As the new normal sets in, experts agree that off-premise dining will continue to play a central role in the industry. Many restaurants are expected to use takeout and delivery to diversify their revenue streams, as well as build up resiliency against future challenges1.
As more restaurants offer options for dining out, it is becoming increasingly important to provide a unique off-premise experience. You pull out all the stops for customers who dine in – so why not do the same for those who order takeout? Our experts have compiled a few simple ways for you to get creative and implement sustainable solutions.
See packaging as a part of your brand
The way you serve food is part of your customer’s experience. Usually, dining room decor, plates and presentation are part of the equation. With takeout and delivery, all of this is replaced by packaging. Choose a solution that leaves your food in great shape when it reaches your customer’s door, such as leak-proof packaging, separate containers for sauces, etc. A tamper-proof seal is also a simple way to show diners you are doing everything you can to keep them safe. Small upgrades can make a big difference.
This aspect is crucial if you are selling meal kits – like DIY pizza. These types of offerings are all about the experience, and your packaging can enhance it. In addition to including clear instructions, make sure your portioned ingredients are in optimal containers. While it needs to keep ingredients intact, overpackaging should be avoided. When consumers order food to their homes, they are observing the waste they create – containers, lids, wrappers – firsthand. Industry experts believe this exposure could heighten people’s environmental consciousness, and make them more aware of how much plastic they consume2.
Take your business outside
Use your restaurant’s surroundings to your advantage: it’s easy to transform your parking lot or a nearby public space into leverage to set your brand apart.
Some restaurants are revisiting a bygone era by setting up a drive-in experience. Back in the day, servers – often on roller blades – would deliver food directly to customers’ cars. If you have a large parking lot, recreating this vintage experience is a great way for your diners to maintain social distance while enjoying a unique experience. You could even double down on the vibe by offering a special drive-in combo, like a burger, fries, and a milkshake.
If your city allows it, now might also be the time to look into a patio or outside seating area, giving people the opportunity to eat on-premise without being confined to a closed space. Customers and governments will likely remain cautious about indoor gatherings for a while, so safety will remain a top priority.
If creating a distinctive experience outside is not possible, you could always look at innovative meal kit concepts.
Implement a sustainable curbside pickup system
If your restaurant’s layout is not optimal, customers or delivery drivers who are waiting to pick up their orders might disrupt your dine-in service. They can crowd the entrance for guests who are arriving, accidentally get in your servers’ way, or pose a safety hazard by not respecting social distancing.
Finding the best long-term delivery solution for your restaurant and implementing an effective pickup system go hand-in-hand. Even before 2020, some larger chains were already setting up a curbside service: customers ordered food through an app, parked in a designated area, and staff would bring their order directly to their car. Think of it like a drive-thru, but without the wait or infrastructure.
If building an app isn’t doable for you, try a pickup window. People can call ahead, or simply walk up to your window and order food to go without stepping inside. It’s an easy fix to maintain distance between your staff and your customers, and to separate your pickup business from dine-in customers.
Keep your customers engaged
In-house, people have a valuable opportunity to interact with your staff, share their feedback, and develop a connection to your restaurant. One way to incorporate this trust-building exchange into your off-premise experience is by actively asking for your customers’ feedback.
If you offer online ordering, send diners an automatic email the following day asking for feedback about the experience. You can ask them to review your business on Google, Facebook, or another specialized website, or even send out a short survey (a lot of free tools can help you with that). The more people interact with your brand online, the better your visibility will be.
Actively asking questions is a great way to keep a close eye on your off-premise service while engaging with your customers. Just make sure to quickly address negative comments, and offer an incentive to fill out the survey, like a free dessert next time they order.
Always plan for the long haulImplementing sustainable takeout practices and unique ideas for your off-premise experience is a great way to give customers exactly what they need right now: peace of mind, and a way to enjoy restaurant food on their own terms. It’s also excellent for diversifying your income streams and ensuring that your business will be more resilient if another major event affects the industry.
1 Technomic, The Post Pandemic Playbook, April 2020.
2 Packaging Digest, April 28 2020.