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Takeout service keeps restaurants afloat

With takeout as the only option for hundreds of thousands of restaurants during the pandemic, it's critical to get it right. Social distancing and heightened sanitation concerns place unique demands on restaurants at this time.

Whether you're tackling takeout for the first time or it has long been a staple of your business, there are several practical ways you can adapt your operations and offerings to suit the pandemic situation. From takeout templates to promo ideas, these tools will help you succeed with takeout.

Takeout Menu Essentials

First, of course, you'll need a takeout menu. It can be as simple as your dine-in menu with added contact info, or a fully custom takeout design. Whether you choose a traditional trifold or an interim solution, keep in mind these best practices for takeout menu design:

  • Only offer items that prep fast and easy, and travel well. Be conservative; a poor takeout experience can cost you a customer.
  • Prominently show your business name, phone number, and physical address.
  • How to order: by phone, online ordering, your website, other partners.
  • Include your hours, delivery partners, and any pickup or purchasing policies.
  • Your menu should be legible! 11pt fonts are a good minimum.

Limited-item takeout solutions

With dine-in restrictions evolving so fast, and for unknown duration, a traditional trifold takeout menu may not be the best option for your business.

If takeout is a new initiative for you, be conservative about choosing items to offer for takeout. Packaging considerations and inherently long delays between kitchen and table will impact which of your items can deliver a quality dining experience. An unimpressive takeout experience will not win you any customer loyalty.

Even if you're a seasoned pro at takeout, you may have new pickup or payment options to promote, or supply chain issues that dictate that you offer only a subset of your normal menu at this time.

Consider crafting a special limited-item menu on a smaller, half-page paper size. This format is cost-effective to print front-and-back and drop into each carryout bag.

As with any takeout menu, be sure your business name, phone number or website, and physical address are featured prominently. Hours, service details (curbside pickup), and delivery partners are key information as well.

Optimize your ordering process

Social distancing requires that you severely limit the number of people in your building at any one time. Organize an efficient ordering and pickup process to streamline the exchanges.

TIP: Post your ordering process on social media and your website.

  • Let diners know how to order: Social media is a great place to post your ordering options - by phone, email, text, your website, or via delivery partners.
  • Orders by phone, email, or text: Provide an expected pickup time, make sure the order is already packaged and waiting by that time so they can grab it and go.
  • Ordering on the web: If you have a modern POS system, it's very possible that your POS provider also allows you to take orders from your website. TouchBistro, Square, and Toast all have online ordering options, and often they let you avoid 3rd party service charges. Give your rep a call and find out today.
  • Encourage touchless mobilepay: If people can pay via online systems such as Google Pay or Apple Pay, they should. This limits face-to-face exposure from swiping credit cards and handing over cash.
  • Eliminate tips and purchase signatures. Temporarily suspending these practices will reduce the need for customers and staff to touch pens, exchange receipts, and stand in close range.
  • Go cashless: If people can't pay online or your business isn't set up for this, encourage everyone to use credit/debit cards, to eliminate hand-to-hand cash exchanges. Pre-pay carryout orders by requiring a credit card number over the phone. If cards do exchange hands, staff should use sanitizer immediately.

In-store pickup best practices

  • Have customers pre-pay
  • Get customer phone #
  • Text when food is ready
  • Prop your door open
  • Keep food in a closed paper bag
  • Include takeout menu in the bag
  • Have a pickup table or area
  • Post safety notice at pickup area
  • Leave hand sanitizer out
  • Post policies on social media

Safe pickup policies

During the pandemic, the main consideration for restaurants is how to handoff food to patrons without violating social distancing guidelines. Implementing some new practices will make this process more efficient and safe for everyone.

TIP: Wipe down screens, credit card machines, pens, door handles, counters after each use.

Orders should be fully packaged and labeled. No one should be touching the food after it leaves the kitchen. Setting your bags on a counter or shelf will let customers pick it up themselves.

Handoffs should be as efficient as possible. Pre-payments for orders eliminate the need to stand at the counter, exchange cash or credit cards, and touch a pen or payment screen. Quick pickups also limit the number of people in your store at any one time.

Protect your employees. Remind patrons to stay in the car and avoid hand-to-hand contact. Staffers who deliver food should wash their hands often.

Consult your local health department for additional guidance on strategies to safeguard your employees and the public.

Nailing this service reassures customers that you value their health and safety, and could win you a lot of repeat business from your customers as their options for restaurants dwindle.

