Take-Out Business: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Between shopping marathons, holiday pageants and parties, extra charity work and other seasonal obligations, your restaurant traffic may slow during the holidays — and other times of the year, too. But you can fill the cash register even if the dining room’s empty. A brisk take-out business can make your holiday period merry and bright. Here’s how to do it right.

Know Yourself, Know Your Customer

“The biggest mistake restaurants make when handling take-out orders is not treating those customers as just as important as diners in their dining room,” cautions Angela Schmidt of Chef U, a food-service consulting and recipe development firm in Birmingham, AL. “Their orders must be correct and timely, and every effort must be exerted to maintain quality.”

Keep these factors in mind when designing your holiday take-out program:

  • Prepare your staff. “Take-out has the potential to slow down kitchen operations because it can take more time to box and bag dishes,” notes Katerina Coumbaros, owner of Taverna Opa Orlando in Orlando, FL. “Organization and regular stocking are key in maintaining a smooth take-out operation.” Set procedures for handling take-out orders so front of house and back of house manage these tickets with efficiency and accuracy.
  • Plan for travel. Seems obvious, but it’s critical to consider the ride home. “An operator should not offer take-out service if the quality of the product cannot be maintained beyond the walls of the restaurant,” Schmidt explains. Limit your to-go items to dishes that hold and travel well. And stock containers designed for specific items, like cups for liquids and hinged containers for larger dishes. Select only “quality packaging that ensures proper insulation and minimizes the risk of spillage.”
    Pro tip: “Take-out packaging is an effective billboard for your business, so having your logo on containers, cups and bags is a must,” Schmidt says. Splurge and get custom-printed lunch bags so customers can display your logo more than once.
  • Sweat the small stuff. “Anticipate the guests’ needs so they leave with all essentials needed to enjoy the dish,” Coumbaros notes. “This includes adding all of the extras like condiments, napkins, utensils, etc.; making sure the order is prepared and packaged properly; and communicating with the guest in terms of special requests. Remember, you want the restaurant to translate outside of the building and into their respective homes or businesses.”
  • Promote the option. Get ahead of the holiday rush by announcing take-out service early via tent cards and flyers, social media, email marketing and other advertising. “Billboard advertisements in business districts are a great investment to promote take-out,” Coumbaros notes. Offer packages like a “family dinner,” “healthy holiday lunch” or “road-trip snack box” to encourage guests to grab a good meal on the run.
    Pro tip: “Partner with influential businesses by offering their offices a complimentary take-out lunch,” Coumbaros adds. “They will, in return, promote via social media channels, which can create buzz about your offerings.”

Making it a little easier for your customers to enjoy a quick and delicious meal during the holidays is one sure-fire way to keep customers coming in during the holidays — and beyond. “A successful take-out business expands your operation’s ability to create revenue without adding additional seats, so it’s a win-win,’” Schmidt says.

Margot Carmichael Lester is a freelance journalist and the owner of The Word Factory, a creative agency in Carrboro, NC. Raised in her parents’ gourmet grocery, she’s written about food, beverages and the restaurant business for several in-flight magazines, Playboy, CitySearch.com and Monster.com. Follow Margot on Google+.

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