You Might Want to Eat at a Restaurant This Thanksgiving

Ask yourself these questions before committing to a day of delicious chaos.

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Restaurant place setting for Thanksgiving Dinner holiday meal
Photo: olgakimphoto (Shutterstock)

“What are you doing for Thanksgiving?”

It’s the most frequent question you’ll receive this time of year. Visions of beautifully set tables with fall foliage and obligatory pumpkins and cheerful cooks serving picture-perfect food assault us nonstop from all sides of the media. Before you start thinking you have to live up to any of that, let’s take a breath and sort all this out.

The pros and cons of eating Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant are as follows:

  • Pro: No cleanup after the meal. (This is huge for me.)
  • Con: The meal probably won’t be as delicious as you hope. This is in part because the restaurant’s “A” team doesn’t want to work the holiday, and staff shortages are a real threat to prompt and professional service.
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The pros and cons of eating Thanksgiving dinner at home are as follows:

  • Pro: You’re at home.
  • Con: You’re at home.

Now for a deeper dive on the subject.

What to ask yourself before hosting Thanksgiving at home

If you choose to host dinner at your place, there are a number of questions you need to be asking yourself right now:

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  • How many people will be present? Will your guest list be a source of drama? Will your limited seating space force you to make some tough calls on who can and can’t be invited?
  • Do you have enough table space and chairs? It’s fine if you don’t have spare folding tables and chairs of your own—that can always be rented or borrowed—but you’ll need to make sure you have the physical square footage to set them all up.
  • Do you need tablecloths? This is a small touch that can make the difference between an informal and formal gathering. They’ll make your guests feel welcomed in your home.
  • Do you have enough dishes? You don’t have to break out the fine china, but even if you go with disposable plates, make sure you have serving pieces like platters and bowls.
  • Do you have enough flatware? This includes serving spoons for side dishes and serving forks for the meat.
  • Do you have enough glassware? Water glasses, wine glasses, and maybe even beer glasses. Take inventory.
  • Do you have enough oven space? Roasting a turkey isn’t something every oven is necessarily equipped for. From the former doyenne of dinner parties, a bit of advice: Buy two 10-pound birds instead of one 20-pounder!
  • Are there any dietary restrictions among guests? Don’t be afraid to ask as you’re sending out invites so you’re prepared.
  • Dessert? Coffee? Tea? Don’t forget to plan for the meal after the meal.

What to consider when choosing a restaurant for Thanksgiving

Now, let’s go out. It’s simpler than just booking a reservation at the first place you find that’s available. Here are some pointers:

  • Scour the online food recommendation sites to see which places are serving a special Thanksgiving meal, versus which places are open but serving their normal fare. Would I choose my favorite steak house? No.
  • Look at the menus, prices, and hours of service to help determine whether it’s a good fit for everyone who will be present.
  • Will you be ordering from a set holiday menu, a la carte, or family-style? Each will offer quite a different experience. Family-style is my preference, since a bowl of mashed potatoes stays hotter than a small pile served up on your plate.
  • Does the restaurant offer gluten-free/vegetarian/vegan options for those who might need them?
  • Is the restaurant BYOB, and if so, is there a corkage fee? Even with the fee, this option will save you some money if you have some preferred bottles of wine at home.
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What to know about Thanksgiving catering

There is, of course, a third option to consider: Many superb caterers offer holiday menus that are available for pickup or delivery. This food is more likely to appeal to the traditional tastes of your guests than what you can order at a restaurant, and all you have to do is unwrap and heat the dishes in the microwave or oven.

Order early, because everyone is busy this time of year, and be prepared to spend. It will be really expensive, no matter which caterer you choose—not only because poultry prices are high in general, but because they are particularly high in 2022 due to the avian flu that wiped out entire flocks earlier this year.

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Dining at a restaurant has the advantage of a definite end time: The meal is over, the bill is paid, and everyone leaves. At home, it’s not that way. Sure, some folks will leave once they’re done eating, but others will head to the TV and you can’t get rid of them! Hopefully you enjoy them enough that this doesn’t present a problem.

Now, as a holiday gift, here’s what I can reassure you about:

  • You don’t need to set out a lot of appetizers! There’s no need for a fancy charcuterie/cheese board. People will inevitably fill up on snacks, and then you have wasted money on the main meal.
  • Use disposables that are biodegradable/compostable. There are lovely holiday designs, and it will make clean up so much easier. That goes for service pieces as well as water and wine glasses too.
  • When invitees ask what they can bring, tell them all the same thing: wine or dessert. ALWAYS. It’s a simple and fun assignment. After dinner, you simply clear the table and set out all the desserts, and it’s help-yourself time. Always a crowdpleaser. And you’ll never have to hear the phrase “Just a sliver for me, please!” ever again.
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Want to know what I’m doing for Thanksgiving? A delivery order of comforting old-fashioned Chinese food eaten right out of the carton. With a fork.