While your first concern should be for the health and safety of yourself, staff, customers, and loved ones right now, it would be a lie to say you’re not allowed to be worried about your restaurant during COVID-19.
As of this article’s publication, more than 20 U.S. states have placed temporary restrictions on eating and drinking in restaurants (a number that is likely to grow in the near future). As the world puts a strong emphasis on social distancing, restaurateurs are in a moment of added panic during this global pandemic, worried about whether or not their doors will be open after the threats and fears of COVID-19 subside.
Some restaurants have made the decision to temporarily close altogether during this time–and you may decide that this route is the best choice for the time being. However, in the wake of COVID-19, restaurants are leaning into alternative ways to move inventory, keep staff working, and delight their guests by focusing on delivery and takeout.
Off-premise consumption of your restaurant’s food is the silver lining for your business during this otherwise dark time. However, not all restaurants were intended to be takeout-first businesses, so getting your regulars to associate your name with to-go food might seem like a challenge.
Don’t worry–we’re here to help. There are millions of hungry diners missing the taste of their favorite restaurant’s food right now, and in this article, we’ll explain how to get your food to them safely and efficiently in the coming weeks.
The Pros of Offering Delivery and Takeout
Outside of current health concerns, offering takeout and delivery can be an easy way to increase revenue and serve more patrons. Here are a few reasons to consider exploring these off-premise dining options.
- As a delivering restaurant, your food is accessible to those who are unable to leave their homes, leave their offices, or travel to your restaurant
- You’ll reach a potentially new or wider audience by utilizing third-party restaurant delivery business. Grubhub alone has more than 20 million active users
- Adding delivery can increase restaurant sales volume by up to 20%
- Your kitchen’s efficiency will be optimized, since you’ll be increasing output without seating additional guests
- Plus, once your restaurant is up-and-running at full capacity, your delivery revenue channel will make your regular margins extra healthy
- UberEats, DoorDash, and Grubhub have temporarily waived or reduced delivery fees for all independently owned restaurants
- Like with delivery, you’ll increase your kitchen’s efficiency and output
- You’ll capture an audience that wants your food but may not have the time for a dine-in meal
- Takeout appeals to solo diners who may not want to sit in the restaurant alone
- Because takeout only involves cooks and counter workers, you won’t need to utilize the time of your servers, bussers, or bartenders to make the sale, which can increase table turn and keep your workers productive
Pivoting to Become a takeout or Delivering Restaurant
We get it–food from your steakhouse or gastropub just isn’t the same when it’s not enjoyed in your restaurant, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to refocus your business for the time being. There are more diners, takeout methods, and ordering platforms than ever before, so here are the steps you should take to get more orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Order Takeout Supplies
You won’t be needing glasses, ceramic plates, or silverware for a while.
Talk to your vendors to see if you can order supplies needed to get food from your restaurant’s kitchen to your customers’ kitchen tables, such as:
- Food containers.
- Dressing / sauce containers.
- Takeout bags.
- Wrapped plastic cutlery.
- Condiment packets.
You’ve put a lot of thought into your menu, but now’s a time to streamline it even more to keep your kitchen efficient and to cut back on waste.
During this time, you should focus on making foods that you think are most likely to entice your biggest fans to place an order. Your best sellers should be front and center, with a timely emphasis on comfort food. You could also use this time to try out a rotating daily menu for consistently new offerings and optimal freshness.
If you’re insistent that your restaurant’s food is best enjoyed fresh, consider providing meal kits for pick up or delivery so guests can cook everything in the comfort of their own homes. Be sure to promote this offering on your Instagram account like BRATO Brewhouse & Kitchen did (don’t worry, we’ll get to more marketing ideas later!).
There are two more opportunities for you to consider when it comes to optimizing your menu for takeout: combos and family-style platters.
- Because sides and drinks tend to have the highest markups, consider combos more prominent for takeout and delivery. These orders increase your kitchen’s output, yield a higher profit margin, and generate more revenue than single-item orders.
