►Executing takeout can seem simple – until it isn’t. During a pandemic, when takeout and delivery are the best options for survival and repeat business is critical, to-go should get more love.
“We weren’t sure if we were going to survive when this all started,” says Dash Harrison, co-owner of Curtis Park Deli in Denver. But heeding various measures while transitioning to takeout has allowed the company to thrive.
When so much is at stake, it makes sense to take a harder look at how transport can affect the menu.
• Keep It Simple
To Harrison, uncomplicating the menu has kept his sandwich shop going. A dish that has a long prep list or too much labor should be cut. “We want to give the customer options while still being mindful of food waste, food integrity and overall waste,” Harrison says.
• Get as much use from all ingredients
To cut one dish over another, consider all the ingredients. “We try to marry food items on dinner delivery and party boxes so we don’t have to keep too much inventory in-house,” says Andrea Correale, president of Elegant Affairs, a New York and Long Island-based caterer.
Ingredients that do double or multiple duties also reduce labor, especially important when illness is more likely than ever to impact staffing. “Many composed pasta (dishes) all use some combination of four sauces,” says CEO Elliot Schiffer of Denver’s Mici Handcrafted Italian.
• Ferret out takeout downers
Dine-in food that works for takeout is food that keeps, says Correale. “Items that hold well and don’t get dried out easily,” she says. Foods that eat well at room temperature or reheat easily are good choices.
• Address potential disasters
Add more sauce to dishes that tend to absorb it while cooling, or be especially leery of overcooking foods. Allow fried food to sit before venting to cover it, Correale says, which will reduce sogginess. “All veggies should be sent al dente (and) reheating instructions need to be tested and accurate.”
Choose ingredients known to hold up. For example, in-house hand-cut fries rock, but not so much for delivery. Consider a frozen fry, such as Simplot’s new Conquest® Delivery+™, that stays hot and crisp longer.
• Prep for success
Presentation all too often is overlooked in takeout. Package the main component separately and provide directions for plating. Or rethink presentation. The sliced and layered tomatoes and fresh mozzarella caprese at Mici changed to halved grape tomatoes and chunks of cheese for takeout. “We have designed every dish to be transportable while trying to keep it true to its roots,” says Schiffer.
• Pay closer attention to packaging
It’s not just the food, but what it goes inside of, says Schiffer, who moved from foil containers to recyclable plastic bowls so the food can be reheated in the microwave.
“Especially during this time, it is difficult, expensive and bad for the environment to use multiple containers for a single dish,” Schiffer says.
Packaging helped Geja’s Cafe, a longstanding fondue concept in Chicago, transition to takeout
by packing cheese in heatable containers. “This COVID time has caused us to stretch out of our comfort zone and add a bit of reinvention,” says proprietor Jeff Lawler, who also gives out equipment for fondue at home.
“This COVID time has caused us to stretch out of our comfort zone and add a bit of reinvention,” says proprietor Jeff Lawler of Geja's Cafe, who also gives out equipment for fondue at home.
• Make ordering easy
As tough as it is to spend revenue now, failure to update your POS system or website for user-friendly ordering would be a mistake, operators say. New York City’s iconic Grimaldi’s Pizzeria under the Brooklyn Bridge began offering takeout and delivery for the first time during the pandemic, and expanded its online infrastructure for its other locations to allow for increased telephone and website orders. “Takeout and delivery are no longer optional,” says CEO Joseph Ciolli. “They’re requirements for restaurants to stay afloat.”
• Practice and communicate safety
At Honey Salt in Las Vegas, detailed safety protocols pop up on the website. All staff are required to wear protective face coverings and gloves, says Todd Harrington, director of culinary operations at Blau + Associates that owns the restaurant. “Additionally, they use sanitizer wipes at the chef’s pass, the table for to-go orders and the hostess stand for every use/interaction."