More people gobbling up prepared Thanksgiving meals

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

Two pounds of garlic mashed potatoes to go, please.

More of us than ever will rely on restaurant or grocery store “to-go” offerings for all or part of our Thanksgiving feast this year, according to industry surveys.

Some food purveyors already are seeing a pick up in pre-holiday orders.

“So far, we’re up nearly 10 percent over last year in Columbus,” said Brian Ferrier, Giant Eagle’s regional operations director in central Ohio, in an interview on Monday.

The improving quality of carry-out foods and increasingly busy schedules are pushing many to opt for convenience over tradition.

Nearly three out of 10 Americans plan to sit down this year to a Thanksgiving dinner that includes at least one prepared, ready-to-eat dish from a retailer, restaurant or caterer, according to a recent survey by Chicago food and restaurant research firm Technomic.

In addition, about 6 percent plan to eat out at a restaurant on Thanksgiving, the Technomic report said. That’s less than last year’s 8 percent, but more than the 4 percent that planned restaurant visits in 2011.

“Technomic research consistently shows that consumers view restaurant meals as a way to connect with family and friends,” said Darren Tristano, Technomic executive vice president, in the report. “ Using prepared foods for holiday meals at homes has the same effect. It gets hosts out of the kitchen sooner so they can really enjoy time with their guests.”

Separately, the National Restaurant Association expects 33 million Americans to rely on restaurants for all or part of their Thanksgiving meals this year.

While 15 million Americans plan to visit a restaurant on Thanksgiving, an additional 14 million plan to order parts of their Thanksgiving meal from a restaurant to be eaten at their home or someone else’s home, the association found in a mid-November survey.

And 4 million consumers plan to order a full-takeout Thanksgiving meal from a restaurant, the association said.

“Our research shows that many of today’s consumers will leverage the convenience of restaurant meals for the Thanksgiving holiday, allowing them more time to spend with friends and family, rather than cooking and cleaning up,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research for the national association, in a statement.

This is the first year Bob Evans Farms, based in New Albany, will open its restaurants on Thanksgiving.

“For years, our guests have asked us if we are open for Thanksgiving,” said Randy Hicks, president of Bob Evans Restaurants, in a statement. “And with more people traveling, looking to avoid long hours in the kitchen, or looking to supplement their own celebrations at home, it makes sense to offer guests one more way to share the holiday with Bob Evans.”

The restaurants are open through the early afternoon with a limited menu of breakfast items and turkey or ham dinners offered.

Bob Evans’ carry-out food sales have been growing at about a 10 percent annual clip, compared with much slower sales growth, about 2 percent, for sit-down meals.

However, restaurants are likely to see visits from 46 million Americans who shop on Thanksgiving or Black Friday, the restaurant association found.

Local chefs and food-service workers across the region are bracing for last-minute Thanksgiving orders.

“The trend could increase in the next couple of days,” Ferrier said. “A lot of these orders come in very late in the game.”



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