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Thanksgiving sales indicate strong holiday season for restaurants

Thanksgiving sales indicate strong holiday season for restaurants

Boston Market, Cracker Barrel, Mimi's Café and others anticipate a strong December following Thanksgiving

With December approaching, some restaurant chains see the healthy flow of shopping and restaurant traffic during the Thanksgiving weekend as a positive indicator for the holiday season ahead.

Last weekend began with strong Thanksgiving Day sales among those promoting holiday feasts for dine-in or take-out, operators said this week.

“Strong results for Thanksgiving usually provide an indication of a better-than-average December,” said George Michel, chief executive of Boston Market.

The Golden, Colo.-based chain said weekly sales per restaurant for Nov. 19-23 rose 13 percent this year over last. The chain saw a 27-percent increase in catering, and a more than 10 percent increase in sales of heat-and-serve “chilled banquet” meals.
The various trackers of Black Friday shopping behavior this week had differing results for the holiday weekend, but all reported an increase in activity this year, indicating that consumers are feeling more confident about spending this season.

The National Retail Federation estimated that a record 247 million people visited stores or retail websites over the holiday weekend, an increase of 9 percent over last year’s 226 million. This year those shoppers spent an estimated $59.1 billion, or an average of $423 per person, compared with $398 last year.

Retail research firm ShopperTrak estimated that retail foot traffic rose 8.2 percent this Thanksgiving weekend over last with more than 594 million store visits. ShopperTrak estimated sales rose 2.7 percent to $22 billion over the four days.

And First Data, which tracks credit and debit card sales, said the average spend per shopping trip on Thanksgiving and Black Friday specifically increased 1.9 percent this year over last.

The holiday weekend results were followed this week by news that consumer confidence in November reached its highest level in nearly five years — despite warnings of the “fiscal cliff,” tax increases that could go into effect next year.

Though the retail data did not offer specific insight into restaurant spending, several chains — especially those with specific holiday promotions or those located near shopping centers — indicated that they also fared well last weekend.

For example, Lebanon, Tenn.-based Cracker Barrel, in its earnings report Thursday, said Thanksgiving Day was the strongest single sales day in the chain’s history.

Mimi’s Café, owned by Columbus, Ohio-based Bob Evans Farms Inc., said it recorded double-digit sales increases on Thanksgiving Day this year, which the chain attributed to both dine-in and take-out sales, including two new to-go packages: a Brunch Feast To-Go with six muffins, six quiches and seasonal fruit for $39.99; as well as Holiday Sides To-Go package options that added incremental sales to the primary Holiday Feast To-Go.

Karen Eadon, Mimi’s vice president of marketing, said, “We expect it to be even stronger in December because more people will be aware that we have these new offerings.”

Eadon also noted an interesting new twist to Thanksgiving sales this year: One anonymous donor bought 100 Holiday Feasts To-Go at $89.99 each for families in need.

Online ordering on the rise

Cyber Monday has also become a big day for chains with online ordering.

More consumers shopped online last weekend than in the past. The NRF said the average shopper spent $172.42 online over the weekend, or about 40 percent of the weekend’s spending, up from 37.8 percent last year. That figure didn’t include Cyber Monday, when online sales rose 17 percent over last year to $1.5 billion, according to online retail tracking firm comScore Inc.

Seattle-based Starbucks declined to give specifics, but a spokeswoman said the company was “exceptionally pleased” with sales over the weekend, and, in particular on Cyber Monday.

Last year, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Domino’s said Cyber Monday helped the chain reach its first week with 1 million orders through online and mobile ordering. The holiday season also includes three of Domino’s top five selling days: the day before Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

It’s too early to say how Domino’s did this year on Thanksgiving Eve, said chain spokesman Chris Brandon. But Domino’s is ramping up hiring for the busy holiday season, with franchise owners planning to add roughly one to five people per store — from delivery drivers to pizza makers.

Some restaurant chains waited until this week to promote online gift card sales. The Cheesecake Factory, based in Calabasas Hills, Calif., for example, began promoting its seasonal Peppermint Bark Cheesecake this week with a sweepstakes opportunity to win free cheesecake for a year. A free slice of cheesecake is available with the purchase of a $25 gift card or eGift card purchased online through Dec. 24, and the casual dining chain is also promoting the sale of whole cheesecakes that can be bought online and sent as a gift.

Other chains geared holiday promotions to time-starved consumers needing to feed larger gatherings through the holidays. Louisville, Ky.-based KFC, for example, this week launched a new Festive Feast package for $19.99 that includes an eight-piece chicken meal along with four biscuits, two sides and a dozen chocolate-chip cookies — a new dessert offering for the quick-service chain.

Jack in the Box on Thursday debuted new Brownie Bites, the latest addition to the chain’s mini dessert menu that includes Mini Churros and Mini Cookies. Served warm and priced at five for $1 at participating locations, the brownies offer consumers a quick option for holiday potluck parties, the San Diego-based chain said.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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