By Colleen Reynolds
As a reporter, there were many times I was away from home and family for the traditional Thanksgiving meal. So, I found alternatives. I’ve eaten at a hotel buffet, a local restaurant, tried cooking my own once, and I opted for a grocery store pre-made meal. These days, I’m lucky enough to have a tradition with friends (former reporters) who invite me to their home for a great meal every Turkey Day. But, it turns out restaurants staying open on Thanksgiving is prompting many people to give thanks. (Have you seen that one someone’s Facebook list yet?)
The National Restaurant Association says more than one in 10 (11 percent) celebrate Thanksgiving by dining in a restaurant and an additional 16 million will use restaurant takeout to supplement a meal at their own or someone else’s home.“In today’s activity-rich, time-poor society, restaurants play an important role in bringing friends and family together to share a holiday meal for Thanksgiving,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group for the National Restaurant Association. The group’s survey found more than half of consumers – 53 percent – use restaurant-prepared takeout items for all or part of their Thanksgiving Day meals.
Bob Evans on Veterans Parkway in Bloomington is not open Thanksgiving but they are making pre-prepared meals to go. The Thanksgiving meal is one of their Farmhouse Feasts and you can serve 10 people for about 100 dollars. “People don’t’ want to cook anymore. You have to take care of guests. You don’t want to get stuck in the kitchen,” said Manager Jesse Rosales. In fact, Rosales says with an estimated 200-250 pre-made meals expected to be sold by 9 p.m. Wednesday, the Bob Evans on Veterans Parkway will lead the state in the number of Farmhouse Feasts sold for Thanksgiving
Lots of restaurants that are open will close earlier than usual. Famous Dave’s will be open for the second year in a row but General Manager Brian Forrest says they learned their lesson last year. Things really slowed down after 3 p.m. so now they’ll be open from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. They’ll have their traditional menu plus smoked turkey as an additional entrée. Forrest says it’s a 50/50 split of people ordering regular entreés and the turkey.
The Ozark House just last year decided to open for Thanksgiving. Owner Connie Weaver says, “The buffets and brunches are very popular. Last year we had so many calls asking for us to be open on Thanksgiving so we decided to have a traditional buffet and it went over very well.” But, Weaver is very conscious of the importance of family time so the restaurant will close at 3 p.m. According to Weaver, “We did it so that our employees can spend late afternoon and evening with their families.” Weaver was making stuffing as we spoke and said it’s a hectic day because many items are prepared fresh that day so her kitchen manager will begin his day at 5 a.m.
Jesse’s Grill at the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center will haave a buffet from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and reservations are required and Manager Brent Parker told me, “They’re filling up fast.” However, other full-service hotels are opting not to do Thanksgiving. The Double Tree Hotel and Conference Center staff says the meals are not money-makers and it’s a way to give a break to employees, many of whom get stuck working other holidays. The Chateau, which had hosted Thanksgiving in the past, is also not offering the traditional meal.
At Swinger’s Grill, there’s a brunch buffet with traditional Thanksgiving items but as of Tuesday night, reservations were at such a premium the hostess told me only the manager could approve any additional slots.
If you find yourself at Denny’s Restaurant for Thanksgiving, (I won’t ask why), you will be able to get turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce plus two sides for $8.99. Manager Craig Deuel at the Denny’s on north Main Street in Normal says, “It’s just a regular Thursday.” They don’t take reservations but there’s usually not a line out the door. The turkey meal is actually on the menu from early November through January. “When it’s on the menu, it’s usually our top seller. It’s really good,” he said.
Even some restaurants with non-traditional Thanksgiving fare will be open on Thanksgiving, including Stolfa’s Pizza and Herradura Mexican Restaurant in Bloomington. Why open? “We want to make some money,” said Herradura owner Armando Martinez. The restaurant has been open for three years. “We’ve never been open before on Thanksgiving but a lot of other people are closed so we want to see if we will be busy.” The restaurant will have regular menu items but will feature half-price margaritas.
Longhorn Smokehouse is closed for Thanksgiving except for people picking up turkeys that the restaurant will smoke for you. They also took pre-orders for take-out of smoked meats to be picked up Thanksgiving Day but those orders were cut off as of Tuesday night. Bandana's Barbeque also smokes meats in advance for customers.
Cracker Barrel does a big Thanksgiving business. In fact, I spent a Thanksgiving there once when I was dating someone whose family liked to let someone else do the cooking. Manager Scott Baity says the restaurant will be open from 6 a.m-10 p.m. and will begin serving Thanksgiving items at 10 a.m. He also expects to sell about 60 pre-packaged meals with turkey and ham, three vegetables, cranberry and various breads. The meal must be ordered 24 hours in advance and cost $54.99. That deal is available through November 25.
Here is the complete list of B-N Restaurants open on Thanksgiving:
Restaurant Closing Note: The Red Oak Comfort Food and Pie Company has closed its doors. In a note on the company's Facebook page owner Trish Nusbaum writes, in part, “The Red Oak was in operation for over forty year, mostly in Bishop Hill, Illinois. Other locations included Eureka and Peoria. We had great expectations for downtown Bloomington. However a series of prior business decisions and bad timing
has forced us to shut our doors. We had many lovely and wonderful customers over the years and I will miss them all. The loss of the Red Oak is painful, after all, it has been my life work for over the 17 years I have owned and operated it."