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Maximizing your transition to takeout service

Posted by Mike Walmsley on Apr 16, 2020 4:53:31 PM
Mike Walmsley

There are no two ways about it: right now, takeaway is the Big Thing in hospitality. For many businesses, this has been an unavoidable consequence of Coronavirus restrictions. But whether takeaway is something you’re moving towards to adapt to social distancing, or it’s something you’ve always offered, there are measures you can take to make your takeaway offering more appealing to your customers and easier on your business.

In this post, Mike Walmsley walks us through the ins and outs (no pun intended) of adapting to a takeaway menu.

Maximizing takeout blog

As you adjust your menu to takeout options, there are a lot of aspects to consider. Before you make any big changes, there are a lot of elements to think carefully about: cost implications; your menu; customer interaction; branding; and how this is all impacting your staff.

Let's take a look at these issues in more detail.


Correctly costing inclusions

If you are switching your business model to takeaway, it’s important to remember that your food costs have changed. What you thought were the main components of your food cost for each individual item are now different – it’s a good idea to consider recosting every menu item to get a clear overall picture of how your expenses per serve have changed.

One important aspect that may affect cost per serve is how takeaway may inherently change portion size. A straightforward example of this is packaging size – you may be influenced or limited by the size of takeaway containers you select for any given dish.

Say you order 8oz coffee cups for your small takeaway option – but your venue’s small dine-in cup may only be 6oz. Prices might therefore need to be adjusted, as you’re using more milk and potentially more espresso per takeaway serve. Beyond this, there may also be certain inclusions for takeaway that differ from those offered for dine-in (i.e. garnishes, condiments, and so on).

How you serve your menu items has changed too – takeaway requires more single-use packaging than dine-in service, which may alter your costing method. For example, in an eat-in establishment, you would include china, plates, cups, saucers, bowls, plus flatware as operational expenses and not part of the food cost.

Not so with takeout. As much as eight ounces of beef is part of a burger menu item, so too are the takeaway wrappers, containers, and condiments you now include with every serve. All of those single use items need to have their cost calculated into the individual menu item’s total cost. You may also wish to ensure your packaging is eco-friendly as demand goes up.

Be careful with this: you want to make sure your takeout maintains competitive pricing, while still keeping food costs reasonable and staying profitable.

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Takeout is a fundamentally different experience to dine-in 

This might seem like an obvious thing to say, but takeaway is often seen as ‘dine-in, but in a container’. Don’t fall into this trap. If you are accustomed to offering a full-service, sit down restaurant experience, you can’t still do everything you used to do on a takeout menu.

It’s a great idea to reduce the number of items on your menu. Look at the data from your current POS – what does it tell you about items that sell best? At least until you get into the swing of a changed business model, zone in on the menu items with the highest contribution margin.

A useful rule of thumb is the 80/20 rule: 20% of your menu items will generate 80% of your sales. Is this true of your establishment? Maybe start with that 20% of your menu to focus on switching to a takeout format. Expand on what makes sense, and reduce things that don’t.


Your customers will still have expectations of your service and brand

Your change in format means you will have to be especially mindful of meeting the expectations of your current customers. If you want their continued loyalty, you have to give them yours!

Your regular customers come back to you for several reasons – great food, great service, and great guest experience – so it’s important not to let them down when they’re counting on you. And more than that, they’re going out of their way to continue to support you. Make sure you’re still giving them a good reason to.

On another note, you may be switching up your business model, but don’t mess with your brand! Think about your brand now and think about what it may look like in six months as a result of your changes in service format. How do your customers recognise you? What makes you unique and memorable? It’s important not to lose sight of that.

And what about your online presence? Although many restaurants use their website as a teaser to encourage customers to come in for the ‘full experience’, remember that they can’t do that anymore. Alter your website a little to reflect changes.

Be forthcoming online – there’s no point pretending it’s business as usual. That said, make sure your messaging comes from a place of strength. Consumers always appreciate transparency and confidence. This highlights the importance of having a strong, responsive, up-to-date social media presence for your business.

It’s also a great way to stay in touch with customers who may be self-isolating!


Identify new areas of potential and adapt your offering

It’s a cliché, but it’s true – in crisis, you will always find opportunity. What can a takeout-only restaurant offer that table service can’t? Think about what your new business model can offer and lean hard on it.

If you’re a more traditional dine-in venue, take some hints from the QSRs and offer different combo menus! Combos are a great way to keep inventory moving and can offer an enhanced dining experience that customers may not normally try.


Interestingly, a 2015 study by the American National Restaurant Association found that 74% percent of Millennials would prefer to order delivery from a table service restaurant if delivery were an option. The desire for takeaway and delivery was always there – and now heightened with the new realities of social distancing in our communities. Use this to your advantage. Customers may be staying at home, but they still want a great dining experience.

If your establishment had a reputation for being on the more expensive side, this may be an opportunity to alter some of your signature dishes to a more economical takeout-friendly version. If you’re already a QSR with takeout, it maybe a great opportunity to practice a little upselling and offer a more enhanced experience.

Something else to consider: takeaway is undeniably more convenient for customers than dine-in. How can you emphasize this new aspect of your business? Developing a mobile app or desktop ordering may help generate sales. Another idea might be to offer a takeout Happy Hour for online orders! Encourage your customers to see new features as a positive and integral part of your business.


Don't forget: your staff are invaluable

Involve your staff as much as possible. It can be tempting to think you have to make these types of decisions solo, but your staff are an enormous resource. They’re on the “front line” of your business, so they often have a very accurate take on customer feedback and perception. They may have great ideas but hesitate to share them without being asked. A penny for their thoughts, but a pound in return.

Also remember that staff are greatly influenced by the changes you make in your business. If they trust you to communicate, they’ll communicate openly with you too. This will better enable you to keep control over the narrative for your business and help keep everyone sane during trying times.

We hope some of these ideas can help you move into the new business reality so many of us are faced with. Take a deep breath, and take one step at a time.

Have a question? We’re always ready to talk.

Mike Walmssley_blog Mike Walmsley is the author of '69 Tips For Better Food & Beverage Profit'Stay tuned for the next book in the series, '101 More Tips For Better Food & Beverage Profit', coming out soon on Amazon!

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Topics: Hospitality operations, Hospitality marketing, Hotels, Hospitality managers, Restaurants, Bars, COVID-19