The buffet runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the earlier people come, the shorter the waiting line, Gotz said. "Our biggest challenge is when people come in the late afternoon and expect to be seated right away. We try to move them through pretty quickly."
At Marie Callender's, Thanksgiving has grown from a side business to the busiest time of the whole year, said Diane Hubbard, manager of the Layton Marie Callender's location. "This is our make-or-break time. For most other companies, it's Christmas."
Last year, Hubbard's store sold 9,702 pies the week before Thanksgiving. They served 700 dinners in the restaurant, and cooked about 100 to125 turkeys for take-out feasts that include the usual trimmings such as dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, yams, cranberries, and a pie, for $99.99.
To juggle the logistics, "We start on the Sunday night before Thanksgiving and bake 24 hours a day until Thanksgiving," said Hubbard. "We use about 15 extra people for the week. People like to come back and work each year because although it's a lot of work, it's also a lot of fun working together. All the managers and employees put in some really long hours."
The restaurant takes reservations for parties of eight or more; smaller groups are walk-ins. "Usually the wait isn't more than 45 minutes," said Hubbard.
The kitchen's oven can bake 72 pies at a time, she said. The restaurant's slow-cooking Alto-Shaam oven can cook 16 turkeys at a time, while keeping them moist.
On Thanksgiving morning, customers pick up their boxed "feasts to go" from a refrigerated truck in the parking lot, "because it gets pretty congested in the restaurant," said Hubbard. When they get home, the customers take the containers out of the box, heat the food and serve it.
The feast and pie pick-ups are completed in the morning, before the restaurant begins serving dinner in the restaurant. People who didn't order pies might be able to buy some that morning, "But they will have to take whatever we've got left."
Most people order the traditional pumpkin, apple and pecan pies. Mincemeat isn't as popular, "But people who like it really want their mincemeat," Hubbard said. "We sell about 700 or 800 or them. I make all the young kids who work here try it, because they don't really know what it is. We serve it with a rum sauce."
Every year the company comes out with a special Thanksgiving pie, and this year it's Caramel Pecan Pumpkin Mousse — layers of caramel with pecans, whipped cream cheese and pumpkin mousse, topped with whipped cream.
Part of the Thanksgiving dinner tradition is second helpings of favorites like turkey, dressing or mashed potatoes. Dine-in customers at Marie Callender's can request seconds.
"Our goal is to make sure everyone is pleasantly stuffed and happy and glad they came," said Hubbard.
Because Thanksgiving is such a long work day, many staffers and their families celebrate their Thanksgiving the Sunday after, when they can relax and enjoy it.
Hubbard's day starts at 6 a.m., and she usually arrives home around 8 p.m. Her own family served a Marie Callender's to-go feast at home while she was working.
"My family is really good about cleaning up, because I'm so tired by the time I get home," Hubbard said. "They had 20 people over and it was all cleaned up by the time I got home."
Virginia Rainey, a food writer who edits the Zagat restaurant guide for Salt Lake City, said Utah's growing number of exceptional bakeries, caterers and restaurants makes it much easier to order part, or all, of your Thanksgiving dinner.
Her own family is rooted in the traditional home-cooked Thanksgiving meal. But she can understand why some families would let someone else do all, or part, of the cooking.
"Whatever makes you happy or eases the stress, go for it. The essence of the holiday is a celebration of the bounty, giving thanks, and sharing with others."
By the numbers
For Thanksgiving, Little America will serve:
2,400 pounds of turkey breast
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