- With adults working from home and schools being closed, most parents don’t want to spend the night cooking. Building off of the idea above, try adding family-size platters to your menu with portions for four or more. These platters also increase kitchen throughput and revenue, since you’re getting more food out of your kitchen from a single ticket.
3. Alter Your Staff and Scheduling
By now, you’ve realized you won’t be needing your waiters and waitresses to operate in the normal roles for the time being–but they can still put in hours for different tasks.
Front of House
Servers still need to pay their bills, so see if they would be open to working any of the following jobs during this period:
- Making deliveries
- Facilitating orders from third-party delivery services (there are a lot of them–which we’ll get to)
- Working in the back-of-house as a cook or dishwasher
- Taking phone orders or monitoring online orders
- Doing counter work and giving guests their takeout orders
Obviously, this time is a big change for your front-of-house staff, too. Their hours and wages are likely to be cut drastically over the next several weeks or even months, and the above roles are not what they signed up for.
Given the demand for off-premise dining you’ll receive if you play your cards right, you’ll certainly need help with these tasks. Offering up these roles is a way for your loyal employees to bring in some income during these trying times.
Back of House
With more delivery and takeout orders coming into your kitchen, you’ll likely need to beef up your back of house staffing to meet the demand. Consider staffing more chefs, kitchen preppers, and cutting back on dishwashers to balance out your labor costs during this period of takeout-only.
Given the current circumstances, monitor your sales forecasts through your integrated POS for delivery and takeout orders to determine how many employees you’ll need on each shift and where you’ll need them the most.
4. Choose Your Delivery Platform
As we mentioned earlier, there are multiple delivery methods for you to utilize, but they can be simplified into two categories: third-party services and in-house delivery. You can choose to go with one or both–depending on what you deem is best for your business.
Third-Party Restaurant Delivery Businesses
In an effort to increase demand for orders, many restaurant delivery services have stepped up during COVID-19 by waiving or postponing the collection of delivery fees.
New to third-party online ordering? Here are a few of the delivery software choices you can pick from:
While this move is a noble one from these companies, it doesn’t mean restaurants are off the hook for the percentage-based fees they owe to these platforms for connecting them to the customer. Third-party ordering and restaurant delivery businesses charge up to 30% of the order’s total for their service, meaning if you get an order for $50 through one of them, you’ll owe up to $15 of that order to the ordering service.
Since average labor costs and food cost percentages each hover around 30% (or 60% total), this only leaves you with a 10% margin on each of your orders–and that’s not ideal in this climate.
To counter that cost, revisit our second tip on how to re-engineer your menu for the time being. For these third-party delivery platforms, limiting menu options to high-margin items or combos with sides, drinks, and desserts–which bring your average food costs down and boost profit–can help you do more than break even on these orders.
You can also offer delivery in-house. For the time being, employ willing waiters and waitresses as delivery drivers, walkers, or bikers. You can charge a delivery fee on each order to go to the restaurant, plus deliverers can benefit directly from tips.
Direct delivery is the best way to get started with delivery immediately, and you can keep your current employees on payroll before paying third-party deliverers. It’s a win for the restaurant, your customers, and your employees until you can open up your dining room again. All you need is a phone, and bonus points if you have in-house online ordering, too!
Pro Tip: If you are looking to setup delivery and want to avoid the costly commission fees charged by 3rd party delivery services, look at setting up a Direct Delivery service which you control. 7shifts and SevenRooms have partnered together to offer restaurants Direct Delivery – on online ordering platform you control, to drive commission-free orders from your website, email and social media channels. The benefits of direct delivery are that you control the ordering, ensure maximum profitability, control your guests data, and can use marketing automation to drive repeat orders.
If you want to see how Direct Delivery can work for your restaurant, you can book a demo with our team right here.
Your customers are just as concerned about health as you are, and many are hoping to avoid contact with others.
