Is Your Carry-Out Menu a Good Option Going Forward?
The move to carry-out orders became a reality in 2020, even for restaurants that would not have considered this option prior to the pandemic. It was a necessary shift for many to survive during the lockdown. However, restrictions are now being lifted as COVID loses its grip on our world, and as an owner or manager, you have no doubt been thinking about what to do next. “Should carry-out be part of my business going forward?” you may be asking yourself. “I have worked so hard to set this up!” you’re thinking. Here are some thoughts about finding the best balance for your concept, if you keep this new part of your business in place.
Back to Business as Usual?
Eating out at a good restaurant is part of a great experience that was missed during the pandemic. The idea of enjoying a meal at your favorite destination is now an option once again – even if not for large parties or with a mix of many different family members. However, not everyone is comfortable with dine-in yet, and for some, the hesitancy will last for months – long after state governments sound the “all-clear.”
The Year that We’ll Never Forget
In response to all the changes caused by the pandemic, restaurants started enhancing their carry-out menus, or adding them where they did not exist. Many bars and pubs turned to an almost exclusive food-driven takeaway service – the exact opposite of the “drink and mingle” foundation of the concept. For bars, the carry-out concept, usually associated with fast food and pizzas, was their saving grace. Many customers were willing to support their favorite watering hole in 2020, with the hope of keeping it afloat until post-pandemic times. And many customers simply wanted a restaurant experience of any kind during the times that dine-in was not allowed.
As a result of all these changes, much has been learned, including new systems for on- line orders, menu items that met different needs, and new staffing levels to accommodate new demands. And many restaurants owners found out that this new approach worked far better than they expected.
Changing Customer Perceptions
The paradigm shift also changed the customer perception of “carry-out.” It is no longer seen as something used only for fast casual, pizza or ice cream – but it became a new way to make food from well-known restaurants available at home. What used to be a “nice night out” was replaced by an intimate dinner in, an upscale family supper, or a casual celebratory buffet in the kitchen. Carry-out played a defining role in the times of our lives in 2020. It was great food, professionally cooked, but enjoyed in the comfort of home – and this is something your customer will want going forward. Perhaps to a far greater degree than anyone might expect.
The Future of Carry-Out for Your Restaurant
The success of carry-out in 2020 may open new opportunities for restaurants going forward. For certain, here are some factors to keep in mind:
- Customer traffic will not “snap” back to previous levels right away, which suggests that restaurants should continue offering carry-out options until and unless they see patterns shifting away from it significantly.
- For some restaurants, with the foundation in place for carry-out, increasing these offerings could result in a sustained new line of income that far surpasses pre- COVID levels. If you are an owner who has been through the learning curve with carry-out enhancements, possibly including the addition of delivery service, consider the potential it could provide with an expanded menu and a marketing push, which might include customers most likely to become repeat customers for takeout.
- Some customers, such as older adults or families with young children, may prefer to continue to eat great restaurant-quality food at home in the foreseeable future, which may become an important new segment for restaurants to capture – if they are well-positioned to do so.These times have created both necessary changes and opportunities for innovation. For many, the lockdown experience with restaurant takeout and delivery may have allowed them to become comfortable with this approach, or simply made them hesitant to change back to the norm of experiencing a crowded dining room. For others, the return to in-restaurant dining will be a long-overdue enjoyment.Being prepared for both options may allow your restaurant to grow stronger than ever, as we put 2020 farther behind us.