Underline a little-used term in the off-premise glossary: heat-and-eat, the niche a growing number of chains intend to exploit this Easter with big-ticket packaged meals to go.
Sandwiched between catering and takeout, the big spreads aim to provide families with a traditional meal for the holiday, without the fuss of cooking. Yet the entree and sides offerings often require some kitchen time, which may be why meal kit dabblers like supermarkets are also giving the emerging market a try.
The offerings are positioned as a way of saving money as well as time, though the ticket can be hefty: The standard seems to be $109.99. Bob Evans Farms, for instance, is offering a 10-person meal for Easter for that price. The chain’s research shows the average celebrant tends to spend about $150 for food on Easter Sunday, making the family chain’s alternative a steal.
The take-home meal is offered as an alternative to Bob Evans’ dine-in Easter brunch and dinner, but the chain stresses that quantities are limited; guests are advised to order in advance via phone or computer, right up to March 31 (Easter falls on April 1 this year).
Here are the particulars of Bob Evans’ heat-and-eat meal, as well as four others.
2-entree offering for under $11 a head
Bob Evans’ Easter Farmhouse Feast features two proteins (sliced ham and turkey) as well as five sides (mac ‘n cheese, mashed potatoes, dressing, corn and green beans), two desserts (apple and lemon pies), 12 dinner rolls, banana bread and cranberry relish. The food is fully cooked and then chilled, so patrons can pick it up in advance of Easter. Beverages are not included in the $109.99 price, which just happens to match what archrival Cracker Barrel is charging for its Easter meal.
Bob Evans did not reveal how many of the heat-and-eat meals each of its 495 restaurants intends to offer.
Cracker Barrel promises dinner in less than 3 hours
An experiment with a heat-and-eat Thanksgiving dinner several years ago proved so successful (an estimated 1.5 million were sold by the then-641-unit chain) that Cracker Barrel has expanded into Christmas and Easter versions. The latter is touted as feeding 10 people for $109.99, with a heads-up on the chain's website that there could be leftovers (recipes for the excess food are provided just in case).
Included are a spiral sliced ham, a choice of three sides, each in sufficient quantity to serve 10 people (mashed potatoes, corn, whole baby carrots, dressing, mac ‘n cheese, green beans, fried apples, hashbrown casserole and sweet potato casserole), yeast rolls and a blackberry cobbler.
Cracker Barrel estimates that the heating and serving of the meal takes under three hours.
Boston Market’s 10-plus meals
Boston Market offers 10 heat-and-eat Easter meals, plus a la carte whole hams and turkey breasts and family-sized side packages specifically for the holiday. Customers can choose one of five complete dinners, which vary both in what’s provided (just boneless ham, just turkey breast or both) as well as order size (12 persons or groups of four to six people). It, too, is offering the larger meals for $109.99, but says the volume is sufficient to feed a dozen revelers. The smaller spreads go for $84.99 or $79.99. It also breaks out the per-person price for everything ($9.16, $14.16 and $13.33, respectively).
The 32-ounce sides tend to be comfort foods (mashed potatoes, stuffing, cornbread), and apple pie is the only dessert offered, though patrons can choose one or two pies.
A second tier of selections, pared down to what the chain describes as Easter essentials, sells for $94.99 for the 12-person package and $69.99 for meals intended to serve four to six people. Excluded from those offerings are the apple pie and components such as cornbread, relishes and cinnamon apple slices.
Boston Market estimates the at-home prep time at two hours.
Whole Foods’ higher-ticket options
Amazon’s brick-and-mortar food outlet isn’t abiding by the $109.99 price cap for its heat-and-eat Easter options. Nor do the selections come with nearly as many components as what restaurant chains are offering.
The ham dinner for eight people is priced in a suburban New York store at $119.99, and includes just three sides (asparagus, roasted beets and potatoes au gratin). At the other end of the spectrum is the $249.99 Grand Feast, which features a 9-pound ham with a maple glaze; a special Easter pizza; field greens and goat cheese salad; lobster bisque; green beans; mashed potatoes; roasted carrots; and hot cross buns.
The webpage where patrons can order the meals in advance breaks out the calories for each component.
HoneyBaked Ham’s cold Easter dinner
A pioneer of take-home holiday meals, HoneyBaked Ham is offering an Easter dinner this year that is intended to serve 12 to 16 people for a total of $119.95—shipped to customers’ homes. In addition to the chain’s signature product, the package includes a green bean casserole, potatoes au gratin and a lemon cream cake. Patrons are advised not to heat the ham, but to serve it at room temperature.
But that’s just the start of HoneyBaked’s holiday options. Patrons can also digitally order complete hams, whole turkeys, turkey breasts, a pot roast, a pork roast, or baby back ribs, as well as a full array of homestyle sides. An express lane is provided for expedited pickup.