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101122_BostonMarket_KathyTran_B41A9631(E) (2) copy.jpg Photo courtesy of Boston Market
Boston Market is one of several restaurant brands promoting group-occasion meals to compete with higher grocery prices this Thanksgiving holiday.

Restaurants push Thanksgiving promotions in response to high grocery prices

Thanksgiving dinner, sides and all, is expected to cost about 20% more this year versus last year, and restaurants are promoting group-occasion meals in response.

This Thanksgiving won’t be an easy one for many families. Turkey prices are up significantly year-over-year due to inflation, the avian flu and supply chain interruptions according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Thanksgiving dinner, sides and all, is expected to be about 20% more this year, the federation forecasts. For added context, the average cost of a Thanksgiving meal for 10 is expected to be $64.05 this year, versus $53.31 last year and $46.90 in 2020.

Consumers have been grappling with high food prices all year, yet grocery prices have outpaced restaurant prices by about 13% to 8.5%, respectively. Because of this persistent trend, 51% of consumers plan to reduce regular grocery spending to navigate the holidays, while 82% are looking for deals and discounts to get through Thanksgiving, according to Morning Consult.

This seems to be presenting an opportunity for restaurants, many of which are rolling out aggressive Thanksgiving-themed promotions to position themselves as better overall value for revelers. In fact, according to a new survey from SpotOn, most restaurant operators are optimistic about this holiday season because their establishments can provide an affordable alternative.

“Prices for Thanksgiving ingredients are high right now across the board. With this, we’re definitely anticipating and are already seeing higher traffic,” said Joseph Alvarez, senior vice president of sales, catering and community relations at Boston Market. “When our online ordering was made available for pre-orders, we saw a significant increase in traffic and we’re continuing to see strong numbers of orders. We know Thanksgiving is a time when families want to sit around the table and not worry about having to choose whether or not to have dinner at all, so we made sure our prices were comparable, if not less than, the price of making dinner at home. We’re definitely promoting our value relative to grocery store prices and other competitor prices.”

Alvarez said his chain’s holiday meals feed 12 people and average around $12 per person. Boston Market is hardly alone in jockeying for top-of-mind awareness for group occasions amid historically-high cost pressures.

Chipotle, for instance, is offering 50 extra rewards points to members who order two entrees through the app or online, teeing up the promotion for those “craving something other than turkey.” The offer runs this week only. KFC is currently promoting its $5 Famous Bowls and limited-edition 12-piece and 16-piece holiday buckets to provide some relief.

Bob Evans is enticing consumers to celebrate the holidays at its restaurants, bringing back Farmhouse Feasts, which are complete meals – including turkey, sides and pie – that can feed up to 10 people. The meals are available starting at $69.99 for dine-in, carryout or delivery. Bob Evans is also offering a Holiday Hot Family Meal To Go for $85.99, available via curbside pickup, carryout or delivery all week.

From Thanksgiving Day through Nov. 27, STK Steakhouse is offering a meal of roasted free-range turkey with sides and trimmings for $69 per adult and $29 for kids (12 and under). The “sides and trimmings” menu includes cornbread and sage stuffing, shallot and thyme confit thighs, sautéed green beans with crispy shallots, maple baked sweet potato and Yukon gold mashed potatoes.

From Nov. 24-27, dine-in guests at Kona Grill can spend $34 for a Macadamia Nut Crusted Turkey Breast with miso mashed potatoes, sautéed green beans, shoyu cream sauce and ginger-yuzu infused cranberry sauce. Guests can also order Kona Grill’s signature Pumpkin Spiced Old Fashion for $14.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House locations are offering a special prix fixe menu for dine-in guests which includes a starter, entrée, side and dessert for $44 per person for adults ($52 Hawaii) and $15 per person for children ($22 Hawaii). A special prix fixe menu is also available for pickup Nov. 23 for $174, with a meal that serves four. And, holiday sides are available for pick-up only on Nov. 23. They include offerings like a medium salad that feeds four-to-six guests for $28 or a large side order that feeds 12 people for $45.

All Macaroni Grill locations are serving up a three-course prix fixe menu for $34 per person, with kids’ meals available for $17. Sister companies Sullivan’s Steakhouse and Eddie Merlot’s are also offering three-course prix fixe menus priced at $49 for adults and $24 for children.

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store is promoting its Heat n’ Serve options that can be prepared in less than two hours, according to the company. The meals start at $14.99 per person and serve eight to 10 people.

This list doesn’t even scratch the surface of top-of-mind promotions chains are pushing to attract inflation-weary consumers this week (Little Caesars has a Turkey!Turkey! Cutter, for example, while White Castle has released a Jalapeno Cheese Slider-based stuffing recipe).

Promoting such value propositions during the holidays is also nothing new. SpotOn reports that the holiday season accounts for up to 20% of small restaurant operators’ annual sales, with fine dining operators putting that figure at nearly half (49%). Alvarez said November and December are “extremely profitable” for Boston Market as well.

“A major portion of our sales is achieved during these two months alone, with almost 1 million people eating a Boston Market turkey for Thanksgiving,” he said. “In our California market, our weekly sales numbers are almost five or six times higher than the other 10 months of the year.”

This year’s holiday season could be an even bigger boon. Alvarez said even with Boston Market’s 8% price increases, the chain’s meals remain less expensive than if customers bought and prepared their own meal at home.

One potential challenge worth noting as restaurant companies sprint to gain Thanksgiving traffic – labor.

“To accommodate this rush and make sure our restaurants run efficiently, we increase our staffing levels for these two months specifically,” Alvarez said. “In some cases, we bring in contractors to assist.”

A recent report from Alignable indicates that just 17% of small restaurants planned to hire for Q4, down from 56% last year.

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]


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