Consumer Trends

How consumers and restaurants are changing Thanksgiving this year

Menu prices are up. Restaurant traffic is down. And grocery inflation is easing. How will Turkey Day 2023 shape up?
Illustration by Marty McCake and Nico Heins

The Thanksgiving data started coming in as soon as trick-or-treaters collected their last piece of candy.

Market research firms, including Restaurant Business sister company Technomic, were busy polling consumers and restaurant operators to forecast how Thanksgiving 2023 will shape up. We’ve collected the stats and compiled this quick snapshot.

Despite the rising cost of restaurant food, Technomic found that 23% of consumers are likely to purchase a complete, ready-made Thanksgiving meal for pickup from a restaurant, while 22% may roast the bird themselves but will rely on restaurants for the trimmings.

However, those percentages are down from 2022 numbers, when 29% of respondents said they would buy both the full meal and some of the trimmings from a restaurant.

It’s actually cheaper to cook Thanksgiving at home this year compared to last. RB’s sister publication, Winsight Grocery Business, reported that the cost of a dinner for 10 is down 4.5%, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. Turkeys are less expensive, which is pushing down that cost.

Data and tech company Numerator conducted a survey of 4,500 consumers to gauge their 2023 holiday plans. Over 90% plan to celebrate Thanksgiving and more consumers will be cooking and baking this year compared to last—61% versus 54%. Turkey tops the list, with 59% of respondents choosing to cook turkey or turkey breast.

On the drinks side, 33% of consumers plan to buy alcohol for Thanksgiving. Most are opting for wine (70%), followed by beer (57%) and spirits (28%).

What’s happening on the restaurant side?

The Technomic survey found that the Thanksgiving trimmings most in demand are side dishes, with 45% of consumers turning to restaurants for items like mashed potatoes, stuffing and vegetables. Desserts are next at 41%, followed by entrees (40%), alcohol beverages (16%) and non-alcoholic beverages (15%).

Restaurants are ready. SpotOn, a tech company that provides POS systems to operators, discovered that in the last 90 days, independents and emerging chains added 7,147 turkey menu items, with the peak coming the week of Oct. 29, right around Halloween. Items included a whole smoked turkey from Smoke A Holics BBQ, a Turkey Dip from Bourbon Jack’s Honkytonk Grill and a turkey special from World Wrapps.

In the sides category, 2,555 items with cranberry appeared on menus in the past 90 days. These ranged from a cranberry orange muffin, to cranberry apple stuffing and a cranberry hazelnut roll. But mashed potatoes were not too far behind. Trending on menus were Garlic Mashed Potatoes from Cisco’s Mexican Food and Smashed Potatoes at Lula Southern Cookhouse.

Stuffing and green bean casserole were added less frequently—perhaps an indication that cooks like to make these at home. Only 67 green bean casseroles appeared on menus, with stuffing edging those out at 133 mentions. Sausage stuffing, turkey stuffing quesadillas, and ciabatta stuffing all made their debut.

But whether Americans are turning to restaurants for all or part of the Thanksgiving meal or cooking it from scratch at home, they tend not to pinch pennies quite as much as they do on other occasions. In the 2023 Holiday Foods Survey from DuraPlas, a plastics manufacturing company, 86% of the 600 people polled said they would consider paying more for premium items for their meal.

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