In these tough times it seems takeout food is even more important to the average busy household. These multitaskers cannot waste time coming in to sit down at a restaurant, but they still love restaurant food (and the fact that they don’t have to cook it themselves).
Dine-in business has declined almost 10% from 2000 to 2005 and has continued to decline since. Yet takeout is trending up with no ceiling in sight. It now accounts for 39% of all business according to research firm NPD.
â€˜People are still eating at home, but they’re no longer cooking there,â€™ says Harry Balzer of the NPD Group, who’s been tracking consumer eating patterns for more than 20 years. Restaurants that are not taking more advantage of potential takeout business, or not updating it to fit the new demands of the times, are missing out on valuable business.
â€˜Eventually, the bar will be raised.â€™ says Technomic senior consultant Kathleen Chase when speaking about the need for innovation in takeout. You don’t want to be the restaurant that’s last in line to make it happen.
Making takeout more convenient
The cost to start up a profitable takeout program is minimal compared to the size of the potential return. New ideas are sweeping the industry. Chain restaurants such as Buffalo Wild Wings are leading the industry by creating dedicated takeout stations that make it easy for customers to access. Video cameras were installed at Damon’s Grill, as well as weighted sensors, to help servers know when takeout customers drive up to get their orders.
Even retail heavyweights such as Whole Foods are initiating takeout programs. Competition for the takeout dollar is coming from everywhere, and foodservice operators are scrambling to capture their share of the pieâ€”and we’re not just talking pizza.
Packaging is a critical element
â€˜The important point is to find what works, and then get it in the proper package, immediately,â€™ says Afton Romanczak, director of R&D for Steak-Out, which specializes in steak delivery. Operators need to be careful not to look at containers as just an added expense, Romanczak says; they represent the restaurant’s brand and dining experience. For instance, if an operation is more upscale, it should probably use sleek black containers to reinforce that image. A quick-service unit, on the other hand, can get away with foam containers to project a more economical imageâ€”but then there’s the issue of the environmental concerns, which is a whole other story.
In fact, more and more manufacturers are producing takeout containers that are recyclable, compostable or made from sustainable materials. They’re doing it for one reason: more consumers are demanding itâ€”and restaurants want to meet those demands.
Next time you’re picking up a salad or sandwich â€˜to go,â€™ ask if the container is eco-friendly. You may get a glassy-eyed stare from the crewmember, but we’ll bet the manager will have an answer for you.
This is part of our Beyond the Plate series sponsored by U.S. Foodservice. View the complete series at: www.beyondtheplate.com.