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What’s Cooking? How People Prepare for Their Thanksgiving Feasts

| November 24, 2015
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Ah, Thanksgiving: a day of great food, great conversation, family, and friends. Whether you’re hosting Thanksgiving for the first time or gathering with friends in a ‘Friendsgiving’ celebration, one thing is certain: a lot of prep goes into this American holiday. From organizing your shopping lists and pounding the pavement at your local grocery store, to ensuring all the food is on the table at the same time, the weeks ahead of Thanksgiving can be the most hectic of the year.

We thought it would be a great time to see how people are celebrating, and (more importantly) preparing for the annual holiday.

Studying Thanksgiving: A qualitative and quantitative research approach

In order to get a better look at how others prepare for the holiday, we decided to run some quick remote unmoderated usability sessions to hear from users about their holiday shopping habits, their menus, and how they find and save recipes. Our focus was not to simply gather insight on these sites, but to also gather more qualitative data about how users think and feel about the upcoming holiday.

UserTesting’s platform is a great tool for capturing contextual information about your customers: their thoughts and feelings about upcoming events, how their family celebrates occasions, and how they use digital products in the process.

We wanted to learn how people plan for the Thanksgiving holiday meal:

  • Where do users source their Thanksgiving recipes? Do they keep this information somewhere specific? If so, where?
  • How do users plan their grocery shopping? Do they use any digital products to help them organize for the holiday?

We launched a quick remote desktop study to two groups of participants who were interested in hosting their own Thanksgiving this year: three participants aged 18-35, and three aged 40-55. We screened for participants who sourced their recipes either through cookbooks, magazines, online, or through word of mouth. We also wanted to ensure that our participants would be planning and accommodating for larger dinner parties, so we screened for participants who were hosting more than their immediate family members for the holiday. This helped us ensure that the users we surveyed would be more likely to plan ahead of time and (hopefully) have a more thorough plan for the holiday.

Additionally, we ran a quantitative survey with 1,800 panelists to discover larger trends in Thanksgiving preparation. By pairing our quantitative analysis with qualitative insights from our sample of six participants, we were able to gather statistically significant findings, as well as detailed anecdotes from participants.

Where do users find recipes for the holidays?

Of the participants we polled for this study, a whopping 80% said that they use websites to find recipes for Thanksgiving. Users also reported that they used recipes passed down from family and friends, as well as the occasional recipe from the back of the can.

Of our six users who participated in our remote, unmoderated, study, recipes sites were a favorite as well. Food Network, AllRecipes, and content collection sites such as Pinterest played a large role in user’s search for new recipes ideas and cooking techniques.

When we asked users how they would save these recipes for later, users either saved the recipes somewhere online or printed the recipes and saved them in a recipe binder.

Some users mentioned Pinterest, others simply saved the website in their browser’s bookmarks. One user mentioned that she would normally save it online, as well as print it to be saved in a plastic binder in her kitchen.

From our survey, we also saw that 30% of respondents said they planned to cook recipes from memory, as well as use other methods online. Talk about keeping up with family traditions!

How do users plan their grocery shopping?

From fighting crowds at the grocery store, planning ingredients lists weeks in advance, and racing out on Thanksgiving day, planning the food preparation for Thanksgiving is a feat in and of itself. Thousands of online articles outline how to create, shop for, and prepare the traditional meal, and we wondered if digital products impact how people shop for the holiday.

All of our six respondents claimed that they use a regular pen and paper to make lists, generate a game plan, and execute their holiday meal. Some users also mentioned their use of digital products like Evernote, Pinterest, and Wunderlist alongside paper lists in order to finish all their shopping.

Nearly 55% of our survey respondents said they use a paper list while creating their holiday game plan. 40% indicated they used a combination of digital apps on top of that.

All of our test participants  also expressed that they religiously shop ahead of time to avoid crowds and limited ingredient choices. 70% of our survey respondents also stated that they shop ahead of time, and 30% mentioned that while they aim to shop ahead of time, undoubtedly they’re at the grocery store retrieving last minute ingredients on the day of.

General attitudes toward the holiday

We also took the opportunity to ask a few general questions about the holiday.

When participants were asked about celebrating “Friendsgiving” (A Thanksgiving with friends only, no family) 25% of respondents had never heard of this type of event. Other respondents were split on whether or not they’d be participating in a Friendsgiving of their own.

When asked about their role in the Thanksgiving meal, a majority of respondents (45%) stated that they would be attending a dinner and bringing something to share. 36% emphasized they would be hosting their own dinner.

What are users looking forward to the most about Thanksgiving? Food, family, and then being done with the cooking and cleaning!