April 9, 2020

Restaurants around the country are facing difficult times as they struggle to remain open amid a nationwide crisis. Owners have had to rethink how they approach business, as for many restaurants, offering takeout and delivery is the only option they have to stay open. While takeout is not a new concept, transitioning to a takeout only operation presents a challenge for many food service businesses. The “to-go” restaurant model differs from the traditional in house model with regard to food preparation and can be difficult to implement given the time frame many owners have had to make the switch. 

In light of recent events, restaurants must also take additional precautions to ensure that public safety is accounted for when preparing meals. Having an effective takeout and delivery plan is necessary to remain in business and meet customer demands for quality and safety.

Below are several best practices you can follow to optimize your takeout and delivery operations.

Create a Takeout Menu 

Creating a takeout-specific menu is a crucial aspect of your “to-go” program. Include meals that are easy to transport and will remain fresh upon delivery. Packaging should also be considered, as you will want to use the same set of takeout boxes for every meal you make in order to increase efficiency. 

If you are able to, analyze point of sale data to determine which meals are ordered less frequently. These can be eliminated from your menu in order to save money. In response to the pandemic, several states have loosened their liquor laws allowing restaurants to sell alcohol to customers to take home. Alcohol is responsible for around 30 percent of nationwide restaurant sales, so be sure to include alcoholic beverages on your menu if applicable.

Promote Gift Cards 

Selling gift cards is another way to raise additional funds. Gift cards cost little to nothing to make and have been shown to attract new business while also retaining current customers. Furthermore, 80 percent of customers spend more than the value of their gift card which, in a time where restaurant sales are down, can be extremely beneficial. 

A key component to gift card sales is advertising. Placing a display that showcases gift card availability on your checkout counter will encourage customers to buy when they are picking up food. Promoting gift cards on your website is another effective method you can employ. Customers who visit your site to view your menu will see that you are selling gift cards, helping to drive sales. 

Right now, many restaurants are relying on gift card purchases to support their staff and remain open. If this is the case for your business, it is important that you tell your customers that. Customers understand the impact the pandemic has had on the restaurant industry so being honest about your situation will show them just how valuable their purchase is.

Maintain Quality 

Maintaining quality is, of course, easier when meals are consumed in house as opposed to at home. There are a variety of external factors that need to be accounted for in order to preserve the quality of meals that have been prepared for customers. 

Separate Meal Components by Temperature

When preparing meals, work with your employees to create a system that ensures that hot and cold food will remain separated while in transit. The containers you choose can help with temperature control as well. Materials such as aluminum and paper both retain heat and cold well and can be outfitted with individual pockets so that food is separated.

Keep Food Contained Before Pickup

If food is waiting to be picked up you should be storing it in a cooler or warming cabinet. This will help keep food fresh and safe for the customer. Hot food should be stored at a temperature above 140 °F, while cold food should be stored at a temperature under 40 °F to limit bacterial growth.

Provide Reheating Instructions

Including reheating instructions with “to go” meals shows that you are devoted to providing the best possible dining experience to your customers. Spend some time creating instructions for individual takeout meals to include in every takeaway bag. 

Implement Food Safety Practices

It is essential that restaurants take the proper measures to implement robust food safety protocols. Here are some best practices you can adopt to uphold food safety with delivery and take out.

  • Encourage hands-free payments to limit the spread of germs. 
  • Takeout bags and high-touch surfaces should be regularly disinfected. 
  • Note items that are used often for both pick up and delivery and create a schedule for cleaning.
  • Work with your chefs and drivers to develop hand washing routines and establish processes that eliminate any bare hand contact with food. 
  • If you are using third-party delivery services, supply the driver with hand sanitizer. 
  • Include sanitation guidelines in takeaway bags for customers to use when they get home. 

Ensure Pick Up and Delivery Adhere to Social Distances Protocols

For drivers to maintain six feet of distance, you can implement a contactless drop off protocol. Drivers should leave food at the door and then inform the customer that it has been delivered in order to limit interactions.

With takeaway meals, minimize the number of employees handling food. To adhere to social distancing guidelines, establish a pickup zone where customers can communicate with staff while maintaining six feet of distance. This can be accomplished by limiting the number of customers allowed in your restaurant at one-time.

Any employee who has direct contact with food or takeaway bags should be wearing gloves and a mask. Because there is a shortage of maks right now, the CDC recommends using cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus. These can be made at home and are machine washable. All cloth face masks should be cleaned at the end of the day. 

For more information on how to implement food safety protocols at your restaurant, please visit the CDC or FDA food safety pages. 

Final Thoughts

To make it through these tough times, the restaurant industry must be able to adapt to the new regulations put in place. The shift to a takeout only operation can be difficult for businesses, however, having an effective strategy in place can help significantly. Following these steps can help you ensure that your restaurant is prepared.

Filed under: Restaurants