There is no question the COVID-19 pandemic has had a great effect on every facet of daily life for Americans. With the US under a state of emergency, Schools and offices around the country are vacant. For many food service operations, the place where the majority of customer engagement takes place, the dining room, is now closed.

In order for many restaurants to succeed, they will need to evolve along with this new normal. To continue providing high-quality dining engagement to customers, they will need to focus on traditionally smaller business segments, takeout and delivery.

In this series Foodbuy will show how you how a restaurant can begin building a robust takeout and delivery operation that will continue to surprise and delight your patrons.

In Part 1 of our series on Evolving Engagement in Dining Experience, we discussed how to setup your operation to optimize for takeout and delivery. Next we will look at how to optimize the menu to ensure your customers have a delectable takeout experience while managing your costs.

Part 2: Adapting your menu for takeout/delivery

Enhance the Dining Experience

With most dining facilities across the US are closed, Americans have had to change the way they eat. Sitting down in a restaurant to be served a meal has been replaced by serving yourself at your home dining room table. This new way of life presents a great opportunity for food service operations pivoting to takeout and delivery to build relationships with new customers. Make sure your new menu is setup to delight.

When thinking about your new takeout menu, try to incorporate items that meet the new needs of your customers. For example, offer a family-size meal to make ordering for the household easy. Package together 4-6 servings with sides and beverages. For parents who are now working full-time from home while homeschooling, this easy dinner will be a welcome respite. This is also true for dishes that are difficult to make at home, like broth-based soups.

Another factor to remember while developing your takeout menu is how well items will hold up during transport. While a high-quality lasagna or stew will endure the takeout or delivery trip, seafood and dressed greens will not be so lucky. Choose items that will look and taste fresh, even after a 15-minute car ride.

Including bundle items is also a great way to deepen relationships with your patrons. One bundle might be a buy-one-get-one offer for dinner entrees: for every entree, give the customer a second entree for lunch the following day. Present this second entree to the customer cold with reheating instructions. Other bundles may include retail items such as t-shirts or hats, or even household staples that are locally hard to find, like tissues and paper towels.

Lastly, make sure all your items are served with everything needed for dinner. Although nothing spoils a meal quicker than finding out something is missing, going the extra mile to make the dining experience frictionless will deepen rapport with your patrons. Confirm that all special requests are fulfilled and all extra condiments are packed with the order. Double-check that every order has plenty of napkins, silverware, straws, salt and pepper. Include disposable plates to make clean up easy. This will create a great memory of your operation for your patrons.

Complement the Dining Experience by Adapting Back-of-House Preparations

As you build a new takeout-focused menu to enhance the dining experience, there are many adjustments that can be made in the BOH to optimize for takeout as well:

  • Simplify the Menu Offerings: Rationalize the number of menu items you offer during this time down to a number that can be executed at high quality. It will be better to do a few items very well than to offer many plates that are mediocre.
  • Easy-to-Execute: Use ingredients that are easy to prepare. Use shelf-stable and frozen ingredients where possible.
  • Value-Added Items: Some items can be purchased already prepped, saving your operation time and labor. Look at using pre-washed and pre-cut produce, like salad greens and fruit.
  • Multi-Purpose Ingredients: Choose ingredients that can be used in 3-5 recipes. This will help minimize inventory on-hand and maximize inventory turnover, preventing spoilage and waste.
  • Cook-to-Portion: Consider purchasing bulk items that can save prep time. Lasagna and macaroni and cheese are two great examples; these are easily cooked straight out of the package, and easily portioned into meal-size containers.
  • Easy-to-Assemble: Menu items that are easily prepared like sandwiches are great additions. Try to find ingredients that you already have on-hand to create new menu items that are quickly assembled. If you serve corned beef, offering a reuben sandwich is a natural extension.
  • Packaging: When packing meals for takeout or delivery, make sure all packaging is secure. This will ensure that the food arrives intact and at the correct temperature.

We now have the menu and the restaurant setup to support a robust takeout and delivery operation. In Part 3 of our series on the Evolving Engagement in Dining Experience, we talk about how to interact with customers while respecting social distancing.

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