On Thanksgiving Day, a growing number of Americans are thankful that someone else is doing the cooking. Although the majority of folks still make a traditional turkey dinner at home with friends and family, an estimated 14 million Americans visited a restaurant for Thanksgiving, and an additional 16 million used restaurant takeout to supplement their at-home dinner, according to the National Restaurant Association.
A growing number of Utah restaurants are filling their dining rooms on Thanksgiving Day, with prices ranging from $8.99 at the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain to $72 per adult at the Waldorf-Astoria Park City.
This is the second Thanksgiving that Oasis Cafe and Faustina in downtown Salt Lake City are open. Faustina will serve dinner, and Oasis is doing a morning brunch.
"We opened last Thanksgiving for brunch for the first time and were bowled over that it was so popular," said Will Keesen, Oasis' general manager.
Even some ethnic restaurants have gone into Thanksgiving mode. Tucanos Brazilian restaurants in Provo and Salt Lake City are offering fried, roasted and grilled turkey, and the typical mashed potatoes, yams and cranberries along with its usual churrasco, or grilled meats. The Italian-themed Buca di Beppo also offers a Thanksgiving turkey dinner.
Why are more people eating out on Thanksgiving? Reasons vary. Some people say they are too busy or stressed to cook a big traditional feast, or to do the post-dinner clean-up. Some say they don't have room at home for a large group. A typical empty-nest scenario is that the married kids are going to the in-laws, so why fix a huge meal for just two people?
Many restaurants and caterers now offer complete Thanksgiving meals to-go that customers merely have to heat and serve. Even those who prefer to cook most of the meal will often turn to bakeries for their pies and rolls. The Lion House Bakery will turn out an estimated one million rolls and 1,500 to 1,700 pies, which are sold at the downtown Lion House Pantry and in Deseret Book stores.
"It just keeps getting bigger and bigger," said head baker Brenda Hopkin. "Most people are just trying to make their lives a little easier. If they buy them frozen and bake them off at home, they still have that wonderful aroma."
Perhaps the largest Thanksgiving event takes place at Little America, where executive chef Bernhard Gotz expects to feed about 6,000 diners. About half of those feast at the dinner buffet; the rest are served in the hotel's coffee shop and dining room. It's all done on a walk-in basis — no reservations. The Grand America also does a huge business, and it does accept reservations. As of last week, reserved spots totaled 1,600.
"You have to think outside the box when you do this many covers," Gotz said.
Or, in this case, outside the kitchen. Much of the food comes in the Friday before on a refrigerated truck that stays on the loading dock.
"As we prep, we put the food back on the truck, which is monitored for refrigeration. We start peeling potatoes, cleaning yams, and seasoning meats. They are all labeled, so it's a well-organized event," said Gotz.
To avoid wasting turkey meat, Gotz orders the turkey breast and dark meat turkey separately, instead of cooking whole turkeys. More people tend to go for the breast meat.
"We start our turkey cooking the night before," said Gotz.
A special slow-cooking oven called an Alto-Shaam cooks the turkey on low heat and then automatically holds the temperature at 160 degrees. "We start cooking the first batch Wednesday night, and then we come in at 3 a.m. and cook batches all day long," said Gotz. "There will be two people here all day long who bake rolls so they're all made fresh, and two people who will make stuffing and mashed potatoes, 100 pound at a time."
Gotz said he doesn't hire extra staff. "Everybody works, and this is when they can make overtime."
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