A category surging in usage needs new tools and best practices as well.

Restaurant takeout has been around for decades, but it has recently surged in popularity thanks to food delivery apps like DoorDash and the sudden outbreak of COVID-19. More people are ordering meals to go, and restaurants must provide a better takeout experience to maximize their profits and maintain a solid reputation. Here are seven ways to improve the customer takeout experience.

1. Ensure Order Accuracy

Order accuracy is crucial for all aspects of any restaurant, but it’s especially important for takeout because they only have one chance to get the order right. They can’t correct a mistake unless the customer notices a problem with the food before leaving. People will likely never order from a restaurant again if the staff gets it wrong.

Advanced point-of-sale software and effective staff training are the two most straightforward ways to minimize mistakes. Restaurants should get their employees into the habit of double-checking orders before they leave the restaurant. Make sure the main course, sides, condiments and utensils are present.

Order mistakes aren’t always the staff’s fault. A customer might forget to make a specific request or have a sudden change of heart after seeing the meal in person. Adding food photographs to menus and social media accounts will allow people to see what they’re getting and order items more to their liking.

2. Offer Online Ordering

Online ordering is a must-have for restaurants. Nearly 80 percent of customers order takeout or delivery online at least once a week, overtaking dine-in as the most popular method for eating out. However, since every eatery has an online ordering system, restaurants need to go the extra mile to make their service stand out.

A great way to impress customers is to offer modification options for restaurant takeout orders, such as no condiments or extra toppings, so they can get exactly what they want. Special dish modifications might take more time in the kitchen, but meeting the patron’s needs is a higher priority.

Restaurants might also offer a loyalty program to encourage customers to make bigger online orders. Surveys have shown that people spend more on off-premises orders, so providing extra perks and rewards for takeout could lead to a major revenue increase.

3. Use a QR Code Menu

Many restaurants have started using QR code menus to allow customers to make contactless orders, enhancing convenience and safety to create an overall better takeout experience. They also automate certain staff responsibilities, as fewer employees must hand out and collect traditional menus. Of course, the staff should still be around to answer questions, but the QR code menu makes their jobs much easier.

The in-person QR menus should be visible immediately upon entering the restaurant. The staff should put them on doors, windows, tables, flyers and anywhere else their customers will see them. They can start browsing the menu items and make orders without delay, speeding up the turnaround time for each patron.

The online QR menus should be front and center on the restaurant’s website, social media accounts and app. They promote app downloads, help build brand awareness, and allows managers to collect and study customer data.

4. Switch to Better Packaging

Cheap cardboard or styrofoam takeout containers are holding back many restaurants’ takeout experiences. If they want customers to have a better takeout experience, they need a better container with more customer-friendly qualities. First of all, it should be microwavable and dense enough to contain the food’s heat. Many containers have clear reheating instructions so customers do it right and can’t blame the restaurant for any mishaps.

More importantly, the packaging must be safely disposable to meet green customer priorities that have emerged in younger generations. All eating establishments should switch to sustainable containers made from recycled plastic or biodegradable materials to minimize waste and show customers they share their aspirations for a more eco-friendly future.

5. Meet Customers at Their Cars

Most restaurant takeout services require customers to enter the building and pick up their food, but employees can cut this step from the equation by meeting them at their vehicles. They can create a check-in tool on their app and online ordering platforms so they can notify the staff upon arrival. They can wait in their cars while a waiter carries out the food straight to them.

This idea could lead to a much better takeout experience if the waiting staff takes sufficient safety precautions and manages the parking lot correctly. Employees should wear bright colors and reserve a handful of spaces for takeout orders with clear signage so dine-in customers don’t take them.

6. Build a Separate Takeout Entrance

A separate entrance for takeout orders could be worth the investment as digital ordering services continue to become more profitable. Employees won’t have to use the main doors and disrupt the flow of dine-in traffic, and takeout customers who want to grab their food inside can skip the wait lines.

The extra entrance can become a unique part of a restaurant’s brand identity if successful. People will come to know the restaurant as the place with the takeout-only sections, putting its service into the spotlight and attracting new customers.

7. Remember Customer Service Basics

The takeout experience might be quicker and less personal than dining in, but that doesn’t mean restaurants get to slack on customer service. Every interaction with them requires a high level of care and courtesy, no matter how short it might be.

If anything, customer service for takeout needs to be more thoughtful. The staff only has a few minutes to make a strong impression, so one misstep could sour the entire experience. With dine-in customers, employees have a larger window of opportunity to make up for their service mistakes and reel people back in. Takeout doesn’t give them that opportunity.

Even if a takeout customer is antisocial and wants to leave as soon as possible, restaurants should still treat them as they would a dine-in regular. Greet them with a smile, stay positive and thank them for their business. They might not reciprocate the enthusiasm, but they will remember the pleasant workers and take their service into account next time they choose where to eat.

Create a Better Takeout Experience

Takeout services are more relevant than ever, so it’s critical that restaurants keep up with the times and provides a well-rounded experience. Apply these seven tips to get the most out of each transaction. Provide advanced tools to the staff and customers, handle the food carefully and practice considerate service above all else.

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over five years experience writing for the food and beverage industry.

Delivery, Expert Takes, Feature, Technology