Can your menu stand the test of takeout? Pre-COVID, top menu trends centered around variety, planning around local and seasonal ingredients, and presentation. Chefs were focused on creating unique dining experiences that guests couldn’t hope to replicate at home. But now that dining rooms are shut across the country, most of the conventional wisdom that went into building a menu no longer applies. To impress guests, restaurants need to turn their focus away from complex dishes, and instead build their menus around items that are easy to pack up and transport, reheat well the next day, and will taste just as good when they are dropped off as they did when they left your kitchen.
Pick Foods That Travel Well
Everyone has felt that overwhelming sense of disappointment when the order of fries you’ve been eagerly awaiting for the past 45 minutes finally shows up…limp and soggy. Building a menu around foods that travel well is the difference between winning repeat business, and losing a guest’s patronage forever.
Here are some tips on which menu items to feature, and which ones to avoid if you want to maintain the same quality of service when offering delivery, as you do within your restaurant:
- Don’t Forget Your Restaurant’s Staples: When designing your delivery menu, make sure to include a handful of the menu staples that keep your regulars coming back. These are likely the same menu items that gave your guests the idea to pick up the phone or go online and place an order in the first place.
- Avoid Fried Foods: Fried foods have a tendency to get soggy en route from your restaurant to your guest’s front door. If you can avoid including fried food on your delivery menu, this will make your life a lot easier. If not, wait to drop your food in the fryer until the delivery driver arrives at your restaurant to give your food the best chance of showing up to your guest’s door hot and still crispy. Package fried foods alone, and package up in ventilated containers to release steam and avoid creating condensation that can cause food to get soggy or lose flavor.
- Stick with Stews: This may seem counterintuitive, but stews are some of the best foods to include on your delivery menu as long as you can package them up securely to avoid spills and leaks. Stews reheat well, won’t suffer from any moisture buildup en route, and make great leftovers, ensuring that your guests will continue enjoying their meal well after it leaves your restaurant.
- Limit Delivery Radiuses: When building your menu, keep how long food will need to travel in mind and set delivery radiuses accordingly so your food arrives still hot and fresh. For example, if you know that your pizza order will get cold after 20 minutes on the road, cap deliveries to zip codes within a 20 minute radius from your restaurant.
Almost any menu item can travel well if packaged correctly. When it comes to transporting food, separation is the key to preventing sogginess. Here are a few pro tips on what to keep apart:
- Hold and Cold: When transporting items like sandwiches and burgers that can include a mix of hot and hold ingredients, it’s a best practice to package these items up separately to avoid sogginess, especially if your food is traveling long distances. For example, keeping the lettuce, tomatoes, and onions on the side and allowing your guests to assemble when it gets to them is a surefire way to keep all of the items fresh.
If you are offering burgers as a family meal item, think about offering a build your own burger bar with a mix of toppings so that your guests can have fun customizing their burgers at home, without worrying about soggy buns or wilted lettuce. You can do the same for tacos if that fits better with your restaurant’s theme.
- Wet and Dry: This is a big one for serving soups or noodles with broth. Many restaurants will separate the broth from dry ingredients like protein, noodles, or an egg to avoid elements of the meal getting soggy or disintegrating in the hot broth. This is a very common trend with ramen restaurants, many of which have staunchly refused to offer takeout in the past but are now adapting to the current environment by finding creative ways to allow their guests to enjoy a high quality dining experience from home.
- Sauce and Dressings: Sauces and dressings also follow the wet and dry rule. When packaging up salads or grain bowls to go, make sure to put sauce and dressings on the side to avoid vegetables getting oversaturated with dressing and prevent leaks and spills.
Pick the Right Packaging
- Keeps Your Food at the Desired Temperature: Hot food arriving cold can be the deal breaker that stops a guest from reordering from your restaurant. Thankfully, packaging plays a big role in controlling food temperature during transportation. For example, styrofoam is a great insulator that can help maintain both hot and cold temperatures, but is so bad for the environment that it is outlawed in many states, including New York, California, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Cardboard is a great alternative to styrofoam, as is it effective at maintaining heat, is well ventilated enough to keep hot food from getting soggy, and is recyclable.
- Reinforces Your Brand: If you’re all about locally sourced, organic ingredients, be sure to go for eco-friendly biodegradable packaging to reinforce your brand’s values. Of course, we know that some materials are in short supply these days, so if you can’t find the exact packaging you’re looking for – don’t sweat it. This is also a great time to invest in customizable packaging that reflects your brand’s color scheme and aesthetic. For example, cardboard packaging is well ventilated and can prevent food from getting soggy, and can be ordered in custom sizes and designs.
- Resealable: If there’s a good chance that your guest will save some of their dinner to eat the next day for lunch, you might want to go for resealable packaging that prioritizes convenience for your guests and keeps food fresh. Plastic is a great option here for keeping food secure while you are transporting it and eliminates that need to transfer a dish into a separate container to save it for another day, but isn’t as eco-friendly as recyclable cardboard or compostable materials.
Adapt to Consumer Preferences
With demand for dining out and ordering-in being more limited than before, the restaurants that adapt to consumer’s preferences the fastest will have the best chance of winning repeat business.
As families are struggling with balancing work-from-home, e-Learning, and coming up with nutritious options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, offering budget friendly and health conscious family meals can help meet your guests’ needs. Consider offering four to six servings of popular menu items for takeout and delivery so the whole family can enjoy together.
Or you could think about helping your guests save a trip to the liquor store by letting them order drinks with their food. Many states are dropping open container restrictions to allow restaurants to guests to order beer, wine, and cocktails to go. As the highest margin item on most restaurant’s menus, this is a great way to bring up average check sizes while keeping your guests smiling. Consider recommending drink pairings with popular menu items to make it easier to upsell guests whether they are ordering online or from one of your staff members over the phone.
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