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Food

Forget cooking Thanksgiving at home this year—it may be cheaper to order from a restaurant

Supermarket prices for turkeys and some sides are reaching new heights, but restaurants are offering deals on fully-cooked holiday meals with all the trimmings that can be easier on the wallet—and the cook.
Boston Market's Thanksgiving meal
At Boston Market, a prepared Thanksgiving meal to go starts at $11.99 per person. / Photo courtesy of Boston Market.

Consumers shopping for turkeys and other Thanksgiving must-haves this season are in for some serious sticker shock.

Grocery prices are up 13% overall,with turkeys skyrocketing 73% year-over-year. The price per pound of an eight to 16-pound turkey rose from $1.15 to $1.99, recent USDA data shows. According to RB’s sister publication, Winsight Grocery Business, a combination of inflation and avian flu is driving up the cost of the bird.

Sure, it’s rewarding to cook the iconic meal from scratch, but restaurants are capitalizing on supermarket inflation to lure Americans with heat-and-eat meals at prices that can be hard to resist. A 2022 Thanksgiving survey by personal finance site FinanceBuzz found that 69% of Americans would consider getting or have gotten their Thanksgiving meal precooked from a local restaurant.

Dallas-based Cotton Patch Cafe is offering Thanksgiving feasts to-go for $95-$140; each feeds eight to 10 diners at the holiday table. That comes to $9.50 to $14 per person—not to mention the value of stress-free prep and a clean kitchen that come with a pre-prepped meal.

All Cotton Patch packages include roasted boneless turkey breast, pan-sized dressing or stuffing, scratch-made gravy and cranberry sauce. The higher-priced spread offers the choice of three quart-sized fixin’s or sides, including garlic mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, broccoli-rice casserole, baked squash and corn, plus dessert (pumpkin crunch cake, pecan pie or cobbler).

By contrast, supermarket prices for the meal ingredients will gobble up 13.5% more of consumers’ dollars this year, reports IRI’s Thanksgiving Tracker. At 8.6% for the year ending in October, food away-from-home inflation was lower.

Nevertheless, food costs are higher for restaurants, too. How does Cotton Patch keep Thanksgiving prices down?

“We make these items every day,” said Scott Hudler, chief growth officer of the 49-unit chain. “Turkey is regularly a weekend special, and we have gravy and sides year round, so we can hit the ground running and do it less expensively.”

Cotton Patch ThanksgivingCotton Patch Cafe offers a readymade Thanksgiving feast to  heat and eat for $14 per person./ Photo courtesy of Cotton Patch Cafe

Cotton Patch Cafe, known for its homestyle, scratch-made menu, purchases boneless turkey breasts in volume and had locked in the price with suppliers.

“There’s a slight cost increase from our 2021 prices [$77-$117 for a holiday package], but it’s still a great value,” said Hudler. “We still make some profit on the meal, but we can do it with less stress and less money due to our restaurant-level operations.”

Last year, Cotton Patch Cafe sold about 3,000 Thanksgiving meals, and orders for the 2022 packages started coming in on Nov. 1—as soon as the site opened for business.

The chain is just one among scores of operators betting on consumers’ grocery sticker shock or demand for convenience by offering readymade Thanksgiving feasts to go. Here are some such meals on offer:

Boston Market: $11.99 per person

Complete roasted turkey meals for 12 with mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetable stuffing, spinach-artichoke dip and crackers, cranberry relish, rolls and pumpkin and apple pie.

Bob Evans: $85.99

The Hot Family Meal To Go for six includes slow-roasted turkey, hickory-smoked ham steaks, bread and celery stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, greens beans with ham, corn, rolls, cranberry relish and pumpkin pie.  

Cracker Barrel: $14.99 per person

Thanksgiving Heat n’ Serve Feast for 8-10 includes oven-roasted turkey breast with gravy, sweet potato casserole, cornbread dressing, cranberry relish, choice of sides, sweet yeast rolls and dessert.

Golden Corral: $20.99 per person

Ready-to-eat meals for 6-8 people with roast turkey, glazed ham and beef roast, paired with sides such as mashed potatoes with gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing and whole pumpkin and pecan pies.

Dickey’s: $120

Complete Feast for 10-12 people includes a choice of spiral cut ham, smoked turkey, Cajun fried turkey or traditional prime rib, cornbread dressing, gravy, baked potato casserole, green beans with bacon and a dozen buttery rolls.

Popeyes: $49.99

Cajun Fried Turkey to feed 12; shipped frozen and ready to thaw and heat.

Firebirds Wood Fired Grill: $159.95

Turkey Feast for six includes roast turkey with gravy, Parmesan mashed potatoes, cornbread dressing, cranberry sauce, asparagus with roasted garlic thyme butter, broccoli cheddar casserole, bread and apple cinnamon bread pudding.

Black Angus Steakhouse: $207.95

Family Meal for eight includes roast turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, sage dressing, sweet potatoes, broccoli with garlic butter, garden salad, fresh cranberry sauce, molasses bread and pumpkin pie.

Wildfire Restaurants: $149.99

Whole Turkey Dinner for 10-12 features a 10-13 pound roast turkey, creamy mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, homemade stuffing, green beans and cranberry-orange relish.

Morgans Brooklyn Barbecue: $325.00

Turkey Package To-Gofor 10-12 includes a 16-18 pound whole smoked turkey, green beans, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and gravy.

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