Developing a Restaurant Menu for the Age of Delivery and Takeout

It takes a certain type of person to excel in the restaurant industry. Scrappy, resilient, optimistic are just a few of the many terms commonly used to describe restauranteurs and operators. Then the pandemic hit, and even these strong attributes were not enough to keep some from shutting their doors indefinitely.

Those that did make it through the many months of total restaurant closures had one thing in common: massive creativity and the ability to pivot and then pivot again. Never quit became their mantra.

Now, as the world emerges a little bit at a time from the sodden blanket of a ruthless virus, the tactics employed to stay afloat remain with us.

The State of the Restaurant Industry for Takeout and Delivery

According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2021 State of the Restaurant Industry, takeout and delivery have become an essential way of life for over 50% of adults, and 68% say they are more likely to order takeout from restaurants than before the outbreak.

To compete for a share of this increased demand, almost half of all full-service operators reported devoting more resources to expanding this segment of their business. Fine dining operators report a 63% increase in the proportion of current off-premise sales when compared to these same sales before the pandemic struck. Family dining establishments report almost 70%.

The percentage of operators that added curbside pickup was truly remarkable with fine dining leading the way at over 81% and family dining coming in second with 78%.

While the pivot to delivery and takeout made up for some of the missing revenue due to shutdowns and social distancing measures, restauranteurs found some challenges with this growing segment of their operations. Let’s take a look at how they are adapting

The Challenges Inherent in Off-Premise Dining

Whether curbside pickup, takeout, or delivery, many restaurants developed their menu without much thought to these services. They were, after all, but a small percentage of their sales. When off-premise began accounting for the majority, operators were left scrambling to create a menu that traveled well and retained their brand’s influence.

Adapting a Menu for Delivery

There are several considerations when drawing up a menu designed for delivery or takeout. A few of these include whether the meal travels well, including presentation upon delivery, temperature, and texture. Additional factors include prep time and if the profit margin will cover delivery costs.

  • Pair down—Consider limiting a takeout/delivery menu to 15 or 20 of the best-selling dishes that also travel well.
  • Creating dishes for delivery—A few tricks chefs invoke to make a delivery menu that entices repeat customers includes ensuring a dishes’ durability and that it reheats well. Keep the product from getting soggy by modifying the texture and recipe.

It may take some R&D and a little tweaking along the way to come up with a made-for-travel menu. Kebabs, chicken wings, beef brisket, barbecue, pasta, noodles, rice, wraps, and grilled foods have all proven their merit in the delivery platform. Some brands have found that sending ingredients in separate containers that the customer then combines and assembles works well for bowls and items like pho.

  • Prep and transit time—Take into account the delivery time and the prep and cooking time when setting up a to-go menu. Guests will want a reliable eta. Set a delivery radius that ensures appropriate delivery time and a good experience for your customers.
  • Packaging—iHop spent a year and a half developing a to-go package that they felt maintained the standards their guests expected from their breakfast platter. The final product consisted of a bottom part that held the eggs and meat and a vented component on top for the pancakes. The result was a non-soggy meal that retained its heat.

Some basic packaging considerations include separating hot and cold foods and leaving the sauce and condiments on the side in an extra container. Incorrectly packaged hot foods can result in condensation and soggy meals. If multiple sauces, labeling will help customers identify them. Suitable packaging insulates, is breathable (if steam is involved), and seals properly. Choose the right size to ensure the meal arrives in a presentable and visually appealing manner.

For most operators, off-sale premises are not enough to offset lost revenue from on-site dining. They are, however, a part of the multiple streams of revenue required to sustain a restaurant while the world recovers.

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