Thanksgiving conjures a vision of elaborate, home-cooked family meals. While the turkey and pumpkin pie have remained unchanged, the "home-cooked" part isn't necessarily part of the equation anymore. The National Restaurant Association said about 30 million Americans either ate out or bought take-out from restaurants last Thanksgiving Day.
Thanksgiving conjures a vision of elaborate, home-cooked family meals.
While the turkey and pumpkin pie have remained unchanged, the "home-cooked" part isn't necessarily part of the equation anymore.
The National Restaurant Association said about 30 million Americans either ate out or bought take-out from restaurants last Thanksgiving Day.
"Life has changed. Mom is not home all day cooking. Both parents are likely working out of necessity, and because of that, patronizing a restaurant for Thanksgiving is more than convenience, it's just part of our lifestyle now," said local restaurant consultant Bob Welcher. "We're much more on the go and have much less free time."
Restaurants have responded.
"There really weren't a lot of restaurants open or selling take-out on Thanksgiving 30 or 40 years ago, and now most places offer it," he said.
For those who still want to enjoy Thanksgiving at home, a variety of restaurants offer carry-home options. (Most have reservation deadlines.)
Cameron Mitchell Catering sells a complete " Thanksgiving in a Box," which feeds 10 people, for $225. Mimi's Cafe is open on Thanksgiving Day and, in addition to its dining-room offerings, is selling a holiday meal-to-go that serves up to eight for $89.99. Bob Evans restaurants sell a carry-out holiday Farmhouse Feast in November and December that feeds up to 8 people for $74.99, as well as a smaller version that serves four for $44.99.
City Barbeque has offered pre-order take-out Thanksgiving meals featuring ham, turkey and the chain's down-home side dishes for about 10 years, and sales have grown each year.
It's not a super profit center, said owner Rick Malir, in part because of the costly nature of the featured meats - artisan smoked ham and free-range turkey.
Profit isn't necessarily the point.
"It's not a lucrative part of our business, just a way to be more of a part of what customers are doing," said Stan Riley, owner of Holy Smoke Barbecue, which serves special order take-out meals on Thanksgiving Day.
"For me, it's more of a way to connect with customers and give back to the community," Riley said. "It feels good to be able to provide a hot meal on Thanksgiving Day, knowing they can go home with a product they'll be proud to serve and that part of their day is taken care of."
Increasing numbers of people choose to eat out on Thanksgiving, and there are numerous options.
Surly Girl, the Tip Top and Betty's are among those that plan to be open and dishing up holiday meals on Thanksgiving Day.
"Business on Thanksgiving is always very brisk," as the restaurants draw students who can't always afford the trip home, said Elizabeth Lessner, co-founder of the Columbus Food League.
"We also see many of the folks who have to work on Thanksgiving: hospital workers, hospitality industry, (information technology), police and firefighters as well as a lot of families with loved ones in local hospitals. They're looking for a spot of normalcy. The holidays are a tough time for some. If we can be a place of cheer or comfort, we like that."
Family restaurants, in particular, provide that sort of refuge and cheer to many people, Welcher said.
"They have regular customers coming in. A lot of them have an older clientele, and some of them might not have someplace to go."
The Granville Inn, Bel Lago and Spinelli's Deli are also serving Thanksgiving meals.
"We're open for breakfast on Thanksgiving Day. This will be our fourth year," and sales have increased each year, said Joe Spinelli. "Many of our customers have been so happy to have a place to hang out on Thanksgiving morning."
Although Thanksgiving isn't a particularly lucrative holiday for restaurants, most restaurants that are open find it pays dividends for the goodwill it engenders with customers and the community, Welcher said.
Still, people in the business expect that the trend toward eating out or take-out for Thanksgiving will likely stick around.
It's an extension of the larger trend toward families eating more meals out, said Malir, of City Barbeque. The average U.S. family eats out about five times each week, according to Restaurant DemandTracker.
"When I was young, my mom cooked whether she wanted to or not. Today, that isn't the case. People don't want to tie up their oven and want to enjoy their guests. They want the convenience and to be with family instead of slaving in the kitchen."
And then there's the pressure to perform. Not everybody's able or willing to try to cook a feast on their own.
"Convenience and quality are the primary factors in a person's choice to have a (restaurant) Thanksgiving meal. It can be stressful to prepare a full Thanksgiving meal, especially on your own," said Kacie Stover, event coordinator with Milo's Catering. "Picking up sides, desserts, or a whole meal ensures that the food will be great and the host will be able to enjoy time with his or her family instead of being trapped in the kitchen."Election results
Mozart's Cafe has announced the results of its 2012 presidential cookie poll. (The shop in Clintonville sells elephant- and donkey-shaped cookies every presidential election year and keeps track of the votes.)
As it has every year since the cookie poll began in 2000, Mozart's - an Austrian cafe, and thus politically neutral - correctly predicted the results of the presidential election. Democratic cookies were purchased 52 percent of the time to the Republicans 48 percent.
Denise Trowbridge, Dispatch restaurant columnist, can be reached at email@example.com.