Axios What's Next

Picture of a futuristic looking skyline.

If Norman Rockwell had painted "Freedom from Want" in 2022, he might have depicted a family gathered round a restaurant table with menus in their hands, as Jennifer A. Kingson and Kelly Tyko report today.

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1 big thing: Americans are flocking to restaurants this Thanksgiving

Illustration of turkey legs poking out of a styrofoam takeout box.

Illustration: AΓ―da Amer/Axios

Record high food prices and key shortages β€” of turkey and cranberries, for instance β€” are prompting more Americans to make dinner reservations instead of home-cooked meals this year.

Why it matters: The trend is good news for restaurants, which are eager to recoup lost revenue from the pandemic. And it could reshape the traditional "home for the holidays" ideal, as convenience and value trump tradition and family recipes.

  • More people are ordering catering and takeout food for their holiday tables β€” everything from pies and side dishes to entire feasts.

"We are seeing it explode," says Brendan Sweeney, CEO of Popmenu, a tech company that handles online orders for restaurants. He's tracking mom-and-pops with as much as $65,000 in advance food orders.

Driving the news: For the first time in decades, it's more economical to dine out on Thanksgiving Day than to shop for, cook and clean up after the traditional meal, a Wells Fargo analysis finds. And surveys show many consumers are taking heed.

  • The cost of food away from home increased 5.8% this year over 2021 β€” versus 9.8% for a standard grocery trip, Wells Fargo found.
  • Factoring in your time and effort, "you could spend about the same on a dish at a restaurant as you would preparing it at home," Wells Fargo found.
  • "There's a lot of value in eating out at the moment," Brad Rubin, one of the report's authors, tells Axios. "So where Americans usually look at eating out as a luxury around the holidays, it's really more of a value this year."

What they're saying: "We already have reservations flying in the door, and our phones are ringing off the hook," chef Amaris Jones of Red Rooster Overtown in Miami told NBC News on TODAY.

Between the lines: Between bird flu and inflation β€” and more restaurants touting their holiday dine-in and takeout options β€” Thanksgiving and Christmas could start to look more like traditional restaurant holidays (such as Valentine's Day and Mother's Day).

  • Americans are buying less food in supermarkets.

By the numbers: A survey this month by Popmenu found that 45% of U.S. consumers plan to order all or part of their Thanksgiving meal from restaurants.

  • A similar survey by Technomic, a restaurant industry consultancy, pegged the number at 29% β€” up from 24% last year.
  • "While Thanksgiving and Christmas stand out, other holidays such as Fourth of July, Mother's Day and Easter are potential catering occasions and should also be on an operator's 2023 catering calendar," Technomic advises restaurant managers.

The bottom line: "We're not saying it's cheaper to go out to eat," Rubin says. But β€” this year at least β€”Β "it might actually make sense to go out to eat for the same or a little bit more than what you would normally pay to make the meal."

Read the full story.

Bonus: Where you can find a Thanksgiving meal you don't have to cook

2. More Americans are carrying loaded weapons

The number of U.S. adult handgun owners carrying a loaded weapon almost doubled in a four-year period, according to a new study by the University of Washington, Axios' Christine Clarridge writes.

Driving the news: The study, published last week in the American Journal of Public Health, found that 6 million adults reported carrying a handgun daily in 2019, up from 3 million in 2015.

Why it matters: There has been very little hard data on who is carrying handguns and why, said one of the UW study's lead authors, Ali Rowhani-Rahbar.

By the numbers: The majority of people who carry loaded weapons β€” 7 of 10 β€” said they do so as protection against other people.

  • Approximately 16 million adult handgun owners reported carrying a loaded weapon at least once in a given month, compared with 9 million in 2015.
  • The total number of adults owning handguns increased from 38 million in 2015 to 53 million in 2019.

What we're watching: "The next step is to ask what is the impact on public health and public safety when guns are easier to carry," Rowhani-Rahbar told Axios. "In a situation where you have a fight, do they contribute to the escalation and make it more lethal?"

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3. Video games offer more gender options

A screen shot from a Harry Potter video game that lets you design your character's gender.

An upcoming Harry Potter game, Hogwarts Legacy, allows players to create trans wizards and witches. Screenshot: Avalanche Software, Warner Bros. Entertainment

Developers of some of the world's most popular video games are expanding the tools players use to create characters: downplaying gendered terms and untethering options for body types, voice and other characteristics from gender selection, Axios' Stephen Totilo reports.

Why it matters: The shift is part of a trend by the industry to be more inclusive to a wider set of players by letting them see themselves in the games they play.

Details: A pre-release update for World of Warcraft Dragonflight renames "male" and "female" options in its character creator as "body type 1" and "body type 2."

  • Earlier this year, The Sims 4, which plays out like a virtual dollhouse, began to let players customize pronouns β€” she/her, he/him, they/them β€” for the Sims characters they create.

The upcoming Harry Potter game Hogwarts Legacy has such open-ended character customization tools that players can create trans wizards or witches.

  • Its character creator lets players choose body types and voices independently of each other, then lets them select whether their character dorms with "wizards" or "witches."

What they're saying: "A game that requires players to choose between rigidly binary gender options simply no longer reflects the world that we live in," Blair Durkee, the associate director of gaming at GLAAD, tells Axios.

Keep reading.

4. Robot camel-jockeys

A robot rides a camel like a jockey.

A camel fitted with a robot jockey competes in a race in Doha ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup. Photo: Raul Arboleda/AFP via Getty Images

They take their camel-racing seriously in Qatar, where robot jockeys have replaced children as riders.

  • The arrival of big crowds for the FIFA World Cup could kindle broader interest in the "sport of sheikhs," camel-racing enthusiasts hope.
  • "Driving parallel to the track, [trainers] control small robot jockeys on the camels' backs and make them pick up speed β€” a modern innovation to replace the child jockeys who used to perform the dangerous job," Yahoo News reports.

5. An e-bike made of ... plywood?

A model of an electric bike that has a wooden chassis.

A prototype of the Electraply, made with plywood from Garnica. Photo courtesy of Garnica

A woman named Evie Bee β€” a British "model-maker" who specializes in woodwork and sustainable design β€” has created a prototype of an electric bicycle with a plywood chassis.

  • Electraply "was inspired by my love for the cafe racer and scrambler motorcycles of the past," she writes.
  • Made with a wood called Efficiency Poplar from a company called Garnica, Electraply is "a sustainable, strong, yet lightweight bike" inspired by an off-roading motorcycle called the Yamaha SR250, Garnica says.

What's next: Bee says she wants to launch a Kickstarter for Electraply.

A very big thanks to What's Next copy editor Amy Stern.

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