1. Create a takeout-specific menu
Here’s a customer response from a recent 1,000-person study conducted by Datassential.
“Don't have the full menu. Just a few of the most popular.”
That sounds simple enough, but what’s the thinking behind it? Firstly, cutting complexity in the back of the house is critical with a pared-down staff. McDonald’s is even suspending all-day breakfast currently for this very reason (also breakfast sales are dropping in general across the industry, as much as 33 percent, year-over-year, in family dining).
Also, there’s the less concrete notion of do guests feel safe? And how can we get them there? Datassential found that 47 people feel either nervous or at risk during their ordering and eating experience.
A smaller menu could ease guests’ minds because it shows you’re paying close attention to everything. It’s an instant sign of an operator’s deliberate approach to COVID-19.
Returning to the logistics side, as MustHaveMenus explains, “this may seem obvious, but you'll need a takeout-specific menu because takeout differs in many ways from dine-in service.” Not just in how food travels, but also how you display what’s on the menu.
But yes, the food part is key. Not all of a full-service restaurant’s food and drink items are practical for takeout. Everything needs to travel well and maintain the right temperature, consistency, and presentation, from your kitchen to their door, MustHaveMenus said.
Restaurants need to reward customers for taking this risk, real or perceived. Just like dine-in, if it’s not a positive experience, it’s going to inspire them to head elsewhere.
“For economic reasons, you may want to limit your takeout menu so you can streamline all the extra preparation and packaging considerations,” MustHaveMenus said. “Perhaps sell only the most popular meal items that will travel well.”
Now is a great time to really dive into your menu mix and identify those all-star movers. If they needed to be reworked for take-out, that could be an interesting piece of news to share with customers as well. For instance, a do-it-yourself version of a classic is suddenly available for take-out. That would be an opportunistic time to shoot off an email blast that says something like, “Our iconic Chicken & Waffles, now for delivery!” Not only is this a way to reach customers and show them what’s going on, how you’re still there, and how you’re combating COVID-19, but you can also sneak in sanitary practices and other efforts to reassure them. And if they’re a loyal guest normally, they’ll know and recognize the menu item. It could just inspire that night’s order.
The menu itself should be small and conveniently storable. While most customers will access the menu online or via social media, some will still be happy to have a paper copy they can post on their refrigerator or keep at their desk, MustHaveMenus said. The classic takeout menu formats are trifold 8.5 x 14 or 8.5 x 11.
However, with dine-in restrictions evolving rapidly, and for unknown duration, a traditional trifold takeout menu may not be the best option, the company added. Maybe you're unsure of the options. Perhaps there will be new pickup or payment products to promote.
“As an alternative to traditional takeouts, consider crafting a special limited-item menu, on a smaller, half-page paper size,” MustHaveMenus said. “This format is cost-effective to print front-and-back and drop into each carryout bag.”
As with any takeout menu, include the restaurant name, phone number, website, and physical address. Hours, service details, and delivery partners could be worthwhile adds, too.
2. An efficient ordering system
If this lagged behind before (maybe it wasn’t needed) now is the time to update. With everything that’s going on, the last thing restaurants want is for customers to show up and wait. It’s like walking around a grocery store amid COVID-19 concerns. You felt OK when you stepped in, but anxiety builds minute by minute as you look around and see people with masks and gloves. The same is true for guests showing up at a restaurant. “That increases their risk of exposure and defeats the purpose of takeout. You'll want to organize an efficient priority and timing system based on when and how the orders are coming in,” MustHaveMenus said.
Some brands have tried makeshift drive thrus where they take customers’ car make and model over the phone along with the order. This way, when somebody shows up, the restaurant can look out the window and bring the food out. The car provides an extra layer of security.
Here are three tips from MustHaveMenus:
Ordering by phone, email, or text: Give them an expected pickup time and ask if that works. 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 third-party service charges. Give your rep a call and find out today.
Ordering via mobile pay: 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.
The first point is really vital. While it’s not always possible, setting time windows for pickup is more important than ever. Those days of call in, “your order will be ready in 15–30 minutes”—that’s a tough path to follow in this climate. Especially if orders flood in during a brief period. It would lead to the waiting problem. That may not have been a huge deal before, but it definitely is today.
Just look at this response in Datassential’s study:
“If people are picking up food to go, insist that people in line maintain distance from each other. Also place credit card machine on a small table away from the cashier in order to create space.”
The opposite of this is a disaster waiting to happen and almost a surefire way to dissuade potential repeat customers.
Consider opening up takeout orders early in the day, say 3 p.m., and then asking when they’d like to come in. Almost treat it like shifts where you can figure out how many guests per block make sense. And then fill in the slots.