In an era of unprecedented demand for convenience and variety, it’s not surprising that food service takeout and delivery are booming. According to Restaurant Business magazine, takeout represents a fresh source of sales even when dine-in volume is stale, and so-called grab-and-go is available at 70% of noncommercial food service operations, according to FoodService Director. Sandelman’s Tracks also credits such advantages as saving money on tips and drinks as driving the growth of off-premise.
What’s remarkable now is the growing opportunity in delivery, in what trend prognosticators Baum & Whiteman call the Amazoning and Uberizing (PDF) of food service.
In fact, according to NPD, delivery has increased to an astonishing 69 million visits, mostly at the expense of drive-thru, which has fallen by 128 million visits during the four years ended May 2016. The reason: Delivery is more convenient, and advances in mobile technology have made it possible for consumers to order food for delivery on the fly and on-demand.
Thanks to device-based mobile-ordering technology, on-demand delivery and instant ordering are hotter than ever, with chains as varied as Panera, Chipotle, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, KFC, Taco Bell, and Starbucks expanding delivery or conducting trials. Full-service restaurants, meanwhile, are following suit, with Olive Garden now counting just over 10% of its sales from takeout, and gearing up for catering and other large-order delivery.
Here are some ideas for building your fair share of these revenue-building services:
Consider a third-party delivery service, which will handle all of the mechanics of delivering food to customers, from ordering to actual drop-off; according to Technomic, 34% of third-party users reported ordering from casual dining restaurants and 14% had ordered from family-style restaurants that do not offer delivery on their own. Sodexo has rolled out an app that taps into local third-party delivery services to bring food to hungry customers on more than 850 campuses. Be aware, however, that customers blame the food service outlet, not the delivery service, if something goes wrong, so choose wisely and monitor performance closely.
Take a page from supermarkets, which are ramping up the quality and variety of their takeout prepared food options at a thundering pace, and now represent a $29 billion market. Some restaurants and noncommercial food service outlets even have their own markets, selling both prepared foods and items like wine, upscale packaged foods, and even tableware.
The new Pilot House at the University of Portland, in Oregon, is part gastropub, part late-night gathering spot, and part coffee house, depending on the time of day. The Bon Appétit-managed project also boasts a retail Marketplace where students can grab and go with anything from sandwiches to bottled beverages.
If possible, add a grab-and-go component to your takeout program, using a reach-in refrigerator, rack, or countertop display (for items that don’t require refrigeration). For instance, if you’re selling pizzas, offer pre-prepared salads in takeout containers, along with dressing and other condiments, to build impulse sales, save on service-time labor, and offer customers an accompaniment for pizza.
Get Started: Hot Pockets® are perfect for takeout, especially in self-service venues like convenience stores and kiosks.
Plan the menu wisely. Although third-party deliverer GrubHub/Seamless called out items like ramen and tacos al pastor for sales growth, make sure you offer foods that can stand up to the rigors of takeout/delivery or that can be reheated successfully (don’t forget the instructions). Domino’s is so serious about the quality of its delivery pizza that it even developed a car that not only houses a warming oven, it also acts as a rolling billboard for the brand.
Foods designed for an at-home finish are another great option within a takeout program, such as microwaveable family-style dinners, “take-and-bake” pizza, or ready-to-heat containers of soup. Venues like hospital cafeterias and college-campus c-stores have seen significant sales with these kinds of items, especially when they’re promoted at lunch or throughout the day.
Get Started: We have lots of delicious soups and salads and sandwiches in our recipe database that would be perfect for takeout, from White Bean and Kale Soups to a traditional grilled Cubano sandwich and Soba Noodle Salad.
Ask customers if they want napkins, utensils, disposable plates or cups, condiments, and so on with their order, rather than automatically including these items; this saves on costs and gives customers the option if they want this convenience.
Make takeout orders easier for customers with a dedicated phone number, pickup window or counter, 10-minute parking zone, curbside service, or any other convenience service that’s appropriate for your facility. Buffalo Wild Wings’ call-ahead Party Menu allows customers to pre-order any items, including the chain’s signature sauce selection, which is particularly convenient for large orders.
Get Started: Pizza is always a takeout favorite; compete with local pizzerias by offering your own unique offerings like a distinctive flatbread.
Implement a frequent-user program, such as a free sandwich after 10 orders, or a beverage for an expenditure over a certain base amount. This adds value and can induce customers to buy takeout from you, rather than a competitor. App-based or online is great, but even a simple punch card can work.
Are you located near a bus or train station, airport, sports arena, park, or other location where meals or snacks would be welcome? Offer box lunches or snacks, picnics, sandwiches, and other easy-to-eat fare for the venue.
Borrow the strategy of prepared-food shops by filling the gap between personal chef and home-cooked meals with regular local meal delivery or pickup—perhaps of the nightly special you’re already serving. Providing regular meals to a group of clients is a great way to generate a steady cash stream, and customers like it because they aren’t tempted to over-order. The Sack Lunch program at Elephants Delicatessen in Portland, OR, has been successful since its launch in 2008 because it is so popular with regulars.
Consider investing in greener takeout packaging options to appeal to customers who want to avoid, say, foam clamshells or plastic bags. It’s good for business and the environment—and good practice in the event of local restrictions.
By the same token, great branded packaging can build sales, especially when it’s unique. Dunkin' Donuts sells lots of coffee and donuts for groups, in part because of its distinctive and convenient 10-cup Box O’ Joe pack, which advertises itself wherever it goes.
If you’re not ready to do takeout at dinner, consider breakfast or lunch. Woodward Takeout Food, adjacent to Washington, DC’s popular Woodward Table Restaurant, is a deli-bakery that serves freshly made to-go and delivery specialties at breakfast and lunch only. The shop also supports a catering program, which is directed at local office workers during regular 9 to 5 business hours.
Merchandise takeout desserts in your dining room for busy lunch customers who would like something sweet but don’t have time for another course.