Klaus Riedl started ordering turkeys in August.
Unsure of what twists and turns the pandemic would take, the executive chef at Bon Appetit restaurant was apprehensive about hosting the restaurant’s annual Thanksgiving dinner, a tradition more than four decades in the making.
He was right to be concerned.
This year’s Thanksgiving is shaping up to be a blockbuster evening for restaurants, but a decline in frozen turkey stocks, coupled with supply chain lags and corresponding price hikes, means diners — and restaurant owners — are likely looking at a costlier celebration.
“It’s been much more difficult,” Riedl said. “Prices have increased and availability has decreased. It’s like a rat race — I started calling two months ago, preordering and just putting my names on things and checking in on a daily basis to when things will be coming in.”
Tampa Bay diners should still be able to find most of what they need for their holiday meals. But they’ll probably be forced to shell out a little more, whether they’re dining in or eating out.
For those celebrating Thanksgiving at home, turkeys and other Thanksgiving-day staples can still be found, but supply chain holdups have affected availability and pricing for some commodities.
Turkeys in particular are in shorter supply this year. An August report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that frozen turkey inventories were 24 percent lower than their three-year average, something the agency attributed to lower-than-average turkey production this year, possibly caused by a leap in feed costs for the animals.
Lucky for Riedl, he was able to get everything he needed on time for next week’s big dinner, which currently has just under 1,300 reservations.
“We’re booked out the earliest we’ve ever been,” Riedl said. “It feels like people are making up for lost time.”
Bon Appetit’s pricing is the same as last year’s: $79.95 per person for the full Thanksgiving spread. Riedl said the restaurant’s owners are eating the additional costs incurred.
Bon Appetit appears to be in the minority. Many other restaurant owners said they’ve been forced to raise their prices for this year’s holiday meals.
The uptick appears to be caused not so much by a shortage of turkeys or other Thanksgiving-related ingredients but by the ongoing surge in prices across the board.
A combination of supply chain difficulties, price hikes and increased labor costs are to blame, said Zach Feinstein, whose Dunedin restaurant The Black Pearl has had to increase costs on their menu four times within the past 12 months.
“We had a complaint online about prices, but we’re charging what we have to, to not to have it cost us money to put something on the plate,” Feinstein said.
Prices have surged roughly 10 to 15 percent for basic commodities, he said. Other key items are seeing even higher increases.
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”As far as meat is going, it’s skyrocketing,” he said.
Those upticks have affected the restaurant’s annual take-home Thanksgiving dinner. Last year’s meal for four people cost $140, Feinstein said. This year, it’s closer to $180.
At Bob Heilman’s The Beachcomber in Clearwater, owner Bobby Heilman estimated this year’s Thanksgiving dishes are roughly 5 to 8 percent more expensive than last year.
The Thanksgiving menu features the restaurant’s signature Amish-raised turkey, served with cornbread stuffing and cranberry sauce for $44; two Maine lobster tails served with drawn butter for $74; and an 8-ounce prime filet mignon with mushroom caps and Bearnaise sauce, also for $74.
“Our prices have gone up — but it’s not too astronomical compared to our day-to-day,” Heilman said. “It’s significant to a consumer, for sure.”
Heilman said the restaurant, which has a loyal following of regulars and has operated with a fairly static list of time-tested dishes, is operating with a paper menu that changes every day now.
Like Riedl, Heilman ordered his turkeys early, in July. And like Riedl, he was able to get enough 20-pound turkeys to feed the restaurant’s 1,000 reservations on the holiday.
National retailers are also struggling with supply chain lags and shortages, but most said they were doing what they could to ensure shoppers can still find all their favorites.
“Like other retailers, our stores aren’t immune to the current supply chain challenges,” Dewayne Rabon, the chief merchandising officer for Southeastern Grocers, said in a prepared statement. “Our well-experienced supply chain team is updating our stocking plans throughout each day to ensure that popular Thanksgiving essentials, like turkeys, are available before the holiday.”
A spokesperson for Publix said the Florida-based grocer had placed orders for holiday items “well in advance of the season” so that shoppers would have enough time and inventory to prepare their meals.
“The earlier you shop, the more selection you have in terms of brand and greater selection availability,” said Maria Brous, Publix’s director of communications. “The same is true for turkeys: The earlier you shop, the more selection you have in terms of brand, pounds, fresh or frozen, recognizing that fresh turkeys are still making their way to our stores.”