The legacy chain's new to-go carriers bespeak a bigger shift for the casual-dining chain.

For IHOP, its plans and hopes for the future of the brand might be contained in a plain, yet streamlined, little box. As unremarkable as it may sound, the company’s new to-go carrier embodies two of its most robust initiatives: take-out/delivery and combination meals.  

The new packaging was introduced last year just ahead of the national rollout of its new online ordering system. Like many of the latest industry-leading materials, it cuts down on moisture while still trapping heat thanks in part to a modular shape. Wide and circular in design, the carrier was built specifically to accommodate IHOP’s signature Buttermilk pancakes.


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During National Pancake Day on Tuesday, chief marketing officer Brad Haley was at hand in Cary, North Carolina, to kick off the brand’s main fundraising day in collaboration with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals—and was all too happy to demo the new packaging’s versatility. One base piece and two tops can mix-match into three different iterations based on the item in question.

For heavy, large items (think: a massive omelette with a side of bacon) the sturdy black base is combined with the clear topper. For a simple stack of pancakes, the two clear top pieces snap together for a lighter transport. And finally, for those meals that combine the omelettes and pancakes—or any number of other items—all three pieces come together with the combined tops then snapping into the base.

It’s a point of pride for Haley, franchisee business consultant Dan Starr (also present), and the rest of the IHOP leadership. The brand wants customers to know they can choose a short stack of pancakes as the complimentary side to heartier, savory dishes—and adaptive packaging encourages such combinations.

But beyond this menu pairings, the new carriers are representative of a much bigger program coming down the pipeline, namely takeout and delivery. In addition to launching a new online-ordering platform and proprietary app, the brand has also begun to test delivery services with various third-party providers like Amazon and DoorDash. It’s all part of the IHOP ‘N GO initiative, which is hoping to find a place in the increasingly popular on-demand landscape.

Once an area dominated almost entirely by quick serves, delivery has expanded beyond pizza and sandwiches to include foods that weren’t traditionally suited for transport. But a digitally integrated system paired with the right packaging could open the door to new business opportunities that drive convenience without skimping on quality.

It’s an ambitious plan for the casual-dining chain—one made all the more interesting by its age. After all, in a year that promises to be filled with new technology, marketing campaigns, and products, IHOP will also turn 60, possibly proving that youth knows no age.

Casual Dining, Chain Restaurants, Feature, IHOP