In their desperation to avoid the stress of cooking the perfect Christmas dinner (and the drudgery of washing up afterwards), record numbers of people are choosing to dine out on Christmas Day this year.
Tens of thousands of families will abandon their homes in favour of pubs, restaurants or hotels, many of which were sold out for Christmas Day several months ago.
Two major online booking companies report big increases in reservations, while the trend may also be reflected in falling sales of cookery books in the run-up to the festive period.
Bookatable, which represents more than 5,000 restaurants in Britain, said its Christmas Day bookings had gone up by more than 150 per cent since 2011, while lastminute.com declared that "going out is the new staying in" after seeing a 10 per cent rise in a year.
Joe Steele, chief executive of Bookatable, said: "Boxing Day used to be a more popular choice for consumers to eat out on during the festive season because Christmas Day has traditionally been about sharing a meal with friends and family at home.
"However, we have seen a significant shift in consumer habits as people are now becoming more open to eating out on Christmas Day itself to avoid the stress and expense of cooking at home."
The firm said that traditional British Christmas fare was the most popular choice, but added that alternatives were emerging with American-style "steaks and grills" the second most popular style of cooking, making up 14 per cent of its bookings, followed by French cuisine on 7 per cent.
The surge in people dining out on Christmas Day has been at the expense of Boxing Day, with Bookatable reporting a fall in bookings of more than 40 per cent in the past three years.
And he said that many people were hoping to ensure they had a meal to remember. Adam Stott-Everett, head of lifestyle trading at lastminute.com, said: "A third of our restaurant bookings so far for Christmas Day are for Michelin-star restaurants."
The demand for Christmas Day dining has prompted some restaurateurs to start opening over the period. Martine de Geus, director of marketing at Corbin & King, which owns a number of London restaurants, said: "We decided early in 2013 to open The Wolseley for Christmas that year as there was clearly a demand – we were soon working with a wait list, and this year have decided to open for Christmas lunch and dinner at three of our restaurants [The Colbert, The Colony and The Wolseley], all of which have sold out, as well as on Christmas Eve.
"There is quite evidently a desire for people to enjoy their Christmas meal with family and friends in a relaxed environment, with others taking full responsibility for all the hard work that a Christmas meal entails."
It's easier to not pay a service charge if the sprouts are soggy, rather than fall out with the relative who's slaved all day in the kitchen, it seems. But what about our habit of consuming cookery books and television programmes that show us endless variations, such as brined turkeys and pan-fried Christmas pudding?
In fact, the increasing numbers of people eating out may be partly responsible for a fall in the sales of cookery books.
The market-research company Nielsen said that sales of food and drink titles were down by 23 per cent over the Christmas period in 2013, compared to the previous year, and current sales were down by another 13 per cent.
The trend could be more significant than it might first appear. A report by Barclaycard last month found that restaurant spending went up by 16 per cent in the third quarter of 2014.
Chris Wood, managing director at Barclaycard, said: "Dining out is one of the first things to be cut when we tighten our purse strings, so the fact that we are spending more is a sign that consumers are feeling more confident."Reuse content