Is it worth the money to eat Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant?
For the restaurant we're considering, it will probably cost $250-$275 for three with tax and tip.
I know that if I cook, (even for just us) it'll be at least $100, plus many hours shopping, preparing, cooking, cleaning up, etc. (Sounds as though I just convinced myself--but we have been on a frugal trend lately & I have doubts).
Follow up report. First, thanks, everybody, for all your thoughtful input.
First thing I did was cancel the really expensive restaurant, and we had a choice among three others. The one we chose was the cheapest, $25 each, but with a buffet (which I hate so had low expectations), but has an ocean view, which I always love, and at a restaurant with pretty good food on a regular day.
In the meantime, I started to put together home cooked elements of our traditional Thanksgiving day meal, but with a turkey breast--a compromise because I like the stuffing out of the bird. I even made whole wheat rolls, plus bread for turkey sandwiches, since the leftovers were kind of the whole point of this backup plan. I'm kind of embarrassed to say I ended up going nearly the whole 9 yards, but by spacing it out over time there was no pressure, & on the day itself we got dressed up & went out to eat.
The meal itself? Well, there was an ocean view. In case I ever was in danger of doing a buffet again, that was the last time. The turkey was pretty good, mashed potatoes , too--a taste of the roast beef & ham revealed that the meat & poultry were the highlights. Most of the numerable sides were somewhat above industrial. The desserts were pretty dreadful, though pretty and plentiful. No, there was some very good fresh pineapple.
So, if we had settled for this as our meal, it would have been a bit economical.
I spent more on the home cooked part, but we enjoyed it following day at our leisure, and this will provide meals for several days--I'll have a stash of turkey pot pies, and other items in the freezer.
So in the end we did both. I'm still not sure what the answer is, since the day itself was festive & restful (though the sight of overfed Americans tripping over one another with plates overloaded with food is not a pretty picture). Did I mention I hate buffets? Then why did we choose this? The ocean, plus prior good experiences at this restaurant.
But doing both certainly was not frugal.
So for next year if it's just us, I'll probably cook--or go someplace better--the 2 non-buffets we rejected might have been better choices.
But I'm glad to have the frig full of food, so maybe I'll just cook, and if we're just the 3 of us, invite some strays as we have done many times.
If you've traveled, or the people in the family don't have room in their home to host everyone
( hey-in NYC this can happen!) then going out can be a really nice option. Then, everyone can be comfortable and included and relaxed. It's so hard to enjoy when you're squished, or feel stressed about your guests feeling that way.
Choose carefully so the restaurant has the environment and vibe that you think best matches your family's needs.
We always went out for a big Christmas dinner ( We're Jewish) b/c it was my grandfather's birthday and there were tons of families at all of the great restaurants we picked over the years. If we got antsy at the table as kids, we'd read a book, sleep on the banquette, or pay a quiet game under the table.
While I sometimes think it would certainly be a lot easier to go out, I wouldn't give it up. Thanksgiving Day is also about the phone calls before to coordinate the meal, the kids helping set the table,Scrabble afterwords on the dining room table while eating the fruit and nuts from the bowl, and the turkey sandwiches that appear later in the evening, when you think you couldn't eat another bite.
I did this two years ago, with my aunt, mother and sister in a small restaurant in Manhattan. It ran us roughly $55 per person.
On the downside, it was pricey -- $220 for the four of us (and that's before tip and drinks) would be enough cash for me to throw Thanksgiving for dozens (which I've done).
On the upside, however, it was interesting to see a lot of classic Thanksgiving dishes in a new light. Standards like the turkey were not messed with; the mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce and other sides were improved upon or changed in a good way.
Would I do it again? No, probably not, given the cost. I don't believe it's worth the money.
