients for the same meal purchased from a Publix market in October totals $116.73, or $9.73 per person, Boston Market said.
The “cost of time lost with family and friends is not included,” Boston Market notes.
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“We have always talked about how we do the cooking for you and you spend time with family and friends,” said Shelly Glander, senior director of marketing for Boston Market. “But this year, we did some research and found how much people were spending.”
Although Boston Market’s pricing is up slightly from last year’s holiday season, “Our prices are competitive or less than grocery stores,” she said.
The 480-unit chain offers a variety of take-home options, from heat-and-serve banquets with roast turkey or ham, and such sides as sweet potato casserole, macaroni and cheese, or mashed potatoes and gravy.
Boston Market also offers various catering packages, from the premium at $12.29 per person, or $14.29 per person for brisket, to a la carte options. The restaurants will also be open to dine-in customers on Thanksgiving Day.
Orders up as customers respond favorably
Luby’s also offers a variety of take-home packages through the holiday season, from the premium option with a prime rib and sides for 10 to 12 people priced at $109.99, to the signature feast of a whole roast turkey for 10 to 12 people with sides for $79.99. A smaller version serving four to six is also available for $54.99.
This year, the 95-unit Luby’s is offering all Butterball brand turkeys for the first time, and guests can add a pie to any package for an additional $10, said Rebecca Conner, Luby’s marketing brand manager.
As of Friday, pre-orders for this year have already surpassed sales from the past two years for the take-home meals, Conner said.
“This is our busiest time of year,” she said. “I really think it’s about the convenience. Our packages come fully cooked and its food they know and love.”
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New to the notion of take out is Souplantation, known as Sweet Tomatoes outside California. With more than 120 locations, the salad-buffet restaurants have never been known for take out.
Last year, however, the chain, owned by San Diego-based Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp., a holding of Sun Capital Partners, for the first time offered a cranberry-apple cobbler as a take-home option for the holidays for about $11.99. The company sold about 6,500 of them, said Joan Scharff, Garden Fresh’s vice president of brand and menu strategy.
This year, Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes have expanded their take-home options with 15 items, including the popular cranberry-apple cobbler and several other varieties.
“Our guests responded so favorably to the cranberry-apple cobbler last season that we believe there’s a demand for even more delicious, made-from-scratch holiday foods that don’t require endless hours in the kitchen,” Scharff said.
Through Nov. 19, offerings include a sweet maple-apple salad with caramelized walnuts; maple-glazed sweet potatoes with apples, cranberries and walnuts; and a sweet potato-and-maple cream bake with pecan praline topping, in addition to seven varieties of fruit cobblers.
In December, holiday take-home options will include a smoked turkey and spinach tossed salad, turkey chutney pasta salad and various cobblers.
The dishes, all priced at $15.99 and less, can be ordered online, by phone or in stores for pick up at the restaurants.
If successful, Scharff said, Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes may offer additional holiday-themed take-home options year round as a way to build incremental sales.
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Fine dining jumps into the mix
Even high-end restaurant companies are tapping into the take-home-feast trend this year.
Joachim Splichal, chef and founder of the Patina Restaurant Group, said complete Thanksgiving meals are being offered at six locations across Los Angeles this year.
The meal includes a 14-pound herb-roasted turkey with cranberry chutney, three sides — such as green bean casserole with wild mushrooms, and a pie (pumpkin, apple or pecan) starting at $150. It serves six and is available for pick up the day before Thanksgiving or by delivery.
Splichal said last year the company offered the meal for the first time from its catering kitchen, and the offer was a surprising success, although it was “almost an afterthought,” he said, with little promotion.
This year, however, the group is promoting the offering, and Splichal predicts that it will be a hit. Patina Restaurant Group is already known for its catering services and restaurants, such as Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse and Café Pinot, which are offering special holiday menus.
“All the supermarkets do it, so I said, why not us?” Splichal said. “We can cook 50, 100 or 200 turkeys, and 10 or 12 of our restaurants are serving on Thanksgiving Day. Why not give people the opportunity to take home?”