Cornish Hens and Restaurant Meals: What Thanksgiving Seems to be Like Throughout a Pandemic

This year, instead of the traditional turkey, Nicole Beckler's Thanksgiving table will feature two chickens from Cornwall: the perfect size birds for a dinner for two.

Beckler, a Florida-based travel agent, downsized her dinner after deciding not to fly to New Jersey to celebrate the vacation with her family.

"With New Jersey locked again, I thought it best to stay here," she said.

Like Beckler, many Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving differently this year. Health experts have warned against traveling home or gathering in large groups as the number of new Covid-19 cases explodes in the US. But celebrating Thanksgiving – in other ways too – could make the mood even better after a stressful year.

"Showing gratitude in small ways can reduce stress and give hope for the future," said Barbara Fiese, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois.

Kroger's in-house data and analytics firm found that 43% of customers plan on vacationing just with their immediate family. Retailers like Walmart's own Sam & # 39; s Club have stocked up on smaller turkeys and downsized their yeast rolls.

Struggling restaurants see the break with tradition as an opportunity to attract customers who don't want to work on turkey, stuffing, and all the side dishes for a much smaller party.

Bayan Ko, a Chicago restaurant that blends Cuban and Filipino cuisines, is among the first-time restaurants selling Thanksgiving. For $ 195, customers can get the restaurant's Christmas meal, which includes three types of meat, four side dishes and flan for dessert.

Thanksgiving meals prepared by restaurants are not cheap, especially when compared to the average cost of preparing the meals at home. The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates that a 10-person Thanksgiving dinner this year costs an average of $ 46.90 when the ingredients are purchased at the grocery store. However, customers want to take the stress out of cooking the turkey and support local businesses.

"We're having fun, so it gets our spirits up," said Raquel Quadreny, co-owner of Bayan Ko.

According to Quadreny, the restaurant was sold out from its Thanksgiving packages and many were going to repeat customers.

"What we've done in one day is more than we've done each week since Covid cases got worse in Illinois," she said.

With Covid cases in Chicago skyrocketing in the past few weeks, Quadreny estimates sales have been cut in half. At the end of October, city officials again banned eating indoors, and the state soon followed suit. Bayan Ko never opened its indoor dining room again in the summer or fall and instead lured customers to the outdoor terrace.

Summit House in Summit, New Jersey, has also exercised caution in the face of the recent surge in cases. Thanksgiving comes a week after the restaurant decides to suspend personal indoor and outdoor dining. Instead, it focuses on the grab-and-go business, which includes pre-ordered meal packages for the holidays.

The restaurant's vacation packages started this year with the Mother's Day Package and will continue with meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Owner Dylan Baker said the Summit House is preparing about 200 Thanksgiving dinners.

And for the restaurants that have been selling Thanksgiving dinner for years, slow kitchens mean they can take more orders than usual.

Black-Eyed Sally & # 39; s in Hartford, Connecticut, has been serving Cajun roast turkey food for more than 15 years. This year the restaurant also cut its turkeys in half or into thirds in response to consumers looking for smaller meals. Varano said they cut their orders by 150 this year, 50% higher than usual.

"Since business has been so dire, it's nice to know that we will be getting some vacation-to-go sales on the register at least this week," said James Varano, owner of Black-Eyed Sally & # 39; s.

And the restaurants continue to look to the next vacation to further increase sales. Black-Eyed Sally & # 39; s and Summit House make Christmas dinner. Summit House will be offering a Prime Rib package throughout December. Bayan Ko plans to create a bundle for New Years and weighs another one for Christmas.

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