Restaurants have had to scramble to ensure their customers will receive a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner.
Bird flu outbreaks in addition to inflation and supply chain issues have complicated this year’s holiday season.
“It will be different for us,” Eric Stenta, vice president of operations for Polly’s Pies Restaurant & Bakery, said in a phone interview.
“The product is going to be great. I don’t care. But for those who have a very specific desire to have no bones or dark meat, it’s going to be an interesting dilemma for them, because there’s there won’t be enough around. And I don’t think we’re the only ones in this boat.
Bird flu has resulted in the loss of 7.4 million young turkeys from the commercial market since March, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Turkey meat production will drop 5.6%, or 1.29 billion pounds, for the fourth quarter of 2022, according to a report from the department.
Suppliers have increased production to meet holiday demand, although the birds are smaller and there are fewer toms and more hens, according to the agency.
Buyers need not worry about turkey supplies, according to the National Turkey Federation, but it advises them to secure their birds as soon as possible.
“Turkey suppliers put all of their eggs on the retail market,” Stenta said. “They’re really saving stuff for groceries, because places like Safeway, Kroger, they have $100 million contracts with these poultry farmers. I think buyers will feel the price.
He said the priority for producers was to get whole birds to market, which reduces the supply of items such as turkey breasts. The retail price of boneless, skinless turkey breast hit an all-time high of $6.70 a pound in September, according to a press release from the American Farm Bureau Federation. In September 2021, the price was $3.16 per pound.
The heat and serve option
To deal with the shortage, Polly’s Pies removed turkey dinner from the menu in the summer when demand was down. The chain kept a cold turkey sandwich on the menu, but Stenta said getting the meat from its supplier was an easy task.
For Thanksgiving Day, Polly’s will focus on selling pre-ordered family treats to heat up and serve with whole roast turkeys. The feasts serve six people and include mashed red potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, stuffing, cranberries, rolls and pie. The choices are Apple, Pumpkin, and Pumpkin Maple Crisp.
Polly’s staff will assemble the treats for pickup during the chain’s 72-hour pie-baking marathon, during which it produces enough pies to fill more than 55,000 orders, according to a press release.
All pies pre-ordered for pickup are baked the day before, according to Stenta.
“Basically, our ovens operate 24 hours a day from Monday evening to Wednesday morning at 5 am.”
Polly’s will close its dining room on Thanksgiving Day to focus on take-out service. Other restaurant chains will be open during the holidays and will serve special menus on site as well as take-out feasts.
Polly’s Thanksgiving Treats cost $189.99 and will feed six or more people, according to the chain’s website. Turkey feast prices from other chains range from $130 to $200. They vary on the sides they include, but most have potatoes and buns. Many do not include dessert.
The power of tradition
The prices displayed on the channels’ website have increased from a few dollars to around 40 dollars from 2021.
“Look at everything. Prices are going up. Turkey, with limited supply, the law of supply and demand kicks in,” said Urban Plates COO Jim Cannon.
“I knew last year before this year. We secured our turkeys early, and that’s a good thing,” he said in a phone interview.
Urban Plates is taking orders for ready-to-eat plates at $23.95 as well as heat-and-serve feasts that serve six to eight for $169.95.
Take-out meals can be convenient, Cannon said.
“We just want to make Thanksgiving easier for them, so they can spend more time with their families, and we can take care of the food for them.”
Urban Plates serves organic mashed potatoes, cranberries and stuffing. But it also offers less traditional sides like roasted Brussels sprouts and rainbow carrots with golden beets. Dessert options include hummingbird cake as well as apple pie.
“Most people are traditional,” he said. “Some people have a big feast where they make turkey and different things too.”
Stenta said that while there is some flexibility when it comes to sides and desserts, most diners want what they know.
“I’m amazed every year how many people turn to more traditional items. I guess maybe when Gen Z and all these other young people have the buying power to order holiday meals, we’ll see if the trends have changed,” he said.
“Right now, the tradition is pretty much intact. It’s not all year round, but I think over the holidays they want what they’ve always had, with maybe a few variations.