Despite the pandemic, residents are expected to dine out this Thanksgiving but even more may be ordering their respective turkey dinners to-go.
“It’s odd,” said Steve Chucri, president and CEO of the Arizona Restaurant Association, “because I feel like I’m an auctioneer with how quickly tables are going in restaurants.”
With restaurants throughout Scottsdale still limited to 50 percent capacity, the demand for both dine-in and takeout is higher than ever this Thanksgiving.
According to Chucri, restaurants such as the Capital Grille at the Promenade are already booked for Thanksgiving Day.
“Due to some of the occupancy requirements and constrictions because of COVID-19, they’re filling up very quickly,” Chucri said.
Others, like ZuZu at Hotel Valley Ho, are near capacity.
“Currently, for our 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. meal experience, we are at just under 200 covers right now,” said Seth Widdes, general manager at ZuZu. “If we’re able to hit 250, 300 with everything well-spaced out, everybody’s safe, everybody’s enjoying their experience, that is what I’d classify as a successful Thanksgiving for us this year.”
The demand is so high for Thanksgiving this year, Chucri even expects restaurants to be filled almost a week before the holiday.
To prepare for such demand whilst also adhering to occupancy constrictions and proper social distancing, many restaurants, including ZuZu, implemented two changes this year: extended hours and to-go specials.
“We’ve always had a lot of success with our to-go individual turkey meals in previous years, but this year we took it to a whole ‘nother level with whole turkeys, both raw and cooked, with all the fixings,” Widdes said.
ZuZu’s to-go meals include individually portioned dinners for $42 per person, half turkey family meals for $229, and whole turkey family meals starting at $299.
“Right now, our big push is for our large family packages, and we have just about a dozen of those placed right now,” Widdes said. “We actually already have some individual Thanksgiving orders as well — just about another 10 of those.”
Widdes anticipates a boost in orders in the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.
“We’ve found in past years, our orders really start taking off about a week to two weeks before Thanksgiving because everyone’s putting those last- minute plans together,” he explained.
ZuZu found previous success with their to-go package for Easter, selling about 190 packages.
“It was completely unexpected,” Widdes said. “We didn’t imagine that kind of demand, but we executed it and everybody loved it. And with this hybrid of part in-house, part to-go, we plan to do quite a few to-go orders.”
The Herb Box will offer a la carte items to-go, including butternut squash and ale soup ($14), 1.5-pound achiote roasted turkey breast ($32), cornbread stuffing ($24) and more.
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess has a takeaway brunch kit that feeds four for $225, including smoked turkey breast and confit turkey leg, Hayden Mills cornbread stuffing, candied yams and more.
According to the National Restaurant Association 2020 State of the Restaurant Industry report, 52 percent of consumers say purchasing takeout or delivery food is essential to their lifestyle and 58 percent of consumers say they are more likely to have restaurants deliver than they were two years ago.
So, the decision to ramp up to-go specials makes sense, especially during the holidays amid a pandemic.
“We really took a much more to-go approach in putting together some really great packages to cover everybody’s wants and needs for Thanksgiving,” Widdes said.
Not all restaurants, including resort restaurants, anticipate a boost in to-go orders.
The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, for example, predicts dine-in will continue to reign over takeout.
“If recent and pre-holiday trends are a precursor to Thanksgiving Day dining decisions, we do not anticipate significant growth to the number of takeout orders placed this year,” Mike Tueros, director of event management.
Last year, 95 percent of the resort’s Thanksgiving sales came from Nellie Cashman’s Monday Club Cafe and Waltz & Weiser Whiskey Bar and Cantina.
“As we are able to demonstrate safe service and social distancing within our dining venues and across all resort spaces, we anticipate a similar number to opt for traditional dining options,” Tueros said.
In addition to extending their hours and, for some, ramping up their takeaway specials, restaurants also tweaked their dine-in menus. Some, like Royal Palms, scratched buffets altogether, focusing on a prix-fixe meal.
“We wanted to provide our community with a comfortable, safe environment to honor their family’s traditions and create new memories. We felt this would be best accommodated by a plated meal to ensure personal preference and food safety guidelines are met, as well as staggering reservations both indoors and outdoors for maximum flow between parties,” explained Lindsey Kaskowitz, director of sales and events at Royal Palms.
Chucri predicts dine-in demand will continue through Christmas.
“I think you’re going to see more restaurants opening up on Christmas than ever before,” he said. “I think more and more of the same people that are testing opening up for Thanksgiving will continue to do the same [on Christmas Day].”
ZuZu, which is typically open on Christmas but has never offered to-go options on Christmas Day. It will do just that this year.
“That will definitely be a new frontier for us,” Widdes said. “I don’t know the exact menu just yet, but I know that there will be family packages and individual packages for Christmas this year, as well as, of course, our extended dining hours from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Christmas Day.”
That said, make your reservation now if you plan to dine-out for Thanksgiving because, according to Chucri, “it’s going to be a big Thanksgiving.”