Hoffman's Houston
talking turkey day

Ken Hoffman crunches Houston's dubious numbers for downtown's Thanksgiving parade

Hoffman questions Houston's numbers for downtown's Thanksgiving parade

HEB Thanksgiving Day Parade in Houston
Just how many people actually show up to this parade, anyway? Photo courtesy of Downtown District

The 72nd HEB Thanksgiving Day Parade starts marching at 9 am Thursday in downtown Houston. The official City of Houston website reads, “each year several hundred thousand Houstonians line the streets to cheer on participants.”

“Several hundred thousand Houstonians?” I thought we stopped the insanity (remember that infomercial?) years ago.

Simply, there is no way, no how that “several hundred thousand Houstonians” attend the Thanksgiving Day Parade in downtown Houston. It’s physically, mathematically, laughably impossible.

Let’s consider the “several hundred thousand” boast at its literal translation — at least 300,000 people crowding the 20-block parade route.

Here we go … again. For there to be 300,000 parade spectators, there would be on average 15,000 people on each block of the parade route. Just the sidewalks, mind you. We love a parade, and I appreciate them making Dr. Peter Hotez the grand marshal, but 300,000 spectators is crazy talk.

Even if everybody were stacked 10-high on each other’s shoulders like the Flying Wallendas, you still couldn’t fit 15,000 people on the sidewalk of a short downtown block. Imagine an entire sold-out Toyota Center crowd packed onto one block. Plus if you’ve ever been to the parade, you know that some blocks toward the end of the route are practically empty of spectators.

Years ago, the city announced a figure of 250,000 spectators. Putting on my investigative reporter’s hat, I asked a Houston official, “Seriously? Where’d you get that ridiculous number?”

After being put on hold and switched several times, I was told: “We’ve just always said 250,000.”

Well, maybe you should stop saying that. That’s almost as insane as saying there were 67,000 fans at NRG Stadium for the Texans vs. Patriots game this year.

The following year, the city lowered its parade estimate to 100,000, still total nonsense, but moving in the right direction. Eventually, the city surrendered and just claimed “thousands of spectators.”

But this year the city is back to bragging “several hundred thousand.” Memo to City Hall: you can overestimate the parade crowd, but don’t underestimate me. I live for this.

So how many Houstonians actually go downtown for the Thanksgiving Day Parade? A few years ago, a real-life qualified crowd estimator, who used an accepted scientific formula based on crowd photos and available square footage, told me “maybe 20,000.”

Playing chikin with the drive-thru
Now, here’s an unbelievable crowd estimate that I totally believe. A Chick-fil-A executive recently said that the absurdly popular chicken sandwich chain misses out on 30 percent of potential sales because customers take one look at the traffic jam in Chick-fil-A’s drive-though and go elsewhere.

CEO Dan Cathy told the Atlanta Business Journal, “We estimate about 30 percent of the people are driving off, driving away, because the lines are so long.” Cathy was reacting to a poll that rated Chick-fil-A the “slowest drive-through,” with an average wait time of nine minutes.

Considering that an average Chick-fil-A restaurant rakes in more than $5 million a year (nearly twice the haul of the next most profitable chain), 30 percent is a fortune of lost jingle jangle.

It’s not just a Chick-fil-A headache. According to the Mintel research company, drive-through wait times are 26 seconds slower across the entire fast food industry this year compared to 2020. It adds up. About 52 percent of all fast food orders are made in a drive-through these days compared to 42 percent in 2020.

Pandemic customers continue to feel safer in the drive-through than entering the dining room. The labor shortage – the industry has 800,000 job openings – is a big contributor to the slowdown, too.

Mintel charted wait times at 1,500 fast food places representing 10 national chains in July and August. This is why KFC and other chains are running commercials urging customers to order ahead via their apps and take delivery in the parking lot.

When it comes to fast food, slower spells trouble and creates impatient customers. I get it. If I see five or more cars ahead of me, I’ll drive someplace else. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of fast food joints in Houston.

According to Lawn Starter, Houston is the No. 2 best city in America for fast food (Orlando was tops), but we’re No. 1 for quality of drive-through fare and No. 1 for most award-winning fast food places.

Side note: Have you heard that Wendy’s is selling bacon and sausage breakfast biscuits for only $1? They’re normally $2.99. I’m buying four and tossing the biscuit on two of them. This way I’m eating two breakfast biscuits with double bacon and eggs and still getting a bargain.