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."
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
350 pounds dark meat turkey
350 pounds pork shoulder
2,000 pounds prime rib
400 pounds chicken breast
800 pounds crab legs
500 pounds fresh green beans
1,400 pounds yams
500 pounds carrots
2,000 pounds potatoes
300 pounds onions
150 pounds celery for stuffing
10,000 fresh-baked rolls
600 pounds of rolls to use in the turkey stuffing
Source: Bernhard Gotz, Little America executive chef
Serving up Thanksgiving dinner
Here are some local restaurants serving Thanksgiving dinner. It's best to call or check the website to find out if reservations are required, if it's a buffet or sit-down service, and what is included in the menu.
Cracker Barrel restaurant chain: $8.99 per adult, $4.69 per child ( crackerbarrel.com )
Little America Hotel, 500 S. Main St. Salt Lake City: Buffet, $45 per adult and $22 per child; steakhouse, $24.95 per adult and $13.95 per child; coffee shop, $19.95 per adult and $9.95 (800-281-7899 or saltlake.littleamerica.com )
Grand America Hotel, 555 S. Main, Salt Lake City: $59 per adult, $19.50 per child ( 801-258-6807 or www.grandamerica.com )
Elevations, 75 S. West Temple: $25 per adult, $11 per child (801-537-6019 or www.marriott.com )
Marie Callender's, 1600 N. 1000 West, Layton and 1109 E. 3900 South, Salt Lake: $19.99 per adult, $8.99 per child ( www.mcpies.com )
Buca di Beppo Italian Restaurant chain: $45 for three guests, $90 up to six guests ( www.bucadibeppo.com )
The Paris Bistro, 1500 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City: $49.95 per adult, $19.95 per child (801-486-5585 or www.theparis.net )
Tucanos Brazilian Grill, 162 S. 400 West, Salt Lake City and 4801 N. University Ave., Provo: $29.95 per adult; $11.95 per child (801-456-2550 or www.tucanos.com )
Faustina, 454 East, 300 South: $45 per person (801-746-4441 or www.faustinaslc.com )
Log Haven, Millcreek Canyon: $43.95 per adult and$21.95 per child (801 272 8255 or www.log-haven.com/reservations )
Mimi's Cafe, various locations: $15.99 per adult, $8.99 per child ( www.mimiscafe.com )
La Caille, 9565 South Wasatch Blvd., Sandy: $52 per adult, $26 per child (801-942-1751 or www.lacaille.com )
Franck's, 6264 S. Holladay Blvd., Holladay: $55 per adult and $26 per child (801-274-6264 or www.francksfood.com )
Snowbird Ski Resort Cliff Lodge in Little Cottonwood Canyon: $38 per adult, $18 per child (801-933-2181 or www.snowbird.com/dining )
Silver Fork Lodge, 11332 E. Big Cottonwood Canyon, Brighton: $28.50 per adult and $13.50 per child (801-533-9977 or www.silverforklodge.com/events.php )
PARK CITY/HEBER AREA:
Grub Steak Restaurant, 2093 Sidewinder Drive, Park City: $25.75 per adult, $13.75 per child (435-649-8060 or www.grubsteakrestaurant.com )
Glitretind at Stein Eriksen Lodge, 7700 Stein Way, Park City: $69 per adult, $25 per child (435-645-6455 or www.steinlodge.com/dining )
The Blue Boar Inn & Restaurant, Midway: $45 per adult, $15 per child (888-650-1400 or www.theblueboarinn.com )
Waldorf Astoria Park City's Slopes, 2100 Frostwood Blvd.: $72 per adult and $35 per child (435-647-5566 or www.parkcitywaldorfastoria.com )
Daniels Summit Lodge, U.S. Highway 40 Daniels Summit Pass, Heber City: $34.95 per adult and $17.50 per child (800-519-9969 or www.danielssummit.com )
The Farm at Canyons Resort, Park City: $49 per adult and $29 per child (435-615-8080 or www.canyonsresort.com/dining.html?dinid=10666 )
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