Whether you’ve been doing it for years or are just looking at new revenue streams today, savvy restaurateurs know there are few things that drive more sales — and with such relatively little effort — as a take-out menu.
The demand is irrefutable. According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), 34 percent of consumers say that getting take-out is essential to their daily lives. And so, putting your establishment in the best possible position to make ordering out a great experience to customers can be just as essential to your livelihood.
But while the effort required to get a take-out menu and delivery service going can seem relatively slight by comparison to other new revenue streams — catering, expanding your physical space, opening a food truck or a second location — there are still many details to consider. How you handle your take-out business — right down to each and every order — can mean the difference between seating customers again and again or seeing your business walk on out.
Choose your take-out menu wisely.
The usual caveats apply to take-out that we discuss about other menu styles. Legibility, menu design, and spotlights all contribute to a successful experience for your take-out customer. But recognize that those reading this particular menu are doing so with a completely different set of circumstances than those perusing your dining room menu with a server at the ready.
It is true that at-home diners tend to order less impulsively in regard to appetizers and desserts than those that frequent your dining room. However, the take-out experience is much more conducive to offering add-ons and customizations in small increments. That taco salad on your paper menu will likely get ordered as-is nine times out of 10.
But when ordering in the comfort of one’s own home from a website menu, customers — particularly millennials predisposed to customization — can add extra protein, guacamole, or extra cheese without a second thought. It’s the genius that pizza delivery services have mastered over the years. No server to upsell? Let the menu do it for you.
Remember: not everything on your regular menu has to go on your take-out menu. If a particular dish is likely to arrive soggy or significantly different than it would if served in your restaurant — fried onion rings or baked Alaska, for instance — don’t include it. It ensures your customers get the best possible experience, and it may even give frequent take-out diners a reason to pop in for a meal onsite.
No matter what you include on this version of the menu, make sure you have a stack of paper take-out menus on hand (near the exit) for customers to take home immediately after a positive experience in your dining room. And if you post your full menu on your website, be sure to note if some items can’t be delivered. Otherwise the person ordering is stuck scrambling for a replacement item when they call and you say it’s not available.
Make sure pick up is as easy as delivery.
Establishing a dedicated area for pick-up orders is crucial, not just to ensure the success of your take-out business, but also to protect the sanctity of your main dining room income. Make sure to have very clear signage posted immediately inside your doors (assuming you use a single entrance for both) that directs patrons to exactly where orders can be picked up.
This designated area should not be located in the space reserved for guests waiting for tables or in main thoroughfare that leads to the host station. You don’t want to clog up your guest flow, nor should you have customers tripping over or squeezing past each other.
Many restaurants — even those not in the quick service segment of the industry — have begun operating drive-through windows to make this conflict of customer needs more tenable. At the very least, if a significant proportion of your business is in pick-up, it’s advisable to designate a few extra parking spaces near the pick-up entrance for customers to get in and out of your lot more easily.
Have a dedicated expediter.
Establishing one person per shift who is responsible for double checking every take-out or delivery order before it hits the street is absolutely crucial to any restaurant serious about getting it right for the customer. Just as a server functions in some ways as an advocate for their orders between the front and back of house, this take-out expediter can stay on top of the precarious timing and accuracy of orders that go out the door.
Every take-out order should be mapped in your point of sale system accordingly, but having an employee responsible for eliminating errors and missteps goes a long way toward getting it right every time.
Ultimately, mistakes will happen, but with take-out and delivery orders, mistakes are particularly frustrating, and can be exceptionally time-consuming to correct. Constantly having to remake — and redeliver — orders can lead to lost efficiency, possible refunds, and a lot of ill will among your customers.
Prepare to get knocked around.
Speaking of ill will, nothing soils the reputation of your take-out or delivery service like messiness. Utilizing sturdy packaging and stacking items carefully when packing is a skill well worth learning, and every one of your customers will appreciate you for it. There’s nothing like waiting an hour for your food and finding one item has spilled and made the entire order nearly inedible for the mess.
Also, be wary of grouping hot and cold items in the same bag. You want every dish to arrive in optimal condition, and to taste as if they were eating it at a table in your restaurant. That’s less likely if your salad is wilted by the steam from your spaghetti, or your pizza arrives with a layer of cold, solidified grease.
Be cautious about food safety conditions and cross contamination when packing, as well. If selling pre-packaged or frozen goods through your take-out menu, a use-by date is recommended to keep your customers from contracting food borne illnesses.
Reinforce great customer service.
It should go without saying that your staff should treat take-out customers with the same exceptional customer service that they give customers sitting down at a table. In fact, according the the NRA, at least 43 percent of take-out customers are your dining room customers as well.
But even if they never actually set foot into your dining room, even when there’s a phone or website between you and your customer, the highest quality of customer service defines who you are as a restaurant — even more than your food does, believe it or not.
Provide extra training for every staff member touching a take-out or delivery order, particularly for your delivery drivers. They should be as personable and friendly to your customers as the servers in your dining room.
And don’t forget to encourage customers to reward your employees for that great service. Tipping can be awkward, particularly when someone picks up the food themselves, but leaving a tip jar out near that register can be subtle encouragement in plain view that doesn’t overreach.
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