Spring holidays and celebrations typically mean a bump in sales and traffic for full-service restaurants. But with the COVID-19 ban on dine-in service, no warm bodies are filling those seats. And the pandemic has put the kibosh on most large get-togethers at home, limiting groups to immediate family members. That cuts out catered brunches and dinners.
While families have ordered in Easter and Passover meals in the past, those holiday menus don’t always work with today’s limitations. Sarah Stegner, chef-owner of Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook, Ill., has been doing a steady takeout business over the past few weeks, and applied some of her learnings to this year’s Easter and Passover menus.
“For Passover, I’m mostly offering dinners for two instead of the usual crowd and offering just one menu on the night of April 8,” she says. “Logistically, that works best, with my skeletal crew.” Stegner learned that lesson from her recent takeout experience: Prairie Grass has been focusing on one signature item per weekday and changing up the sides. “I plan around the least perishable items and keep the menu tight and really fresh,” she says. “And asking guests to order ahead has saved us.”
For Passover, Stegner is also requiring customers to order ahead so she doesn’t overorder ingredients or overprep. The menu ($75 for two) features matzo ball soup, a pint of chopped liver, brisket or roast chicken with cauliflower mash and roasted carrots and flourless chocolate cake. A week before Passover, Prairie Grass expected to have close to 80 meals on order for curbside pickup.
The restaurant is pretty much sticking to the single-menu approach for Easter, although customers can order a dinner for one or two and choose from four entrees. Prices range from $42 to $53 per person, depending on entree, and meals include a green salad, grilled asparagus and carrot cake with either ham, Parmesan-crusted halibut, moussaka or strudel of spring greens—all with housemade sides. Mother’s Day will follow a similar format to Passover, Stegner says.
A couple of members of Prairie Grass Cafe’s management team are also involved in boosting the takeout business. They send out a regular newsletter promoting the menus to 5,000 opt-in customers and update Facebook and the website daily. “We want to remain open with access to our community so when we come out of this, there’s a restaurant on the other end,” says Stegner. “People need familiarity and comfort now.”
Several chains are also putting together Easter takeout menus, adding or subtracting to conform with coronavirus guidelines. Boston Market, a longtime destination for family meals to go, has ramped up its selection. Options include Holiday Heat & Serve Meals—complete chilled meals for four to 12 people that can be ordered ahead. These fully cooked meals include entrees, sides and pies, with a choice of spiral-sliced ham, boneless honey-glazed ham, boneless roast turkey breast or a combo of turkey and ham as the main dish.
On Easter Sunday itself, meals for smaller families and singles will be available for curbside pickup or delivery without preordering. Boston Market’s Easter Family Meal Feast for 3 includes the same choice of entrees, plus three sides, fresh-baked cornbread and a whole apple pie for $39.99, while supplies last. Customers can also have Easter dinner shipped to their door for free. Home shipment orders can be placed on the website and include a choice of six precooked holiday meals, entrees or desserts.
Buca di Beppo is covering Good Friday as well as Easter with its Italian-style dining packages. The Good Friday dinner, $11 per person, can be ordered for five or 10 people and includes a Caesar or mixed green salad and choice of linguine with clams or shrimp scampi.
For Easter Sunday, customers can choose from two meals. A pasta dinner, also $55 for five or $110 for 10 diners, features the same salad options with a choice of lasagna, baked rigatoni, spicy chicken rigatoni or shrimp scampi. A heartier package ($65 for five; $130 for 10) includes the salad and pasta choices of spaghetti marinara, fettucine Alfredo, penne a la vodka and baked ziti, rounded out with entrees of chicken parmigiana, chicken limone or eggplant parmigiana. All packages include fresh-baked house bread and chocolate chip cannoli.
And for those looking for an elegant way to celebrate Easter, The Capital Grille is menuing a three-course dinner with a whole, roasted rack of bone-in fillet as the centerpiece. The upscale chain is promoting the takeout meal as “showstopping.”