I think it depends more on whether you like to cook or not than what you're willing to spend. Last Thanksgiving I decided that for the first time in 20 years I was going out rather than doing all of the cooking (I'm the only one in the family who cooks). We went to a top shelf restaurant that we'd been to many times before only to have (for 3 out of 4 of us) a very mediocre meal and spent $250, and it was BYO! No one ordered the turkey option. I was so totally disappointed in the food that I may never go there again. Yes Thanksgiving is all about friends and family, but I'd rather spend a decent amount of money at the supermarket on quality ingredients, including splurging on a heritage bird, and spend two days in the kitchen cooking great food for them than eating food out that I could have prepared better myself. But that's my peeve about most restaurants. If they can't do it better than I can, why bother?
We always go out on Christmas...totally worth it. We usually have a big homemade family meal on Christmas Eve then spend the morning with everyone around the tree and a light breakfast and then Dad takes everyone out for a really nice dinner so none of us have to work or fuss. (and with both parents getting elderly and their health slipping we really cherish these dinners as we get older...it's such a great tradition and won't be the same when we're not all together)
Thanksgiving we always cook(actually I always cook, it's been "my" holiday for family cooking since college). I enjoy it...it's such a low key holiday with nothign going on BUT the meal and really turkey dinner isn't too hard to prepare...everyone helps us put on the christmas decorations while the turkeys roasting...if everythign is prepped the night before it's only those last 30 minutes or so before eating when it all comes together that take work.
We did get married the day after thanksgiving...that year we had about 30 people for thanksgiving dinner due to the out of town company. With the rehersal the day before and the wedding the day after I wasn't going to tackle thanksgiving dinner for that crowd too so i did order everything from the local high end grocer. It worked out really well and everyone enjoyed it.
No matter where your dinner comes from enjoy the day and whomever you spend it with...that's what really counts!
When your closest family is 500 miles away, when you work in a position (think retail, health care, etc.) where you don't get more than the holiday off, eating a restaurant meal on a holiday can be a real pleasure.
I can honestly say that I have NEVER had a bad holiday meal (except the St. Louis Del Taco disaster Christmas Day 1989). Look for the places you normally enjoy. We usually spend in the $20-30 range pp.
It maybe a bit off subject, but I was listening to Joan Hamburg on one of NYC's local talk radio stations the other morning,and the topic of dinner out for Thanksgiving came up. She said that she and her family have been going out for a few years...to the same place, and they have dinner there, but the place always let them bring their own "family" stuffing. I am not sure if there are regulations that apply to this sort of thing, but I thought it was pretty neat that you can avoid the hassle of preparing a full meal at home, but still have a piece of home with you. It can't hurt to ask!
I was surprised to read this in my local paper's dining out column:
"With Thanksgiving only two weeks away, if you're among the one in 10 Americans that now dine out on Turkey Day, you'd best get reservations made, pronto. Thanksgiving is now the busiest day of the year for many restaurants, having overtaken past champs like Mother's Day and Valentine's Day. Many of those area restaurants with a hearth and home ambiance report they're already close to being sold out for the day, so those wanting to dine out on Nov. 23 who keep procrastinating will soon find their options rather limited."
We're having Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant for the first time this year, out of state, just 3 of us, in a city that is halfway between us. I enjoyed researching the restaurants. What I chose was a place that is still offering a good looking (and visible online) menu - not a buffet, and not just traditional thanksgiving dinner. I've found that limited menu holiday meals (like last Valentines at a favorite steak place) not necessarily up to par, so the more it looked like their regular menu the better.
You can always cook a turkey and dressing any day of the year if you want leftovers, there is no rule that says it has to be on that day! The point is to do whatever you need to do to enjoy the time with your people.
If you feel like skipping the cooking and cleaning, you should go out and have fun. However, the food served at a typical Thanksgiving dinner is quite inexpensive. I'm sure it costs less than an ordinary dinner party. Paying restaurant prices for that kind of food is silly, in a way. Maybe getting the food to go from an upscale grocery is a good compromise.
I have to say, I've only had dinner out once in my life and I didn't care for it. We were in New Orleans and the food was great, but I felt robbed by not having any left overs or any of the classic, comfort dishes that I grew up with.
