Why Restaurant Operators Don’t Promote Takeout and What You Can Do About It

“If you build it, they will come!” – Field of Dreams, 1989

As a restaurant operator, how much do you honestly believe in the above quote regarding the promotional aspect of your restaurant?

After all, your menu is heavenly, the dine-in experience is excellent, and the service is second to none. So, who needs promotion? Especially takeout. 

Customers in recent years  focused on coupling food quality with convenience.

But consider this – takeout is one of the most profitable opportunities for restaurants. So without promotion, are you expecting the calls and orders to simply “come to you” like an apparition to a baseball loving farmer in Iowa?

The reality is restaurant operators virtually focus all of their time, resources and energies toward the dine-in aspect to their restaurant and end up neglecting takeout. And as a result, the takeout customer experience and order fulfillment is ….well, let’s just say, less than desirable. So, it’s no wonder why you don’t promote your takeout business. We wouldn’t either if we were in your shoes.

Yet, the problem needs to be remedied as it simply is no longer sustainable for restaurants to operate this way because takeout is not only profitable, but is quickly becoming one of the most preferred way to dine in this busy modern world – particularly with younger generations.

So what to do about it? The answer is a two-fold one – 1) a better takeout guest experience, and 2) promoting it to draw in more business.

Focus on Improving the Takeout Guest Experience

Let’s start with the guest experience issue – improving it can be tricky as it’s easier said than done. The guest experience issue really is an operational issue. Phone calls for takeout largely come in when the restaurant is busy and noisy. The team member receiving the call is typically under trained and can barely hear. The wait time provided is usually understated due to the volume faced by the kitchen. And the order itself regularly is error riddled to meet a quick turnaround time and inaccuracy from the order taker. That’s a lot to undertake – and we haven’t even mentioned online and mobile ordering technology which can compound the problem as well by either experiencing technical or transactional issues, or bombarding your kitchen staff with orders during peak dining times that with a quoted quick turnaround time can be error-riddled. In fact, according to the National Restaurant Association 2016 Forecast, “… two in five consumers say technology makes restaurant ordering more complicated.” Not good.

Now, every restaurant is different – therefore every takeout guest experience is different. The best way to combat guest experience issues operationally is to take them one at a time and work toward a solution that makes sense. Training staff. Updating phone, mobile and web ordering technology. Improving order fulfillment processes. But with limited resources, trying to handle all of these issues on your own can be a very daunting task. Operators need to realize there are outside solutions and partners that can be leveraged to enhance the takeout experience and remove it partly or completely from your internal operations so that you the operator can get back to doing what you and your team do so well – focus on the dine-in customer.

Promote the New Takeout Experience Shamelessly

Once your guest experience and operations have improved, unleash the hounds! We all know that word-of-mouth recommendations and referral business is improvement, but don’t rely on it. In fact, if the issues in takeout have persisted for a while, it will take a while to win back the guests that did not have a good experience the first time or two.

Take Domino’s Pizza for for instance. For years, they were the cheaper and faster delivery pizza on the market. However in recent years, they embarked on a turnaround beginning with the quality of their pizza and next with their service. But they did not wait for people to find out for themselves – they promoted their changes through television, radio and web media, advertisements, social media, and countless other promotions.

Why? Because they wanted to not only get potential new customers, but they wanted to win back the ones they lost. Their promotions didn’t stop with ads. They created video documentaries. They conducted tours and focus groups that were recorded and leveraged. Domino’s was determined to have new and returning customers understand that the quality of their food and service had changed because they value their customers and harshest critics.

Now, Domino’s is obviously a very large company and has the resources and finance to support big, creative and expensive campaigns – of which you may not be able to do. But that doesn’t mean promotions for your new guest experience should not exist. Think creatively on how you can spread the word both organically and with some basic promotional strategies to win new customers and win back the ones you have lost.

In the end, think about one word as it relates to your takeout experience and promotions of it: convenience. In today’s quickly evolving environment, food quality remains a top priority, but customers in recent years have also focused on coupling food quality with convenience. People are busier than ever with careers, family and other obligations that the idea of dining at the restaurant is becoming more inconvenient. For these people, the preferred option is to call ahead to place an order with a restaurant with quality food, come pick it up without needing to wait, feeling satisfied that the order is correct, and enjoying having dinner with their friends or families back at their homes.

However, without a well-executed takeout experience and promotion of it, most of your customers will have no clue that you even provide “call ahead” takeout and other services to your guests. The elemental use of some simple, cost effective promotions – email campaigns, signage within your restaurants, bag stuffers, etc. – will highlight these innovative and convenient options to your customers to inform them that you have call-ahead ordering, online and mobile and other convenient options that may appeal to them and others. And by doing so will help to make takeout a much more pleasurable, convenient and operationally important part of your business.