Curbside pickup best practices

  • Number your parking spots
  • Post your phone number at parking spots
  • Have customers call upon arrival
  • Ask customers to open the vehicle trunk
  • Place food in trunk for customer

Consider grab-and-go products

If you already have a section of your restaurant or cafe that has pre-packaged products to go, great! Keep that area well-stocked and consider adapting other menu offerings to grab-and-go as well.

TIP: Pre-package complete meals and promote them as a family dining special.

Any idea that helps people make healthy choices fast is going to be important during these uncertain times. Grab and Go Refrigerators or Open Air Display Coolers can be easily ordered online if this is a new area for you.

Delivery services

There has never been a more important time to offer delivery! If viable, you could provide your own delivery service. This eliminates food coming in contact with more people, and you can be in greater control of the sanitary practices. This can also help to keep more of your staff employed. If you go this route, don't forget to talk to your insurance company about adding them to the policy.

Safe delivery best practices

  • Call ahead to tell customers their food has arrived
  • Avoid doorbells, keypads, or knocking
  • Leave food at the door, preferably on a table or chair
  • No cash tips - if possible make everything prepay
  • Do not enter a business or home
  • Wait to leave until customers have received food

If you prefer to partner with a third party, the top delivery services include GrubHub, DoorDash, Caviar, and UberEats. Local services are likely available too. You may want to partner with more than one service as they can reach different audiences.

Key questions to ask:

  • How much will it cost? What are the service charges? Marketplace charges? Advertising up-charges?
  • How will orders be received?
  • How will the handling and delivery of food work?
  • What customer service systems and policies are in place?
  • What benefits are different services offering? Eg: some are waiving delivery fees

You should view these services as an add-on to your internal takeout services. They can bring you incremental business, but as most charge a transaction fee or take a percentage of each sale, they can also bite into your margins.

Want to learn more about how third-party delivery services can help your restaurant? Check out our helpful guide.

Coronavirus Health and Safety Considerations

Sanitation has become even more important for your restaurant. Keep thinking outside the box about how you can best transfer your in-store sanitation practices to other areas of your business like takeout and curbside:

Prioritize sanitation

  • Limit the number of people coming in contact with food. This includes people preparing it, boxing it up, and delivering it.
  • Remember that the CDC has stated that hand washing is still the best way to prevent the spread of viruses -- require staff to do it more frequently than usual
  • If you use a delivery service, know their policy on how their employees are expected to handle food.
  • We all want to cut down on single-use takeout products, but for now, make sure food is fully in a container or bag to hand to people. You can add sanitary wipes to the bag so people have the option to wipe down utensils, boxes, and their hands before eating.
  • Wipe down your credit card machine, pens, door handles, and counters at least once every hour.
  • If you provide your own delivery service, follow industry best practices to protect your delivery drivers.
  • Consult your local health department for additional guidance.

Communicate your safety measures

  • Give your customers peace of mind by adding a tamper-evident label/sticker to close your takeout bag or box. This will deter any delivery person from opening the container and makes it clear to customers that no one has touched it since it was packaged at the restaurant.
  • Consider including a health card in each takeout bag detailing precautions that have been taken.
  • Create a small insert with safe reheating instructions to drop into takeout bags.
  • Use social media and in-store signage to let people know what you are doing to keep your staff and patrons safe.
  • Remind your patrons what they can do to keep everyone safe: maintain social distancing when picking up orders, following your curbside pickup guidelines, and washing their hands.
  • Consider sharing articles on topics like Is takeout safe in the coronavirus pandemic (see our resource guide for reputable sources) to reassure your followers that takeout is a safe choice.

Promoting your takeout service

Let customers know that you are open for business! Announce your takeout and/or delivery service through all mediums:

  • Social media
  • On your website
  • Signs on doors and windows
  • Stickers/other marketing materials
  • Email to your customer list
  • Flyers or takeout menus distributed locally

Communication is key during this time of uncertainty -- the more customers know what you are doing and how, the better they will feel about using your services.

Excellent resources for takeout and other messaging! Thank you!
— Suzanne of Red Martini Kitchen & Cocktails, Oregon

Essential messages for your social media feed:

  • Your current offering: takeout, delivery, delivery partners
  • Your takeout menu
  • Open hours for takeout or call-ahead instructions
  • Curbside pickup instructions
  • Current discounts or promos
  • Weekly food promotions or discount days
  • Your current policies or priorities (i.e. please help us avoid third party app fees and order directly from our website)

See our Social Media guide for more tips on maximizing your online marketing impact.