Takeout Food On A Colorful Background
Two Menus Side By Side At A Restaurant
Two Customers Getting Wine At A Store
Two Restaurant Employees Prepare Food In The Back Of The House
QR Code On A Table
California Pizza Kitchen's Take And Bake Mushroom Pepperoni Sausage Pizza
Restaurant Employee Hands Coffee And A Bag Of Food To Customers
More than a meal

Restaurants know they will need to build upon the changes they made in 2020 and continue to find ways to stand out from the crowd. At the same time, many restaurant owners are probably beginning to feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, with hopefully more stability and fewer drastic changes heading into the new year.

Yet with COVID-19 continuing to make it difficult or impossible to eat out at restaurants right now, diners are left with essentially two options—cooking from home or ordering takeout—both of which are feeling somewhat stale. Restaurants allow for a space where we can celebrate milestones, build relationships, disconnect from the digital world, and enjoy a good meal. People miss the atmosphere and sense of community that restaurants provide.

As businesses continue to think of ways they can keep and increase their customer base, expanding on their current takeout service will help set them apart. What takeout looks like transformed in many ways last year with restaurants finding innovative solutions such as meal kits, subscriptions, family dinners, and more. Whatever a restaurant’s takeout service looks like now, building on those ideas to make it more of an experience will go a long way with customers. How can restaurants make a meal at home feel special—more like dining out? What can be offered that goes beyond just a bag of food?

Below are seven ideas to consider for turning your takeout service up a notch to provide a one-of-a-kind dining experience from home.

Add a physical menu to your meals

If you’re offering prix fixe holiday meals, family meals, subscription boxes, or anything that would have a set menu, include a menu list. Customers can present the menu at mealtime along with the food to help make it feel like a night out.

Most of these kinds of menus can be created quickly through online design companies that offer menu templates, so they won’t take a lot of time or energy.

Share inspiration from your chef

Include a message with your orders that has a description of tasting notes from your chef. If your meals have a theme, add some background on what inspired it. Tell a story by including information about the meal you’re offering.

Provide tips for setting the mood

It’s easy to get into a rhythm of making dinner time the same old thing. Help your customers plan intentional time with their family, significant others, or roommates by offering tips on creating an atmosphere. These can be tips or products you automatically include in orders, or you can offer them as additional purchases.

Some ideas:


Table decor or table setting suggestions

Links to music playlists via QR codes

Partnering with florists to offer flower arrangements that spruce up tables

Pairing meals with wine, beer, or cocktails

Offer additional products to purchase from your 'store'

Feature your best-selling products for additional purchase so customers can enjoy them at home whenever they like. If you have a sauce everyone loves, bottle it. If you bake the perfect bread, offer it as a loaf. Make your food more accessible so customers can experience what makes your restaurant unique.

Invite customers to a cooking class

Bring your kitchen to customers’ homes. With conference calling services, it’s easy to set up and invite your email list to join your chef for a cooking class. Offer the ingredients for purchase ahead of time so your students can come prepared.

Include content that engages customers

Use videos to have some fun with cooking how-tos or to give a glimpse of your chef putting final touches on a dish. Add a note in your takeout orders or meal boxes that has a QR code linking to your video so customers can scan it and view from their phone.

Upgrade your meal kit to a subscription

If you’re already offering some type of meal kit, expand it to be a subscription that has special offers, tips, and more that can’t be found anywhere else. This will help deepen your customers’ connection to your business, and can include any number of things depending on what works best for you.

Some ideas:

Directions on how to arrange the table or plate the food

Instructions and ingredients so the customer can add final touches (eg: making sauces)

Updates on what’s new at your restaurant

Links to videos describing what’s special about each box

Storage or heating/reheating instructions

Special offers or deals

Emerge from the pack

Ultimately, restaurants will want to continue to be creative with how their specific business can offer something reminiscent of dining out and feeling connected. With people craving something different and interesting, any special touch will help distinguish a restaurant from the rest.

Elizabeth Riggio is a copywriter covering marketing tools and tips for restaurants. When not writing, she’s exploring the Pacific Northwest and eating her way through the various food trucks.

Expert Takes, Slideshow