Local restaurant managers don't know why or when it became tradition to order Chinese food on New Year's Eve.
But one thing is clear — they'll all be very busy tonight as people gather to ring in 2011.
"It goes before my time," said David Yung, 37, a manager at New Beijing Restaurant in North Andover. "Somehow it became a tradition that you order Chinese for the New Year. ... It's going to be a crazy night."
Yung said the New Beijing doubles its kitchen staff on New Year's Eve. Sales jump five to six times greater than a typical night's business, he said.
"For takeout, it's the busiest day of the year," Yung said.
David Yee, manager at China Blossom, also in North Andover, said the restaurant will likely sell close to 4,000 chicken fingers tonight, or 400 orders.
Like Yung, Yee isn't sure of the origins of the New Year's Eve tradition. But he knows it's a regional custom.
"The funny thing is it's only in New England," said Yee. "I know if you hop over to Philadelphia, there's no such thing, and there's definitely no such thing on the west coast."
Some bloggers on Comcast and Yahoo sites from other parts of the country agreed that the Chinese food takeout fixation on New Year's Eve appears to be a New England tradition.
One blogger from Chicago said he prefers black-eyed peas. Another from Pennsylvania said the Dutch Country favorite is pork and sauerkraut. Still another blogger suggested Mexican fare is a good alternative.
Local Chinese restaurant employees spent much of this week preparing for tonight. In addition to food preparation, workers readied takeout boxes and bags and bundled condiments and fortune cookies. Kitchens and lobbies were rearranged to make more room for the looming rush of customers.
Most menus are also pared to exclude certain items that take extra time to cook.
"New Year's Eve is the crazy day," said Sherry Wang, manager at Chief Wok Restaurant in Salem, N.H. "It's very good for business. But it's hard work."
Wang said it's been this way ever since Chief Wok opened in 1987.
"We prepare," said Wang. "We know how to handle it."
General Tso's chicken, chicken fingers and crab rangoon are the consensus favorites at area restaurants, managers said.
And the earlier you order, they said, the better for everyone.
"We hope people get reservations ahead of time," said Cathy Li, whose parents own Fuhing Chinese Restaurant on Main Street in Haverhill. "That's the key."