Catering to the Take-out Customer
Are you considering adding a take-out option to your operation? You’re not alone, that’s for sure. Of course, it’s one thing to prepare a great meal in the kitchen, and serve it at the proper temperature to your customers in the dining room. Take that same meal, package it for take-out, and it becomes a more challenging proposition. Yet, scores of casual chains and independents have successfully jumped on the take-out bandwagon as this craze gains momentum. Operators are discovering that offering take-out can increase business without significantly increasing the standard cost of operation. Many also report a reduction in food waste.
Successful catering for take-out involves careful planning, a savvy staff and excellent packaging. When building a take-out menu, include best-sellers and specialties if possible because these are your customer faves. Add a mix of items for lifestyle preferences and dietary requirements. Eliminate items that are not portable or that will deteriorate in transit. You would not want to lose a steady customer because their takeout order became soggy, fell apart, lost flavor or leaked through the packaging onto their leather car seats? Conduct trial runs from your kitchen to the farthest delivery point to satisfy your concerns. You cannot hope to accomplish everything with your catering offerings that you can with food served in-house. It is far better to offer fewer items that can be executed really well than to present a complicated catering menu that will cause more headaches for the kitchen. A simple, well-thought-out menu will make order fulfillment easier and make it easier for customers to make a choice. Some menu points to consider for inclusion:
- Customer favorites, signature dishes and menu items you want to promote. To highlight these when engineering your menu design, surround them with a box and shading so that they are easily noticed.
- Menu options in a variety of price ranges to accommodate every budget.
- Several healthful selections to appeal to those intent on leading a healthy lifestyle.
- Vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.
- At least one selection each of the big three protein favorites – beef, chicken and pork. A seafood option may also have great appeal.
- Special sauces, dressings, condiments and dips packaged separately in sturdy covered cups.Reheating instructions where applicable.
NOTE: Be sure to ask if food allergies are present to avoid an emergency situation and possible liability.
For easy customer reference, divide your online and printed catering menu into categories, such as apps, salads, entrees, sides and dessert. You may want to include beverages to increase check averages and provide convenience for customers.
Often, people order take-out because they are too tired to cook, are pressed for time or they do not have the ingredients on hand to make a homemade meal. Increasingly, there are lots of other occasions when people want to enjoy their favorite restaurant fare off-premise: office lunch meetings, tailgate parties, birthday parties and other celebrations, baby and wedding showers, family get-togethers, neighborhood block parties, and so on. For these occasions, it makes good business sense to include several menu items that can be prepared in large batches for group catering (deviled eggs, pans of lasagna, fancy and hearty sandwich platters, slider and tater tots baskets, specialty pizzas, pastas with several sauce options, mini fish or meat tacos, main dish chopped salads, cupcakes, eclairs, cookies, etc.)
Bear in mind that those intent on ordering take-out will find it somewhere. If you are not currently offering it, consider whether you can afford to pass up this opportunity to free up tables in your dining room and increase sales with food for pickup. (Delivery is another option gaining momentum with operators across the country. See articles in this issue for more details.)