Carryout Tips for Restaurants Navigating COVID-19
By: Kim Lorang
As restrictions continue to restrict indoor dining in many areas across the US, restaurant operators are faced with finding new ways to attract diners while adhering to dining restrictions. As the weather gets colder and outdoor dining options diminish, coming up with creative ways to increase carryout orders is a great way to keep doors open safely. We’ve got you covered, with carryout tips from the pragmatic to the creative!
For many foodservice operations, carryout isn’t typically a large part of their business models. If you find yourself trying to create a new business model that will allow you to stay open while riding out the uncertainty that COVID-19 brings, a hybrid of two options might be your best bet for staying afloat: redesigning your current menu and adding creative offerings that will bring new people in the door.
Carryout Tips During COVID-19
Your Current Menu: Pair Down for Success
A limited menu will help you save on food costs, cut down on food waste, and decrease food prep time. If an item would not travel well, remove it from the menu. If a dish is complex, it might be time to replace it with an alternative that takes less time to prepare, as you may be short-handed in the kitchen because of furloughs and layoffs. Spend some time examining your current menu and the sales data surrounding each item. If something isn’t popular, this is a great time to take it off the menu.
Making changes to your carryout menu should be fluid. Reassess what sales have looked like every few weeks and make tweaks accordingly.
Give Them What They Want
COVID-19 has changed everyday life for almost everyone in many ways. The lack of social interaction, people adjusting to working from home, kids learning from home, income uncertainty due to furloughs and layoffs, the uncertainty of when life will go back to “normal”, and the general mental exhaustion these things cause has many craving comfort foods. There has been an increase of people ordering items like mac and cheese, pizza, and other pasta dishes. Consider adding dishes to your menu that will give people that warm and happy feeling that comes from eating a hearty, nostalgic meal. Maybe it’s Shephard’s Pie like your mom always made, a filling chicken pot pie with the perfect golden-brown crust, or lasagna that would make any Italian Grandma cry “deliziosa!”.
Monitor what kinds of food sales are increasing in the restaurant industry and also in grocery stores, and pivot accordingly.
Get Creative with Carryout Options
There may be things you’d never consider adding to your menu during “normal” times that would be hot sellers during COVID. With so many people working from home, adding specialty sandwiches to your menu might attract more customers to your restaurant for lunch. Remember when preparing items for carryout that you tweak them for travel. If you make a turkey sandwich with orange cranberry relish, put the relish on the side to prevent soggy bread. One fun way to jazz up basic menu items is to give customers fun ways to level up their order at home. Take that turkey sandwich: you might suggest putting the potato chips that come on the side ON the sandwich. Another idea is to turn that sandwich into a gooey panini by tossing it in a pan and putting it on the stove before eating (or throwing it on a George Forman grill!). Some out-of-the-box tips printed on a branded note card is a small way to make a lasting impression for something ordinary, like picking up a sandwich for lunch!
Here are some other out-of-the-box carryout tips for attracting new customers with unique offerings:
- To-Go Cocktail Kits: With shelter-in-place restrictions, bars, and restaurants being closed for indoor dining, and people isolating home, cocktail kits are a great way to drum up business! Create kits that include ingredients for your signature cocktails, or consider creating a new cocktail kit each week to encourage people to come back regularly as they become mixologists at home! Check out some options for beverage to-go kits here.
- Bakery Decorating Kits: Adults aren’t the only ones impacted by COVID; kids also face drastic changes. Give them something fun to do by creating decorating kits for things like cakes, cookies, donuts, and more! By offering options for “from scratch” kits so items can be baked at home, and by providing already baked items and the decorating supplies you’ll appeal to both parents looking for a quick way to entertain the kids so they can get some time to themselves, and to bakers who want to make it a family activity!
- Charcuterie Boards: Nothing says comfy and cozy evening at home watching Netflix like a meat and cheese board. Consider standing out by constructing beautiful boards that people can’t wait to eat, give someone as a gift, and share on social media! Remember, it isn’t a rule that only meats and cheeses should be used. Make a movie night candy board by including candy and popcorn, or a football-themed board with all sorts of finger foods to snack on.
- Brunch and Bloody Mary Kits: A meal kit complete with all the fixings for a great weekend breakfast is a great way to bring in the breakfast crowd that you might not usually cater to. Consider crafting a signature Bloody Mary with loads of fixings to stand out and make your kit extra special.
- Meal Kits: Perhaps some of your most-loved menu items would not travel well, making them unsuitable for your carryout menu. Instead of scrapping them completely, consider creating a meal kit so that customers can enjoy your popular dishes by cooking them at home.
- Holiday and Event Meals: Consider putting together holiday packages and items that would appeal to people during other events, like sports events, graduations, and other popular events. To get extra creative, consider making limited-time meal kits or menu options that have themes around pop culture happenings. New season of The Crown dropping on Netflix? Consider a meal kit with a good ol’ gin and Dubonnet, Callaloo (a Caribbean stew), and chocolate biscuit cake…all favorites of the Queen herself!
Spread the Word
Now, more than ever, marketing your business and carryout options will significantly impact your ability to drive business during COVID. You could be offering the best items that people would go crazy over, but if you’re not properly marketing these items, no one will know about them!
A few ways you can market your carryout options are:
- Social Media: Now is the time to hit social media hard. Make sure your hours and dining options are updated, post your current menu, and post pictures of your newly created menu items.
- Ask for Help: As always, word of mouth is one of the best marketing tools. Ask your customers to spread the word that you’re open, and encourage them to share pictures of themselves enjoying your kits and food by tagging your social pages, so others are led to your pages.
- Email Lists: If you have an email list, be sure to send your subscribers reminders about your offerings. If you don’t have a list yet, this is a great time to start one! Here are some tips for getting started.
As we continue to live in a COVID-19 world, our ability to pivot and find ways to adapt is all we can do. While providing carryout orders is not the same as giving people great experiences through indoor dining, it’s a great way to remain open and serve the diners that love your establishments until we get to the other side. Really, the enjoyment of dining in a restaurant is just as much about the experience as it is the food and drinks. With some creative tweaks, you can give your diners a memorable experience even if they are enjoying your food and drinks in their dining room instead of yours. We hope these carryout tips inspire you to redesign your menu in ways that will have new customers flocking to your establishment for order pickups!