Suzette McLaughlin used to attend a 40-person Thanksgiving feast but she hasn’t celebrated the holiday with such a large group since 2019. The last two years there were seven people in attendance. This year, she’s going to her sisters’s with about 21 family members.  Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Suzette McLaughlin used to attend a 40-person Thanksgiving feast, but she hasn’t celebrated the holiday with a large group since 2019.

“Last year and the year before, there were seven of us, much smaller because of COVID,” McLaughlin, of Baldwin, said Saturday as she loaded bags of groceries into her car outside of Market Basket in Westbrook.

This year, with the family growing and some branching off with their own Thanksgiving meals, she’ll spend the holiday at a sister’s home with about 21 family members, which will be a big improvement, McLaughlin said. “I’m so looking forward to it.”

Even if COVID-19’s disruption of the past two Thanksgivings has altered some traditions for good, more people are returning to having larger gatherings this year than they have since the start of the pandemic. The trend is evident in preorders for Thanksgiving dinners and turkeys at popular local caterers and markets.

“It really seems like larger families and groups are getting together,” said Hannah White, co-owner of Lake & Co. catering in Portland.

White said Lake & Co. started offering Thanksgiving dinner-for-two meals in 2020 because of the pandemic and the need at the time to accommodate couples or small groups staying in semi-isolation for safety’s sake.


“The amount of those orders we did that year was overwhelming. It was too much,” White recalled, noting that they filled 800 orders in 2020. Lake & Co. offered the same two-serving dinner last Thanksgiving, capping orders at 700, and sold out.

“This year, we just kind of thought turkey dinners for two weren’t going to be as popular,” White said, and her numbers confirm the projection so far. Lake & Co. has already received 12 orders for whole birds, twice as many as it did last year. By contrast, the caterers are on pace to do only about a third of the two-serving meals that it did in 2021.

Kat Carter, assistant kitchen manager at Rosemont Market & Bakery’s headquarters on Stevens Avenue in Portland, scoops cranberry sauce from a large pot into containers for individual sale on Friday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


Other area markets and caterers are noting the same trend: more orders for turkeys, dishes and full meals to fill larger guest lists. At Rosemont Market & Bakery, small organic turkeys (nine to 14 pounds) “flew off the shelf” last year, according to marketing director Holly Martzial. While it’s a mix so far, she said this year Rosemont is seeing more orders for 17- to 20-pound birds.

“I think folks this year are maybe more comfortable with larger gatherings beyond the nuclear family,” Martzial said.

Mike Carlton, butcher at On the Vine Marketplace in Scarborough, said 14- to 16-pound turkeys, which serve about eight to 10 people, were the big sellers at his store last year. Big birds are the order of the season now, he said, noting that On the Vine has sold out of turkeys weighing in at 20 pounds or more.


Chef Christian Hayes said his Dandelion Catering Co. in Yarmouth last year had served a lot of older couples and small gatherings wanting just a half turkey or turkey breast.

“Now it definitely seems like that trend is over,” Hayes said. “I feel like people are back out and about. They’re kind of rejoicing at the fact that they might be able to have their whole family in one room.”

That doesn’t mean everyone is going back to exactly what they did pre-2020.

Mary Chick, of Portland, saw some family in the last two years, but the gatherings were small.

This year, she said, “I’m actually house-hopping – one daughter’s for dinner, another daughter’s for desserts. And I’ll be home for the Patriots game that night.”

Corrinna Stum of Ruby’s West End restaurant on Pine Street in Portland, which also has a popular prepared Thanksgiving meal program, said that while most holiday preorders have been in the range of six to eight guests – about the same size as last Thanksgiving – they’ve received more orders overall this year.


But she’s also heard a lot of the restaurant’s regulars say they’re going elsewhere for the holiday.

“It seems as though people are feeling safer traveling these days,” she said.


Some who discovered a new supplier of Thanksgiving meals during the pandemic have turned it into a new tradition, even as their gatherings have gone back to normal.

Dylan Stafford, co-owner of Craft Curbside in Gray, said his operation launched three years ago in direct response to the pandemic and, in 2020, filled plenty of orders for two and four people, then saw the group size for orders creep up last year to six guests.

This year, the trend continues. “We’re definitely seeing larger orders for bigger group sizes,” Stafford said.


For Thursday, Anne McElearney, of Falmouth, and her siblings are using a spreadsheet to divvy up who’s cooking what.

COVID exposures kept them from getting together in 2020. “Everybody was fending for themselves,” she said. And last year, they kept it fairly small, but now “everyone’s back to normal.”

McElearney is responsible for side dishes and desserts.

“My kids will come, my brother will be there with his kids, so it will probably be about 20 to 25 people,” she said. “I’m excited about the tradition, getting together.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: