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5 ways to maximize off-premise opportunities

Americans remain fond of dining out, but their definition of “out” has been turned on its head with the proliferation of takeout, delivery, catering and other off-premise alternatives. And it’s on the rise—according to Technomic’s 2016 Takeout & Off-Premise Consumer Trend Report, 49% of 18- to 34-year-olds say they’re ordering food to go now more than three years ago. 

Pizza operators are old hands at this, but now that chains such as McDonald’s and Panera Bread are committing to mobile ordering and delivery, operators that want to satisfy the growing appetite for to-go meals may need to rethink their approach.

Facility designs are evolving to factor in takeout and delivery orders. Traditional full-service restaurants are likely to face the biggest transformation as they adapt to the shift away from dining in. Existing operations may find themselves converting portions of less-filled dining rooms into dedicated areas for takeout assembly or pickup.

The need for speed is also integral to any successful takeout or delivery program. Fast-casual restaurants such as Chipotle Mexican Grill or Fox Restaurants’ Flower Child have designed separate food-prep and pickup lines to handle online orders more expeditiously.

Packaging that allows food to travel well and doesn’t compromise a restaurant’s culinary reputation is another challenge. A beautifully plated dinner, or even something as basic as french fries, can’t be expected to arrive the same way after being dumped into a clamshell, sealed in plastic wrap, bagged and transported in a delivery van. Innovative containers may solve this problem in the future, but it’s an issue to be considered.

Technology drives a healthy chunk of takeout and delivery orders. Anything a restaurant can do to facilitate convenient self-ordering is likely to translate to stronger off-premise sales. The National Restaurant Association found that 34% of diners opt for delivery or takeout more frequently when technology eases the ordering process. Younger customers are particularly engaged with catchy ordering channels, such as chatbots, texting and social emojis, and orders through gaming consoles or smart TVs.

Ordering and delivery solutions like Grubhub and UberEats continue to multiply, offering smaller operators an alternative to staffing up and taking on liability, but siphoning profits. And Technomic research shows that 46% of diners over the age of 35 as well as 42% of 18- to 34-year-olds would rather place their order directly with the restaurant, not an intermediary.

The good news: Off-premises dining doesn’t necessarily cannibalize dining room sales. And there is evidence that online ordering, which allows guests to consider choices at their leisure, often encourages bigger checks.

This post is sponsored by Blount Fine Foods

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