Upleveling Takeout Resilience as On-Premise Dining Returns

The summer was challenging for many restaurant operators across the country, as shifting COVID-19 case counts, vaccine passports and a staffing crisis forced restaurateurs to once again reevaluate how they conduct business.

At the beginning of the pandemic, in the face of mounting chaos, businesses focussed on surviving and keeping as many people employed as possible. It was not easy, but many businesses remained active by quickly adjusting their operating models to focus on takeout, grocery and e-commerce – something which was new to many in a typically bricks-and-mortar industry.

After a long winter under lockdown, the summer of 2021 looked promising. An efficient vaccine rollout opened many doors, but this good news was tempered by an unforeseen staffing crisis. Many of the hospitality industry’s most talented workers had fled to more covid-resistant work, and operators were left scrambling, opening only portions of their patio space, limiting on-premise menus and restricting hours of operations.

It was hard to watch. As a marketer with an exclusive focus on hospitality, I was tasked with bolstering recruitment. Despite flashy job postings, virtual hiring fairs, beautifully designed newsletters and social media posts, not much moved the dial, especially in Ontario.

Typically, the majority of revenue generated by a restaurant comes from on-premise dining. The pandemic shifted demand to takeout, which, during lockdown, accounted for 100% of revenue. As lockdowns were lifted, the demand for takeout proved to be more resilient than many expected.

Based on historical financials, when markets open up for in-person dining, takeout revenue remains stable – which is a good thing! Increased takeout revenue is here to stay, even as on-premise dining continues to rebound.

Making the most of takeout, though, means leveraging streamlined takeout menus and third-party vendors for delivery and pick-up. That helps operators utilize their staff, which may be smaller than usual, more efficiently. Considering how unpredictable labour supply may be, a strong takeout strategy is essential.

Here are my suggestions on how to operate dine-in while maximizing take-out offerings:

  • Create new and exciting fall/winter menu items for takeout, just like you’re adjusting seasonal on-premise menus. Content is king, so make sure you have beautiful photography and video of these new items for your social platforms.
  • Utilize the power of third-party apps and their immense marketing power. Ask for discounts on marketing initiatives (BOGO, free items) and evergreen campaigns. Sometimes the larger players won’t give you a campaign subsidy until you ask.
  • Analyze your takeout sales numbers every day – campaigns to help with revenue gains can be launched in less than a day, so you must remain agile.
  • Keep your takeout employees happy. Provide them with special perks, discounts and a fair salary – the tips between takeout and dine-in are very different, and the work is more mechanical, so you need to compensate takeout employees differently to ensure they stick around.
  • Keep your takeout guests happy. Engage with them on each user platform, respond to their Google reviews and provide regulars with special benefits.Takeout is still thriving across Canada and can be a beneficial tool if executed properly.