Mention during your phone orders that you’re offering curb-side or contactless pickup, and see if you can add it as an instruction for your online orders as well.
Contactless pickup enables customers to pre-pay for their orders, show up to a designated spot within the restaurant, and pick up their food without interacting with your employees. Simply utilize a shelf in your front-of-house like Sweetgreen does in the example below.
No shelf? No problem! Set up a space in your unused dining room or section off parts of your bar as contactless pickup zones. Might we suggest one table for orders under the name A-D, one for E-H, and so on?
You can also explore curb-side pickup – an option for those who don’t want to wait for delivery, but also don’t want to go inside the restaurant. Have a gloved employee bring meals to guests’ cars or to a designated space outside if guests want it that way.
6. Optimize Your Kitchen and Order Firing
If you’re just getting started with third-party online ordering and delivering, chances are you won’t have an integration that sends orders directly through your POS. In that case, you’ll have to send them to the kitchen manually.
Encourage your employees to enter orders only when the driver is within cooking distance from your restaurant. In other words, if it takes 8 minutes to cook what was ordered, make sure the kitchen starts making it when the driver is about 10 minutes away from your restaurant. This way, you can ensure food leaves the restaurant fresh from the kitchen so your customers get as close to a dine-in experience as possible.
7. Spread the Word
It’s okay if you’re new to delivery and takeout–so long as you’re not new to marketing.
If you are new to these ordering methods, your customers may not know it’s still an option to order from you right now. Therefore, it’s essential to spread the word on as many platforms as possible so your customers know you’re open for business and ready to feed them.
Utilize your website, online ads, and the social media presence you’ve built up to alert your customers that you’re open for business with delivery and pick-up orders. Remove the extra step by linking them to the best way to place an order–be it your app, your website, your preferred third-party service, or even your phone number.
Spreading the word is easier than you think–check out how Honeygrow, which is offering free delivery and curb-side pickup, uses a quick video to encourage their Facebook audience to consider Honeygrow for their next meal.
Some ideas you can try implementing to promote your ordering options include:
- Sharing the news through Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter posts–after all, people really are on social media now more than ever.
- Adding a link to your online ordering site to your social media accounts.
- Adding your menu or images of your food to your Instagram Stories and/or Facebook Moments.
- Putting a notice or pop-up on the homepage of your website, linking to the best ordering method.
- Spending some money on Facebook/Instagram ads if you have the funds available to you.
- Exploring a daily, rotating, or limited-time menu.
- Getting more first-time orderers with discount codes for free or discounted delivery (provided they’re through your own website or placed over the phone).
- Encouraging guests to purchase a gift card through Rally For Restaurants from your restaurant to help with liquidity during COVID-19 (sign up for the service here). This option is best if you’ve determined staying open and offering takeout/delivery isn’t right for your restaurant.
Pro Tip: People are understandably concerned about sanitation right now, so in all of your ads and promotional posts, mention that you’re keeping your kitchen properly sanitized beyond your typical standards of cleanliness. Use words like “professional,” “clean,” “safe,” “sanitized,” and “washed” to help get the message across and reassure your customers.
Delivering the Light at the End of the Tunnel
We know these are difficult times for your restaurant, and that you’ve made decisions you never wanted to make in your role as restaurateur. However, this chaos will eventually come to an end, and it’s your job to innovate and chase your customer without jeopardizing your personal health and safety or the longevity of your business.
While they may not have been the predominant cog of your business two weeks ago, delivery and takeout are viable options for keeping your doors open both during and after the COVID-19 crisis, so update your website, reassess your staff, and get cooking–after you sanitize your kitchen, of course.
If you need more advice during the weeks ahead, we’re here to help. Visit our COVID-19 for Restaurants Best Practices Guide, or follow us on Instagram as we post free resources for restaurants for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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AJ Beltis is a freelance writer with almost a decade of experience in the restaurant industry. He currently works as a content manager at HubSpot, and previously as a blogger at Toast.