Once upon a time, restaurants were places where you ate a meal. Then takeout, delivery and catering transformed them into outlets that sold meals with or without serving them. Now come unmistakable signs of another evolutionary advance for the business. Believers call it pack-and-go, but it amounts to mothballing the home stove during weekends and holidays.
The most familiar example is Thanksgiving dinner to go, where the establishment does everything but plate the food. It cooks the turkey and possibly the sides, which the customer picks up and serves at home. Popeyes’ Cajun turkeys have been a boon for the chain for sometime, and countless gourmet shops in the New York area have been sparing Mom or Dad that wear and tear almost since the days of the Pilgrims.
Now restaurants are pushing harder for that big-meal bonanza. Part of the effort is varying what’s offered. Boston Market said it saw a 10% increase this Thanksgiving in the sale of what it calls Heat & Serve, or meals that are sold chilled rather than hot and ready to eat.
At the same time, places are chasing other pack-and-go occasions. Mimi’s, for instance, just added a new option called Brunch Feast To Go, a $39.99 meal that serves at least six people. The components include six muffins and six quiches.
Special-occasion or holiday meals for up to 100 people can be ordered from the casual chain via a special website.
Bad Wolf Bar B Q in Roanoke, Va., is one of the many restaurants, and barbecue places in particular, that offers tailgate party packs (for four, eight or 24 people).
Rancho A Go Go Barbecue in Orange, Calif., will slow-roast a turkey or prime rib for your Christmas meal. You can also buy one of its party packs for a bachelorette party (no extra-sauce jokes, please) or wedding rehearsal dinner.
And need we mention Super Bowl pack-and-go’s?
You can argue that this is just catering in a different form. But it’s different in that the food is more ambitious—a slow-roasted turkey, not an eight-foot-long hero—and serves a different need. This is a matter of replacing the holiday meal, or a version of the family dinner that seemed safe from restaurant rivalry.
No matter how you categorize it, pack-and-go has the feel of a major new revenue stream for restaurants. It’s furthering their evolution from a getaway to a replacement kitchen. And that’s a very good thing for the business.