Pandemic takeout trends will alter the Thanksgiving landscape. Give thanks for foodservice flexibility.For a number of years, Thanksgiving has been trending as a big restaurant day — not necessarily for dine-in but for producing ready-to-heat spreads for people who want an amazing feast without all the work. Expectations are high this year with so many people eschewing or scaling down their annual traditions. The inclination might be to simply repeat what you’ve done before, but everything, especially in 2020, might benefit from a second look.
Think smaller. Now, don’t drop your stuffing tray that can feed 6-8 people, but be cognizant of the number of folks who aren’t traveling or are keeping their bubbles small. A roasted breast instead of a full bird to serve 2-3 people is likely to be in greater demand this year.
Small hams or even roast pork will appeal to the smaller groups. If they do want a whole bird, consider offering duck or a stuffed game hen to mix things up a bit.
Young couples and empty nesters might be all about making their own bird for their small family unit but be less enthusiastic about the extra work all the sides require. Traditional sides are sure to be popular but don’t be afraid to step outside the norm. Without a huge family to serve, people will likely be more willing to have a little fun.
Think about seasonally spiced sweet potato pancakes, similar to latkes, instead of the traditional marshmallow dish. Or consider sautéed collard greens with a little heat from cumin and chile. You could even go healthy, switching up the creamed spinach with kale instead. Get creative or simply riff off your own menu and cuisine for inspiration.
There will be some consumers who are still having guests and families gather together. This might present a dilemma — home cooks not knowing how to convert some Thanksgiving dishes into vegan or vegetarian-friendly meals. Vegan gravy and stuffing made with vegetable stock or even a meat-style loaf made with wild mushrooms are all likely to be hits for people unsure of how to accommodate certain dietary requirements or without the bandwidth to recreate a replacement dish for the big day.
Months of quarantine have caused many of us to pack on a few extra pounds, meaning a day dedicated to eating might trigger a little trepidation. For those turning to keto for help, it’s not so hard to tweak a few dishes without climbing on the carb wagon.
Mashed cauliflower has been a popular substitute for years, but you could also make a scalloped potato-style dish using sliced daikon. Lose the flour for thickening gravy and substitute xanthan gum or gelatin. Bread made with almond flour is perfect for stuffing or a crust for pumpkin pie — sugar-free of course.
One nice thing about Thanksgiving dishes is they are basically designed to travel and even be re-heated with little degradation to quality. This means you can schedule pick-up for most items up to 48 hours in advance to increase volume and decrease crowding with proper scheduling.
In-house delivery might not be a feasible option for regular service, but it’s an option that might allow you to avoid online app fees. Consider breaking up your area into zones, so with the proper amount of notice, you can use your own staff and vehicles to maximize time and knock out each neighborhood in one trip during a designated window.
Getting the Word Out
Thanksgiving dishes were made for social media and are sure to stir up nostalgic feelings for family in these socially-distanced times. As you start perfecting your dishes, post images to Facebook and Instagram. Inviting local food writers and social media influencers to an afternoon tasting might not be a bad idea either. Getting the buzz going early will be key to having enough orders to plan, order supplies, and hopefully make a “sold out” post when you reach capacity.
2020 has certainly changed consumers’ willingness to have more than just pizza delivered. Restaurants have stepped up their game in creating dishes that can travel and training staff to handle increasingly large volumes of to-go orders. This year, Thanksgiving might just be the perfect day to bring that new demand and those new skills together for what might be a new busy day to mark on your calendar.