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Don't flake-out on take-out

We've all experienced the frustration of sitting down, unpacking the to-go orders and hearing someone exclaim "Hey, this isn't what I ordered!" You dial the phone, lodge your complaint, and hear the same, predictable and inadequate response, "If you come by in ten minutes, we'll have your order ready for you."

But who wants to get back in the car when everyone else is ready to eat? More often than not, you'll eat what you got and swear you'll...what? Never go back? Make 'em pay? Give that manager a piece of your mind next time? Demand a free lunch? Is this how you want your customers to think of you?

The profit potential on take-out is high, but so is the potential to make a lasting, negative impression. It doesn't have to be that way, if you apply a system of double checks.

First and foremost, double check the order against a specialized "take-out ticket" checklist. Things to include on your check list: Menu items, related condiments, side dishes, napkins, utensils, a "post sale" marketing piece (describing your specials, theme nights, loyalty dining programs), thank-you card, and sample menu.

Next, is your packaging "transportable?" Do containers stack easily? Are items with sauces, soups or salad dressings securely sealed so the Marinara doesn't end up on your customer's leather upholstery? Don't skimp on packaging. Quality packaging goes a long way toward higher price perception. Take-out can move from a mere convenience to a special treat if packaged correctly.

How about your restaurant's identity? Often your to-go containers end up in the refrigerator with other leftovers. Do your containers feature your name, logo and phone number? You can make a big impression for little cost with a variety of labels. You can design them to allow a space to hand write the contents and/or date. Let your packaging be a visual reminder of a convenient, quality meal.

Finally, assure your customers that you've made an extra effort. Use a simple form to show that the order was packed correctly and checked for accuracy. Attach the form to the outside of the bag, and review it when the customer picks up the order.

Lasting impressions of a positive kind. That's what take-out can and should be.

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