Getting By, Again: Tips to Stay in The Black During Winter COVID Restrictions

Make Your Takeout Menu Sell (Sell, and Sell Some More)

The darker and colder days of winter are in full swing. Provinces have reinstated many Covid restrictions, with rising Omicron cases, leaving restauranteurs across the country struggling to keep up and keep the lights on. Hospitality industry workers are now filled with mixed feelings about what the future holds while constantly navigating through considerable challenges with indoor dining restrictions.

This winter, most provinces have either put capacity limits on indoor dining or banned it altogether, leaving restaurant stakeholders to find creative revenue generation and expense management solutions. The entire industry is in a precarious position, giving many businesses dreadful deja-vu as we look back at the obstacles of 2020 and 2021. However, there are always opportunities to connect with guests and make money with some strategic thinking and a lot of elbow grease. We need to keep looking forward.

Here are a few tips to consider when thinking take-out:

(1) Expenses: Labour, the cost of goods sold, and packaging costs play a critical role in making a profit. Design your take-out menu to create dishes efficiently while using as many similar ingredients as possible to assemble unique offerings. Increased efficiencies in preparation and production, and decreased wastage, will help manage labour and food costs. Also, consider packaging costs while designing your menu to maximize the space available in each unit for item bundling, if appropriate.

Also, think about passing some of these fees directly to customers. The city of Vancouver recently implemented a new by-law that requires venues to charge consumers 15 cents per take-out bag, saving restaurants money and helping the environment. Think about what other expenses are usually accepted by consumers to decrease expenses; consider adding a packing fee if you have grocery items.

(2) Menu Travel Resilence: You must work with your culinary team to design items that will fare well via delivery and guest pick-up. Hone in on offerings that will arrive the way you intend them to be consumed to manage guest expectations. Now is not the time to take risks with the travel tenacity of your menu. If items require special heating or additional preparation, ensure that guests clearly understand these instructions when ordering to avoid disappointment and one-star reviews.

(3) Menu Platforms: Consider how guests will access your menu. Are you going to go with third-party delivery companies and pay a commission, or are you going to take orders directly or through white-labelled online ordering platforms with lower commissions and fees?

Are you going to work with Uber Eats like Akira Back, Tock like ABURI Hana, or build your white-labelled ordering site through a partner like UEAT, which uses artificial intelligence to help you sell more while paying lower fees? Choose what works best for your operation and bottom line; according to Stats Canada, 81.6% of Canadian households have a smartphone; whatever you decide, ensure it’s mobile-friendly.

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(4) Consumer Tastes and Trends: When designing your offerings think about food trends popping up on TikTok – whipped coffee, pancake cereal, and feta pasta – how can you take advantage of viral food trends for take-out? How will your take-out look on Instagram when someone tags you in a story? Is the packaging photography friendly? In this highly competitive market, your items need to stand out in taste but also visually to create social currency and digital clout. Consider adding collateral to pique interest. A small card with the chef’s bio or a thank you message works wonders in creating authentic consumer moments that translate well to digital amplification. We eat with our eyes, and we want to share with our friends through social media.

Don’t forget that proprietary content continues to be critical. You need to be highlighting these items across all of your channels – YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok to help generate interest and awareness. Ensure assets are professionally created, and if you don’t have the resources to pay, look into bartering with a local photography student or aspiring content creator.

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(5) Don’t Stop at Ready-to-Eat: Consumers are more open to unique offerings now more than ever and are willing to learn more about your brand. Add wine, sake, beer, grocery items, or branded wearables and merchandise. Ensure that when promoting these items for sale via your platforms, you’re storytelling and explaining the unique histories of your products and their benefits to consumers.

A recent study from Mintel research revealed that consumers are eager to spend on frozen foods. When asked about frozen prepared meals, “hearty comfort food” tops the list at 44%, “restaurant-branded” meals (37%) and “gourmet items” (36%). Consumers are willing to spend for special restaurant-curated meals – something to consider when developing your take-out inventory.

Also, don’t forget to upcycle. If you have left-over holiday items, use them up or create gift baskets to target corporate gifting, Valentine’s Day and even Family Day.

The opportunities to generate revenue via take-out are endless as we adapt to new ways of doing business in a digital environment. Ensure that you’re considering everything above, and you’re sure to generate additional revenue this winter.