“More than half of consumers said they’re very willing to use drive-thru windows and carryout service, and nearly half are very willing to get food delivered. The initiative most people said would motivate them to use a restaurant right now is a discount on a future dine-in visit for a delivery or carryout order today. ” – Datassential 3/19/2020
Even as authorities have shuttered restaurants to curb the coronavirus outbreak, many are allowing takeout, drive-thru and delivery to continue. If these types of service are new to your operation, you probably have a lot of questions:
- Should I use a third-party delivery service or not?
- What types of menu items travel well?
- What types of packaging should you look into?
- How do you get the word out about your new service?
Clean and sanitary wins
- Overcommunicate to your customers about safety measures you’re taking
- Make sure your workers are using personal protective equipment while making food; take pictures of the precautions and share on social media.
- Use tamper-resistant delivery bags or or seal deliveries with stickers to assure customers that their food is safe and untainted by a third-party.
- Assure your customers that you’re following all CDC and FDA guidelines related to food prep, handling and labeling.
Figure out who’s going to deliver your food
According to the same Datassential study, consumers prefer direct delivery from their restaurant in an effort to save the restaurant from having to pay steep third-party delivery fees.
For operators who don’t want to manage their own delivery logistics, third-party delivery may be the fastest way to bolt-on delivery to your business. As of this writing, two of the largest third-party delivery services—GrubHub and UberEats—have waived customers’ delivery fees on orders from independently owned restaurants in the U.S.
Employing a third-party service has another benefit as well: marketing. When you sign up with these services, you’re immediately visible to customers browsing their app as a restaurant that delivers. As hungry, homebound consumers begin adopting these apps in the coming weeks, many for the first time, it can help drive traffic you would otherwise miss.
Edit your menu for takeout and delivery
Many of your dishes may not be up to the rigors of takeout and delivery. If it’s not going to maintain quality after 20 minutes or more in a delivery container, take it off your delivery menu. Consider offering family-style meal deals that can be reheated at home.
Here are a few things from Simplot’s portfolio that have already proven themselves for takeout and delivery:
Battered fries: Fries are the #1 most popular menu item across all age groups, so they’re important. Battered fries retain their crispness in muggy delivery containers and help prevent the dreaded soggy fries. Here are a few of our battered fries that work well off-premise:
Simplot Bent Arm Ale® Craft Beer Batter
Simplot Harvest Fresh Avocados™
Simplot SIDEWINDERS™ Fries
Simplot Thunder Crunch®
Simplot Simple Goodness™ Vegetables
Simplot RoastWorks® Roasted Potatoes, Vegetables & Fruit
Simplot Good Grains™ Ancient Grains & Vegetable Blends
Simplot Harvest Fresh Avocados™
Choose packaging that works for you, not against you
Good delivery/takeout packaging protects your food from crushing and contamination, but it’s critical in two more important ways: temperature regulation and moisture control. Proper packaging offers a good balance between keeping food warm (or cold) while allowing in enough air to mitigate condensation that can make the food soggy and customers unhappy.
Here are a few of the most common options:
Paper/cardboard: Paper containers offer a good combination of temperature retention, strength and ventilation options. They’re also biodegradable and can be branded easily to suit your operation. If you’re using paper cartons for hot items that need to stay crisp (like fries), use scissors to cut the two smaller flaps completely off to allow more air to circulate.
Plastic: Plastic containers are certainly strong enough for delivery, but harder to justify environmentally these days as many cities have given up recycling certain plastics, at least for the time-being. Punching ventilation holes in plastic may be more challenging.
Styrofoam: It’s a great insulator but environmentally controversial and prone to making food soggy. To ventilate, twist the tip of a knife into the top and sides of the package so steam can escape.
When packing food for delivery, follow these tips:
- Package hot and cold items separately. Bag them separately, too.
- Pack fries in their own container— never in the same package as burgers and hot sandwiches—so they stay crisp.
- Place hot items at the bottom of a paper bag and insulate them by placing paper napkins around and between them. If the order includes fries, put the fries near the top of the bag, fold the bag closed and seal it with a staple or sticker.
Use contact-free pickups and deliveries: Contact-free deliveries are straightforward: the delivery person simply places the food on a safe doorstep, in a lobby or other designated area, then immediately calls or texts the customer to let them know their food has arrived. This prevents direct, person-to-person interactions. To work smoothly, all payments must be received by phone or online. We also recommend sealing the bag with a sticker so customers know it hasn’t been opened (and possibly contaminated) by someone else.
For the most up-to-date food safety and handling recommendations, please review the CDC’s guidelines here:
Spread the word!
Marketing your new service is critical to success. Start with the people who know you best, your existing customers, and work your way out.
Email: Your email list is gold at a time like this, a direct line of communication to people who already like your restaurant. We recommended sending the announcement of your new service multiple times to ensure they get the message. Include personal remarks to let your best customers know how you’re doing and how much you appreciate their continued business (more on this below).
Website: Make mention of the new service prominently on your home page and include a link to your delivery menu. Make sure the announcement takes up enough real estate on-screen so it can’t be missed.
Social media: These are great channels to tell the story of how your restaurant is coping and innovating under these historic circumstances. Use photos and videos to show customers you’re making deliveries and filling takeout orders, using extra precautions to ensure their safety. Post short videos of your staff hustling to bring their favorite dishes to their door. Be sure to update your Yelp! profile to include your off-premise service.
Exterior banners: If you’re located along a commuter corridor, take advantage of your visibility to promote your off-premise service with large banners. Make sure the lettering is big with strong contrast between the type and the background color. Include your phone number and web address.
Search engine marketing: If your digital marketing skills are more advanced, consider buying search keywords through Google related to delivery, your menu type and your location.
Overcommunicate to reassure Guests: In a crisis like this, your customers are hungry for information, especially with regard to the steps you’re taking to keep them safe. Make sure you’re clear and transparent with regard to food safety and handling, and your policies for delivery and pickup.
Equally important, never miss an opportunity to tell your customers how much you appreciate their support. Call, email or text after every delivery (or pick up) to thank them and get their feedback. Consider adding a little love note to every bag going out the door.
Above all, show them you understand their priorities: good food, made and delivered safely.
Count on Me: This is an incredibly difficult time for you, your work family and your loved ones at home. Please know I’m doing everything I can to help operators continue to serve their Guests through this crisis and beyond. If you have any questions or concerns as you start up your off-premise service, please contact me here.
We will get through this together.