Many of us spend Thanksgiving around a big table in our family or friend’s home, eating food prepared in the adjacent kitchen. We boast about our homemade recipes and handed-down delicacies.
Grandpa made his famous sausage stuffing because he’s always made the stuffing. Aunt Marie agonized over the turkey for hours, even though it always comes out perfect. Beer and soda is kept in a cooler on the patio because the fridge is crammed full. The adults lounge on sofas while the children rough house.
But in many families, the tradition is to let someone else do the cooking.
Every year, 14 million Americans will eat at a restaurant on Thanksgiving. And 16 million Americans will supplement their Thanksgiving meal with a takeout dish. We’re a culture that loves restaurants and holidays, so it’s no surprise that this trend is growing.
If you’ve ever dined out for Thanksgiving, you know it’s a truly luxurious experience. What was once a day late night of frantic cooking prep, a day of anxious baking, stirring, sautéing and frying, followed by an afternoon of tedious cleaning, is now a relaxing, family-focused event.
If you’re new to dining out on Thanksgiving, here are some things to look for when you pick out a restaurant.
1. A buffet with variety
If you’re enjoying a feast at a restaurant, it definitely should be a buffet.
A feast isn’t your usual meal. We celebrate by being a bit gluttonous. So you’ll want to eat at a place that doesn’t limit your portion. You want to be able to go back for seconds or thirds if the mood strikes you. You want to be able to enjoy an extra-large scoop of mashed potatoes if that’s your thing.
Fortunately, restaurants know this, and many setup buffets for Thanksgiving, even if that isn’t their usual serving model. All your favorites will be lined out in a nice spread, and at the end will be a chef or server slicing meat right off the bone. Savory!
Buffets typically charge a flat cover fee per person (typically $20 to $50), so make sure you mention if anyone in your party is a child so you can get their reduced rate (if they offer one). Keep in mind that there will be some table service, so you are expected to tip.
2. A proper dinner time
It’s funny that we usually eat between 6 and 8 PM on most nights, but our holiday feasts are always scheduled much earlier – usually around 2 or 3 PM.
The answer is historical. Traditionally, folks would eat their main meal of the day just after noon. “Supper” would be a much lighter meal served just before bed. Since Thanksgiving is a traditional meal, we’ve stuck with the practice. Plus, a big meal earlier in the day shifts the day’s momentum, so you have time to relax.
Honestly, that’s for the best. After a meal of Thanksgiving proportions, we need time to digest before we go to bed. Plus we get to enjoy Round 2: a little Thanksgiving leftover snack before bed!
Make sure you call in a reservation to your favorite restaurant in advance so you get the meal time you prefer. Diners spend considerably more time at the table on a holiday than they would any other night, so reservations fill up quickly and there are less available spots. Don’t be surprised if you show up for your reservation and still have to wait an hour.
3. Somewhere you can spread out
Everyone knows that post-Thanksgiving meal feeling. You’re bloated, sluggish, and tired (not to mention a little guilty). The last place you want to be is a cramped chair with a table pressed against your stomach, elbow-to-elbow with the people nearby.
Choose a restaurant that has a generous floor plan with a decent amount of space between tables. Avoid sitting in booths where you’ll be squished next to someone or where you’ll constantly have to stand to let people by.
Keep in mind that your favorite restaurants will suddenly have more tables than usual because they expect people to be sitting around chatting longer.
4. Quick access to someone’s home
Even though you’re paying to enjoy a nice meal, you can’t spend all day loitering at the restaurant. They want to move people through their buffet so they can make money. You probably won’t be allowed to stretch out on the floor and watch football (unless it’s that sort of restaurant).
Thanksgiving is a day where families spend time together, so you won’t be finished with your bonding just because the table is clear. It helps to pick a restaurant near someone’s home so you can all pop over after dinner. Have coffee, an adult beverage (since you won’t be driving), and try to fit in an extra slice of pumpkin pie.
Now you can stretch out on the couch and watch football. Or play football in the yard. Or chase the kids around. Or, if you’re like many of us, fall asleep.
5. Your family’s presence
It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the family, right?
If you spend Thanksgiving with just your immediate family, getting them on board to dine out won’t be difficult. But if, like many families, you eat in a big group, you may have trouble convincing everyone to join you.
“We can’t have Grandpa’s stuffing at a restaurant,” someone might object. “They won’t make the pie right,” another might complain. “I never liked that place,” you might hear.
These objections may be true, but encourage everyone to try something new, just this year. You’ll have to work to find a place that suits everyone’s preference and plans. By the end of the day, when no one is washing a dish or taking out the trash, you’ll convert at least a few people.
What’s most important is that your family is together.
How do you spend your Thanksgiving? Tell us on Facebook and post a photo of your event!