It will take more than the right menu to instill confidence in anxious consumers."

As communities move to reopen restaurants, we’re seeing many consumers remain wary of the inside dining experience. The uncertainty surrounding the return of on-premise dining has operators wondering how long-lasting the momentous shift to delivery, takeout and drive-through will be.

Here’s one indicator: At the end of March, 66% of consumers surveyed by Datassential predicted they would be safe to dine inside a restaurant “within three months.”

Even if these consumers’ prediction holds, anxious diners will look to restaurant operators to provide a sense of comfort in knowing their food and beverages are safe and meet their expectations. This means a longer-term shift toward business models built on takeout — new territory, especially, for restaurants that were conceived and found success as dine-in experiences.

How can an operator best reimagine their menu and operations for takeout and delivery? Here are three strategies:

  • Offer family meals or free kids’ meals. Family meals, free kids’ meals and bulk offerings have made it easier and more convenient for families to enjoy meals together while practicing social distancing. Three in 10 consumers surveyed by Datassential said multi-serving or family-sized meals would motivate them to order from a restaurant during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Provide pantry staples. Demand for grocery staples can provide opportunities to sell existing resources and position them as cupboard staples or take-home meal kits, creating a new revenue stream. For example, Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches is selling French bread loaves for sale via delivery, pickup, curbside and drive-thru.
  • Offer meal and beverage kits. Meal and beverage kits offer foodservice-quality ingredients and taste with the interactive experience of making it at home. One example: The Bagel Pizza Kit from Einstein Bros. Bagels.

Still, it will take more than the right menu to instill confidence in anxious consumers. What are best practices to execute delivery and take-out menu concepts?  We offer these five must-dos:

  • Prioritize sanitization. Across production, limit the amount of people coming in contact with food. This includes people preparing it, boxing it up and delivering it. If you use a delivery service, know the policy on how their employees are expected to handle food. For curbside pickup, many operators are encouraging customers to call when they are outside so that food can be brought out to them, limiting the number of people coming in contact with the restaurant.
  • Communicate well and with transparency. Share your takeout and delivery items on your website and social media. Be sure to also include messaging about what you are doing for safe food handling to ease customer anxiety and build trust during a time of uncertainty.
  • Offer a limited menu. A limited menu cuts complexity in the back of the house while indicating to customers that you are paying attention to which menu items will fare better for takeout and delivery.
  • Provide tamper-proof packaging. When it comes to ordering delivery or takeout, 46% of customers would like to see tamper-proof seals on food packaging as part of operators’ safe food handling, according to Datassential.
  • Ensure an efficient ordering system. Consider taking orders by phone, email, text or online. For takeout, share an expected pickup time to reduce customer wait time. Offer mobile or online payments.

Will delivery and takeout become mainstream after all restaurants have the green light to open again? Yes. Even pre-pandemic, off-premise business was growing. Long term, though, delivery poses an economic hurdle, as added delivery fees may create barriers for consumers who are scaling back spending.

When inside-dining restrictions are finally lifted, it will take time for people to be fully comfortable returning to dine-in restaurants. Customers will have grown accustomed to takeout and delivery options and will likely expect these options from operators going forward and off-premise sales will likely be a bigger proportion of bottom lines than before COVID-19.

Adapting quickly, while building a solid foundation for the future of the food industry, will be crucial.

Advantage Solutions

Lauren Klein
VP, Culinary and Business Development
CSSI Marketing + Culinary

Lauren Klein joined CSSI Marketing + Culinary in 2010. She previously served as a private chef.

Visit CSSI Marketing + Culinary.