Most chefs have adjusted to the demand for off-premises food. Here’s how they’re now ensuring their offerings stand out.
A Mintel study conducted in the fall of 2020 indicated that off-premises channels will be a robust part of foodservice for the foreseeable future: Over 56 percent of consumers polled couldn’t picture themselves dining out within the next few months or even in the next year. The study concluded that operators should double down on their efforts to create great takeout items if they wish to turn profit in 2021.
The good news is that many operators have gotten to the point where they know how to build a menu geared toward the off-premises journey. But how can those same operators make sure their menu options stand out from the competition?
“Last year, there was a lot of imitation among operators as we all tried to figure out takeout options that would work,” says Lorenzo Boni, corporate executive chef at Barilla America. “Now that we’re a year into the pandemic, guests are fully accustomed to off-premises, and they’re ready for something new, or at least something new enough that it will spark interest.”
As one of the most durable and versatile building blocks in any kitchen, pasta is particularly well suited to solve the challenge of creating takeout dishes that will be unique enough to generate buzz. Boni recommends creating dishes that are “classic with a twist,” where a diner will recognize a pasta cut or a sauce but be interested in some new aspect of it. For example, two hot menu items from industry-leading brands that use Barilla’s pasta were a Thai Chicken Pasta by The Cheesecake Factory, and a Shrimp Farfalle from Buca di Beppo.
Chef and owner Adrian Cruz of Ghost Kitchens SA—a chef who also swears by Barilla’s pasta—has a lot of experience when it comes to creating menus centered around to-go offerings. In order to differentiate his pasta dishes from other brands, he too tries to put twists on the traditional. For example, when he wants to give a tomato sauce some kick, he likes to add chipotle or guajillo.
Bringing in that regional influence is another way that Cruz recommends chefs create separation.
“We’re here in San Antonio, so I like to make a really creamy, decadent mac and cheese and top it off with smoked brisket, Texas-style,” Cruz says. “People really love that dish, and it’s different from what you might get in even a different region of Texas. When I worked on South Padre Island, we might make that same mac and cheese but with a seafood protein to keep it authentic to the region.”
A final way Cruz likes to differentiate his takeout offerings is by using Barilla’s pasta. He likes the consistency and quality of the pasta, also noting that it’s a low-labor SKU that keeps his kitchen operation simple.
“The cuts are perfect when you order Barilla’s pasta,” Cruz says. “If you try and use fresh pasta, it’s going to dry out faster, and you’re not going to have as consistent a dish, especially when it comes to takeout items.”
For more best practices and tips to create unique takeout dishes, visit pastadelivers.com.