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Many to Celebrate Thanksgiving in Restaurants

WASHINGTON — The National Restaurant Association estimates that 30 million Americans this year will either eat their Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant or will take out food from a restaurant to eat at home. 

An NRA spokesperson told SN the association didn’t have figures for previous years in order to make adequate comparisons against the past.

New NRA research, however, shows convenience is the number one reason people are celebrating Thanksgiving in a restaurant, or with restaurant-prepared food they take home.

“Our research clearly shows that the convenience of restaurant meals — not having to shop, cook and clean up — drives consumer behavior and will lead millions of Americans to patronize restaurants this Thanksgiving,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group for the Association, in a statement.

The convenience of eating in a restaurant or supplementing their at-home Thanksgiving dinner with restaurant food allows more time to enjoy the company of family and friends, research respondents said. The time it takes to clean up after an at-home Thanksgiving dinner, too, played into consumers’ decisions to eat out.

While 30 million is not a huge chunk of the population, large numbers of people eating out for Thanksgiving will continue in coming  years, industry sources said.

Read more: Fairway to Host Thanksgiving Prep Course

SN’s observations in the New York City suburbs bear that out. Restaurants — from diners to steak houses — that three years ago were closed on Thanksgiving Day are now open on the holiday and are currently taking reservations. They offer a special price for a full-course turkey dinner.

Restaurateurs say there’s not a lot of net profit in offering such a dinner for $15 or $16 on a holiday, but Bob Welcher, an Ohio restaurant consultant old the Columbus Dispatch this week that while Thanksgiving isn’t a particularly lucrative holiday for restaurants, most that stay open to offer a turkey dinner find it pays dividends for the goodwill it engenders with customers and the community.

According to NRA’s research, 31% of respondents cited convenience as the reason for eating Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant; 15% said they prefer to celebrate at restaurants; 15% said it was their dining companion’s preference; 12% said they don’t have space to cook at home; 5% said they didn’t know; and 22% said they are traveling on Thanksgiving Day.

For those planning to order full or partial Thanksgiving meals for takeout, those who didn’t cite convenience as the main reason said they will turn to restaurants because they aren’t good cooks (15 percent), they don’t have time to prepare food (10 percent), and the taste and quality of restaurant food is better (3 percent).

Overall, the association points out, 55 percent of American adults say they plan to eat a meal at their own home this Thanksgiving, 46 percent say they plan to eat a meal at someone else’s home, 6 percent plan to dine at a restaurant, and 3 percent don’t plan to have a special meal. 

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