How to Successfully Transition to Offering Your Restaurant’s Food To-Go

Historically, the food delivery and takeout market have been extremely limited in their scope. Many restaurants were hesitant to enter the market, with concerns around the feasibility of serving their food to-go, handling the added strain on kitchen operations, and the lack of consumer interest.

However, today, the global food delivery market is worth more than $150 billion, more than tripling in value since 2017. Much of this growth has been attributed to the pandemic, when diners and restaurants alike were forced to rethink how they interacted. In the United States alone, the food delivery market has more than doubled since the start of the pandemic, and the behaviors consumers learned during lockdowns are continuing.

Offering your restaurant’s food to-go is highly beneficial during this growth in the market. It allows you to not only retain existing customers who might now be looking for alternatives to dining in but also to tap into a growing segment of new customers who prefer dining at home but are less inclined to cook their own meals.

However, the transition to offering your food to-go requires a strategic approach. Handle the transition poorly, and you’re at risk of damaging your restaurant’s brand image. Let’s take a look at the top seven ways you can ensure a smooth transition to food takeout and delivery.


#1: Make Sure You Have the Right Ordering System in Place

First and foremost, before you launch a to-go food menu, you need to make sure you have the right ordering system in place. Prior to offering takeout and delivery, many restaurants have relied on their waitstaff to place orders via an internal POS system. Diners sit down, they are greeted, they place their order, and the magic happens — all without a need for consumers to access a restaurant’s ordering system.

When offering takeout and delivery, you’ll need to ensure that you have a system in place that allows your customers to place their own orders. This system needs to be extremely user-friendly, making it simple for customers to select off a menu, choose add-ons and sides, and leave notes for the kitchen.

Additionally, your ordering system will need to be easy to access on any device. In some cases, a customer might be sitting at their work computer, placing an order for lunch delivery from a desktop PC. In other cases, they might be heading home, tapping a curbside pickup order into their mobile device.

No matter how customers find you, they need to be able to quickly and intuitively place an order, and that order needs to be delivered to your team immediately and accurately. Even the smallest mistake in the information provided to your kitchen staff could turn a takeout experience into a negative one.


#2: Consider Designing a Limited Menu

As you set up your digital ordering system, consider what you will include on your takeout menu. A big mistake many restaurants made early on in the pandemic was to simply transition their entire menu into a to-go format. This led to a myriad of issues.

For starters, when food is ordered to-go or is delivered to a customer’s doorstep, there is a longer period of time between when it was in the kitchen and when it is being consumed. Certain foods do not hold up well during the delivery process, and others lose their appeal quickly when served to-go. Additionally, adding your entire menu as a to-go option can cause issues for your kitchen staff as they cannot handle the influx of new orders alongside orders placed by those dining in.

Instead, it is best to launch a limited menu that has been specifically designed for takeout and delivery. Work with your kitchen staff to understand which menu items will hold up best in transit while still providing a positive, tasty experience for your customers.

This can also allow you to hone in on what menu items will be easiest for your kitchen staff to prepare quickly, ensuring fast turnaround times for delivery items. Make sure that whatever menu you design, your kitchen staff has practiced the menu items and understands what should be included with any to-go order.


#3: Think About Your Food’s Packaging

In the past, most to-go food has either shown up on someone’s doorstep in a cardboard pizza box or a styrofoam clamshell. While these are viable options, think carefully about the food you serve and what packaging will best match your restaurant’s brand image.

For example, if you operate an upscale steakhouse, throwing your porterhouse into a styrofoam box will detract from the quality of your food. Instead, think about how you can package your food in a way that reflects your restaurant’s focus. Consider investing in eco-friendly packaging if you serve an environmentally conscientious crowd. Make sure to add the right garnishes to each dish.

Additionally, you’ll want to consider how well your food will travel in each container type. Test your menu out before launching to the public with a soft launch to family, friends, and employees. Think about the experience — beyond just the food itself — to ensure that you uphold your brand reputation.


#4: Offer a Variety of Pickup / Delivery Options

Now that an immense number of restaurants have transitioned to offering their food to-go, consumers are accustomed to having numerous options for how they will get their meals. Make sure to add a variety of pickup and delivery options to your to-go menu.

For example, include the following:

  • Curbside pickup: Through this method, customers simply show up — usually to an assigned parking spot — never leave their car and have their meal handed to them by staff.
  • Traditional takeout: The original version of to-go food, a customer places their order, is given an estimated time for pickup, and walks into your restaurant to grab their food.
  •  Delivery: Opting for delivery allows your customers to have their orders hand-delivered to their homes or businesses.
  • Contactless delivery: An outcome of the pandemic, many consumers still prefer to have their orders delivered without contact with a delivery driver. In this case, customers are simply notified via text or an in-app message that their food has arrived.


#5: Ensure the Ordering and Payment Process is Simple

In addition to creating an easy-to-use platform for ordering and picking a delivery option, make sure that the ordering system you use makes the payment process simple. Customers should be able to quickly pay from within the ordering platform, with multiple options for making their payment.

Additionally, be sure that the payment process is secure and that your customers are aware of how you handle their information. Outdated systems are often difficult to use and can leave customers wary of how their data is being protected.


#6: Market to Customers, Old and New

Once you are confident that your ordering system is working well, that your staff is ready to roll, and that the food you deliver will meet expectations, it’s time to market your new to-go menu.

Take a two-fold approach to your marketing strategy, aiming to reach both old and new customers with your menu.

For existing customers, consider offering them an incentive to try out your new to-go menu, such as a discounted price on their first order. If you have a customer loyalty program, this is the perfect place to launch your new promotion, targeting customers via in-app notifications, text messages, emails, and paid digital marketing strategies.

Additionally, expand your reach by targeting potential new customers. There might be an entire category of consumers that would be interested in your restaurant but only order to-go food. Advertising to this segment that you now offer a to-go menu can allow you to instantly grow your customer base. You can do this by marketing through third-party delivery platforms, targeting specific consumer categories via digital paid ads, and advertising locally.


#7: Gather Data and Adjust Continually

Once you have launched your new to-go menu and the orders start pouring in, make sure to gather data on these customers. Create a database that details information about those who only order to-go or delivery and those who still dine-in but occasionally opt for to-go. This will help you learn more about your customers’ behaviors and provide you with insights that will dictate future marketing campaigns.

Additionally, look for trends in your new to-go menu and measure your profit margins on these menu items. Over time, you might realize that some of your original ideas for your to-go menu are not performing as well or are not profitable. If you notice that certain menu items lead to a poor customer experience, dig into why and adjust accordingly.

During this period of time, it will be critical to pay close attention to your online reviews as well. This will help you keep an eye on whether or not your new menu is a success or is detracting from your brand’s image.


Contact Ally Today

If you are considering launching a to-go menu, make sure that your restaurant is ready by implementing Ally’s software suite, complete with tools for online ordering, in-store ops management, and integrated delivery solutions. We make it easy to create a branded commerce experience that allows customers to quickly access your to-go menu. Through our suite of tools, your team can accept orders, manage the fulfillment process, and connect to a network of thousands of incentivized delivery drivers.

Sign up today to learn more about Ally’s merchant tools and join the thriving market of to-go ordering.