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SD restaurants expect more Thanksgiving diners than past years

Local restaurants have something to be thankful for on Thursday: high numbers of guests. Three of San Diego’s dining landmarks are expecting large crowds for their Thanksgiving dinners, and wallets appear to be loosening as the city and country crawl out of the recession.

The US Grant hotel has reservations for 100 more people than were served last year, The Westgate Hotel’s buffet offering is expecting 50 or 60 more guests, and the Rancho Bernardo Inn predicts to serve the same number of people as last year with one fewer venue. Even The Wild Thyme Company catering business is feeling the upswing, with orders consistent with last year’s levels but double that of two years ago, which Dawn Parks, owner and chef, attributes to the economy.

“I think it’s a factor of the economy,” Parks said. “Well, and realizing how hard it is and what a mess it can be to cook a meal like this yourself.”

Christina Porterfield, the director of food and beverage at the Rancho Bernardo Inn, said they’re expecting about 900 people this Thanksgiving, with 700 for the Aragorn Ballroom buffet and 200 opting for the plated dinner at the Veranda. She said both locations filled up faster than usual this year since the Inn’s El Bizcocho restaurant closed its doors in October, slated to reopen as the Avant in March 2013.

“People start booking well in advance, and this year since El Bizcocho is closed, we filled up faster than usual with one less dining venue for guests,” Porterfield said.

The Thanksgiving menu at the Rancho Bernardo Inn doesn’t change much year to year, as guests enjoy the usual holiday spread, but Linda Karimi, public relations director and business assistant to the general manager at The Westgate Hotel, said The Westgate Room’s four-course menu and the Le Fontainebleau buffet offerings change annually, with many of their loyal return-customers wanting slight variations and a modern twist on the meal.

Karimi said The Westgate will prepare 32 turkeys this year for its 294 buffet guests and 46 plated dinner customers. Wild Thyme offers an “everything but the turkey” catering package, and received between 30 and 40 orders, each serving 10 people. Some customers chose to order the main course as well, so Parks said they are preparing 15 turkeys and five hams.

The US Grant, which offers a Thanksgiving buffet as well as a five-course dinner tasting in the Grant Grill, doesn’t vary the menu greatly, save for its seasonal and local fruit and cheese stations. Its clientele has shifted a bit however, according to Jeff Josenhans, director of venues.

“This year we have 400 guests,” Josenhans said. “It’s a mix of families and couples, but this year we have more couples actually, which is unusual. In previous years it’s traditionally been mostly large families.”

The Westgate buffet also attracts many families, as does the Rancho Bernardo Inn with its complimentary pony rides and petting zoo with dinner purchase. All three locations and six venues, as well as Wild Thyme, say most of their clients are San Diegans or drive-in locals, with a smaller number of out-of-town guests.

While Rancho Bernardo Inn visitors make reservations far in advance and US Grant diners begin booking two months out, Parks said most of Wild Thyme’s orders come in within two weeks prior to the big day.

“It’s really last minute sometimes,” Parks said. “I think sometimes people don’t even know it’s coming, and then all of the sudden they’re like 'Oh my gosh, Thanksgiving is this week!'"

A word of warning: the December holidays are right around the corner.

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