Restaurants Can Bank on Thanksgiving Sales

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According to the National Restaurant Association, 10 percent of consumers plan to dine out for a Thanksgiving meal. As many operators are finding out, it pays to be ready.

By Alex Dixon November 2016 Menu Innovations

Not all consumers will be roasting a turkey at home this Thanksgiving, and restaurants can capitalize on those who desire to dine out or pick up takeaway meals or items.

According to the National Restaurant Association, 10 percent of consumers plan to dine out for a Thanksgiving meal, and 5 percent will get a full takeout meal. Two-thirds of Black Friday shoppers say they’ll also visit a restaurant to take a break from bargain hunting, according to the research.

And even if consumers don’t choose to order a full takeout meal, they still are seeking items from restaurants or foodservice operators to put on the table.

Market research firm NPD Group reports that 29 percent of Thanksgiving Day holiday celebrations include an item sourced ready-to-eat from foodservice, and 57 percent of meals include items that were completely homemade from a restaurant or foodservice outlet.

At Phoenix-based Chompie’s, Thanksgiving sales nearly doubled last year for both in-restaurant dining and take away meals. The New York-style deli, restaurant, and bakery prepared 300 turkey meals for takeaway last year and is planning to offer 500 this year.

All of the restaurant’s five Arizona locations will be open for Thanksgiving until 3 p.m.

“We anticipate between 750 and 1,000 people per location coming in for pre-orders and our restaurant,” says Frank Lara, vice president of operations at Chompie’s. “In order to accommodate everyone's needs, we have a holiday version of our regular menu that limits offerings and we only serve our homemade Thanksgiving dinner plate.”

Lara says that between the four locations that were open last year, the restaurant served 350 individual meals and 200 family dinner packages, bringing in more than $40,000.

Chompie’s Thanksgiving full meal package includes an 18-to-22-pound turkey, homemade stuffing and gravy, cranberry relish, candied yams, mashed potatoes, string bean almondine, fresh-baked Challah rolls, and an apple and pumpkin pie, all for about $210 and intended to serve 12 to 15 people.

The same items are offered in the restaurant’s traditional dinner plate that is $18.99 per person for dine in or to go. Chompie’s also offers individual items, such as stuffing, matzo ball soup, and green beans for customers to take home.

“Our prices are reasonable when it comes to the many traditional items that are prepared,” Lara says. “The meals offer great savings and convenience in preparation time and clean up. This allows busy families to spend more time enjoying the company of their guests.”

While the majority of Americans still choose to eat Thanksgiving meals at home, certain dayparts could prove more lucrative for operators.

According to NPD, the meal most likely to be eaten at a restaurant on Thanksgiving is breakfast, with a total of 19 percent of consumers opting to dine out for the meal.

“As much as things change, we know that many of the traditional Thanksgiving foods have remained the same,” says David Portalatin, vice president, food industry analyst at NPD, in a statement. “The majority of Thanksgiving feasts will include a turkey, although that turkey may be dressed in non-traditional spices and flavorings. And even with all of the changes going on in our society, we have managed to keep the spirit of the first Thanksgiving intact, and that is sharing a meal and spending time with family, friends, or whomever one chooses.”   

While many Black Friday shoppers do plan to stop at restaurants for a break from the bustle, it doesn’t necessarily equate to a better-than-normal sales haul. Point-of-sale platform Revel Systems measured order totals across four metro areas—New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco, and found that restaurants actually saw significantly less orders compared to other non-holiday weekends.

Overall, restaurants saw a 34 percent decrease in average total number of orders during the weekend of Black Friday. Broken down, New York City saw a decrease in 49 percent, while Chicago fell 38 percent, LA 39 percent, and San Francisco 7 percent.