Same thing when I go over to someone's house for Thanksgiving. I've taken to at least roasting a turkey breast and stuffing even if we're not hosting Thanksgiving -- just for the left overs.
For a small group, moderation is the key. You don't necessarily have to have a HUGE feast with 10 different sides, pick your 2-3 faves and go from there.
It all depends upon what you want from the holiday. We used to ALWAYS do thanksgiving and christmas dinner at my grandmother's house, with everything home-cooked. However, my grandmother is now 94 years old, and while for a few years we continued with the tradition despite her being too frail to help with the cooking, the production of getting the house ready for a big dinner is too much for her now, even with help. The option of having another family member take over the meal is not very realistic at this point, since it is also hard for my grandmother to travel, and the nearest family member that could easily handle the meal involves an overnight stay for grandma.
So, we all still come to her, but now we go out for dinner. We've done it the past few years, and everyone likes the new tradition. For one, there are NO DISHES. For two, despite the predominance of people who preferred turkey and all the trimmings for thanksgiving dinner, there were those rebels in our family who were bored with the same menu year after year. Now everyone can order what they want, be it turkey, duck, ham or prime rib. Finally, we all came to the conclusion that by FAR the most important part of the holiday was being together with family, which is served just as well by a restaurant meal than a gathering at home. The value that you put on the meal itself is really subjective; in our case, we have a reliable and nice place to have dinner, so the quality of the meal is never in question, and nobody really minds the price.
I suggest dining at a restaurant you love, and not one that is serving only a Thanksgiving-style meal on that day, unless it's their specialty. As others mentioned, it's likely to be overbooked and underwhelming.
And my local SuperTarget has a fully cooked meal with delicious sounding sides for $50 to feed about 8 people. Check with your local places if staying home's an option for you -- if you just wanna get out, I wouldn't try to recreate the experience in a restaurant. Do Chinese instead. ;-)
I think the answer depends on two things. The restaurant you've chosen and whether or not you want to cook. You've not settled on the restaurant idea and mention only the cost as a factor. But I wonder if you would feel that it made more sense to cook if you were having additional guests.
Thanksgiving is a great time to reach out to friends and neighbors who might be on their own. We're shared some great holiday meals with neighbors from overseas. It makes the whole thing feel more festive and the work seem more worthwhile.
But I'm not trying to push cooking. If you go out I would do a little investigation about the restaurant. When I was young we dined out for Thanksgiving whenever we traveled to visit my paternal grandmother and the experience was very different when we changed restaurants. You've chosen a place already so I'll bet that you know that it serves food you will enjoy.
Here's one more tidbit to consider: If you cook, in addition to spending quite a bit on groceries, I find that I am always spending on household goods in advance of a big holiday meal. Fresh dishtowels, centerpieces, sometimes even linens can add up very quickly!
The one Thanksgiving meal I've had in a restaurant was just awful. They were fully booked so they were running dinner in 2-hour shifts. The turkey turned out to be some kind of turkey roll made with deboned, skinless pressed breast/dark meat. People who chose this all said it was dripping with some kind of juice, perhaps injected? And it was tasteless. My shrimp entree was cooked to death. There wasn't a single decent part of the entire meal. And for 10 people it costed about $600 without alcohol.
You can get an entire Thanksgiving dinner from many places. They provide the turkey, sides and dessert all cooked and ready to eat. I've never done this, but it might be a better solution if you don't want the stress of cooking a huge dinner.
It's worth eating out if you enjoy it.
I've gone out with my family 5-6 times and it was nice every time. Very relaxed given it's a holiday, sort of spooky/eerie/calm driving around a deserved city.
I've also bought a turkey to go from a decent upscale grocery store for $100 bucks for everything. I did see a couple of people get half a turkey, or even meals for 2.
I seem constitutionally incapable of doing holiday meals halfway--they always turn into an extravaganza. The results are worth it, but I just don't have the energy to do it for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. So, we usually go out for one or the other. Pros: it's easy, it's relaxing, and there's no mess to clean up. Cons: no leftovers!