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Even In Plymouth, Takeout Thanksgiving Is Budding Holiday Tradition

November 26, 1996

BOSTON (AP) _ Jean Mayer has plenty of Thanksgiving memories, and not all of them are as sweet as her icebox cookies. She remembers long hours in the kitchen, lots of stress and the turkey she cooked to the consistency of leather.

So two years ago, Mayer latched onto a new holiday tradition that’s becoming increasingly popular, even in her hometown of Plymouth, where Thanksgiving began.

She ordered out for her home-cooked meal.

``This way, you get more time to relax with your family,″ said Mayer, who runs an auto service and sales business with her husband. ``There’s no cleanup involved afterward. Everything goes right into the trash can. And you know I’m not going to mess up the turkey.″

Studies show fewer people are dining out on Thanksgiving. But stores and restaurants nationwide have stepped in to provide ready-made meals for those who want to reduce the holiday hassle and still eat at home.

Boston Market, a restaurant chain, is offering turkey meals nationally for the first time this Thanksgiving. Three-quarters of its 1,023 stores will open Thursday, and the company expects holiday sales to nearly double this year.

About 70 percent of all U.S. households will have turkey on Thanksgiving Day, but only 30 percent actually cook a bird, said David Jenkins of NPD Group Inc., a market research company. The rest either go to someone else’s house, go to a restaurant or order out.

Takeout has increased year-round to an average of 35 meals a year for each man, woman and child in the United States, compared with 20 a decade ago, Jenkins said. But since Thanksgiving is a bastion of old-fashioned home cooking, any change in habits attracts attention.

``It’s still pretty small. But it’s a dramatic change from what things used to be, when it had to be prepared at home,″ he said.

To see how things are changing, you need look no farther than Plymouth, where English colonists and Wampanoag tribesmen sat down for the mother of all Thanksgiving meals 375 years ago.

The three big supermarkets in town, all part of regional chains, started packaging fresh or frozen holiday meals a few years ago.

``We’ve had some good success. We see it as a growing market,″ said Amy Russ, a spokeswoman for Stop & Shop Supermarket Co., a 189-store chain based in Quincy.

Star Market, which takes telephone orders for its meals, says sales have risen every year since it began the service in 1992. Shaw’s Supermarkets says sales of its frozen, pre-cooked meals have more than doubled this year.

Calls to other supermarket chains reveal similar increases.

``During holidays, people find they have even less time available than usual. If they spend less time in the kitchen they can have more family time,″ said Ruth Kinzey of Harris Teeter, a five-state chain based in Matthews, N.C.

Geoffrey’s Family Restaurant, where Mayer has ordered for the last three years, has been offering fresh-prepared Thanksgiving meals for five years.

Owner Kay Gendreau said she has prepared as many as 50 meals a year, mostly for regular customers.

``It’s a very nice meal. The same as you would cook without the hassle,″ said Gendreau, who charges $75 for a table-groaning meal of turkey with all the trimmings.

Mayer said her family teased her, but understood when she decided to get someone else to do the cooking. She still spends about an hour in the kitchen for Thanksgiving, making stuffed celery and her icebox cookies _ a chocolate- and cream-filled confection.

She tried restaurants a few times, but it just wasn’t the same as gathering around her nicely set dining room table.

``We work so many hours,″ said Mayer, who will have seven family members to dinner on Thursday. ``You like to get together and have a nice meal. And they do an excellent meal.″

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