Supermarkets have sold ready-to-eat holiday dinners for many years. However, there is little resemblance, other than the menu which remains traditional, between the dinners sold then and those that are sold these days. There are advantages and disadvantages to the way it was done then and is done now.
Supermarket holiday dinners sold in years past had three major advantages over those sold today.
- The delicatessen was the department in the store that prepared and sold the dinners. They had the advantage of more employee hours than today’s supermarkets. Competition has increased dramatically and the profit margin for a well-run supermarket—approximately 1 ½ to 2 percent of gross sales—has become much more difficult to attain. As a result, labor hours are always the first line item on the budget to be reduced. The additional labor hours allowed the employees enough time to sell the dinners to the customers. The customers could taste-test the different dishes served in the dinner right off of the cafeteria line where hot foods were sold for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The holiday dinner dishes were sold every day in December leading up to Christmas so the customer could be convinced of their quality.
- The dinners were prepared from scratch with ingredients bought at wholesale from the meat, grocery, produce and bakery departments. This gave the delicatessen the very best cost possible on the components that went into the holiday dinner. Turkeys and hams from the meat department, cranberry sauce and spices from grocery, celery and onions from produce and rolls and pies from the bakery. Since the ingredients in the dinners were bought at inexpensive costs and prepared in-store they could be advertised and sold at inexpensive retails. The customer literally could not make it from scratch for the price charged by the supermarket.
- Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, pies and rolls were prepared and sold fresh. The products that went into the dinners were grade A quality and as fresh as they could possibly be. It is true that when you begin preparing dishes with fresh top quality foods they have to turn out to be good. The customer even had the option of picking up the dinners on Thanksgiving morning already hot and ready to serve. The delicatessen employees cooked the various dishes on giant rotating ovens located in the bakery department. The dinners were customized to fit the customer’s preference regarding the type and amount of any item in the dinner. They were then labeled with the customer’s name and the date and time they would be picked up.
Today, supermarkets buy dinners produced half-way across the country, packaged in plastic and have a 30-day shelf life—hardly freshly prepared. The employees will take your order but you have to get their attention. The supermarket delicatessens have lost the advantage of offering the customer an inexpensive dinner because the supermarket buys it manufactured and no longer prepares it themselves.
Oftentimes, the old ways are best.