Offsite Dining: Adapting to take-out & delivery.

    Part I: Preparation & Planning

    As our communities, governments, and society have transformed to lifestyles of social distancing resulting in offsite dining as the only operational model for restaurants. Whether your restaurant(s) have been on the cutting edge of this dining segment, a relative newbie, or somewhere in between; the following encompass traditional best practices as well as current innovations and/or considerations emerging from COVID-19’s impact on the industry.

    Nobody knows what the industry will look like on the other side of this, but there is no doubt that this will remain a significant dining segment. We implore you to start implementing and/or developing your offsite dining program now.

    Part I: Preparation & Planning

    MENUS: Having curated menu(s) based on their need is vital. 3rd Party Delivery (3PD) transactions can take 2 to 3 times longer to make the trip from your kitchen to the customer. A different takeout menu for direct orders can be less stringent… either way, simply offering the same menu you offer to inhouse diners is rarely appropriate.

    Once developed, post or distribute these menus wherever customers are finding you. More on that in Part III’s focus on Marketing and Communication.

    Travel: Predetermine how well each menu item will travel. Be aware that orders may be prepared long before a 3PD driver or the customer arrives to pick it up.

    3PD: Feature or develop alternate prep protocols for menu items that can be prepared quickly enough to fire as soon as the driver arrives

    Variety: Whole families are hunkered down together. Develop or showcase items that consider the whole family and dietary segments.

    Vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, etc. if a family has even one of these restrictions and you don’t have an appealing (or acceptable) offering, you’ve lost the rest of them.

    Kids and/or Senior portioning: Feature immune boosting ingredients

    Family style meals: Scale-able options for 2, 4, 6, etc.

    Ready to heat and serve items

    PRODUCT INVENTORY: Do you have a plan for your perishables?

    Preserve: Freeze or vacuum seal what you can.

    Promote: Be ready to feature or discount menu options that contain ingredients you’re at risk of losing first.

    Donate: Feed your employees and their families before food expires. This shift came abruptly and amid seasonal slump. Many industry workers live paycheck to paycheck, and, let’s face it, local and federal aid will still operate at the speed of government. Every little bit will help as we acclimate.

    Contrary to popular belief, local shelters and foodbanks can accept donations from restaurants as well as offer tax deductible receipts. You can also reach out to your local school district to see if you can support their nutrition planning.

    TO-GO CONTAINERS AND RELATED PRODUCTS: The first and foremost consideration should be awareness of your current inventory and the availability of replenishment.

    Know your options: Connect with your supplier and ask for a catalog: To go container technology & design have made remarkable developments in the past year or so. Also, consider plans B & C if the current crisis extends, there may be a shortage.

    Use the right container: How appropriate are your containers for your food? The old folded wax paper standby works well for most leftovers and some takeout, but it may not be the best option for your program. If your menu has items that contain liquid ingredients, do you also have containers to accommodate?

    Further consider how each item should be packaged. Example: pack fries separate from a burger to prevent the steam from ruining everything else in the container.

    While you’re at it take a moment to learn about tamper proof bags.

    Skip the unnecessary: Make napkins, flatware, condiment packages, etc. optional. Most of this food will be going to a home that has what they need. Frame this as a conservation effort to reduce waste.

    SANITATION MESSAGING: You’ve likely already implemented or drafted COVID-19 messaging around sanitation practices for inhouse dining. Long after the spread is contained, consumers will be more sanitation sensitive than ever before. Adjust your messaging to reflect or include measures that are specific to takeout.

    Example: “All our to go containers, bags, and related items are kept in a sanitary protected space until needed. Additionally, we have a policy of using new gloves when boxing and bagging each order”

    Communicate this at multiple times; when advertising/marketing, at the point of ordering (whether online or over the phone) and again by including this message in the bag.

    Makes for great social media content to share; “Show don’t tell” pictures and videos that relate to those practices (and link to your online menu) are powerful.

    Contactless transactions: Most 3PD services are implementing this option, but it’s worth verify this. For your own takeout business set up a plan.

    Have a method to conduct credit card transactions over the phone or online

    Set up a method of contact for the customer to alert you they are outside and ready for their order.

    Online Ordering is the superior method of takeout: If you don’t already have this in place, start acting now! There are multiple options available to implement this service, Harbor Foods Restaurant Solutions Group is a complimentary service of industry experts to help you determine the best option for you and collaboration with setup and application.

    Part II: Shifting Operations to Offsite Dining Opportunities

    Part II: Shifting Operations to Offsite Dining Opportunities

    Offsite Dining can take many forms: Takeout, curbside, Grab & Go, Family Meal Kits, drive thru, pick-up, delivery, 3rd party delivery, and so on. To trim the expanse of options, this piece will focus on the most common aspects: Takeout & 3rd Party Delivery and explore best practices, useful insights, and effective strategies for each.


    So much attention has been given to 3rd Party Delivery in recent times its easy to miss the fact that the largest segment of offsite dining is takeout, in fact it’s larger than both inhouse and 3rd party delivery combined.


    • It’s cost effective: No 3rd party services taking a percentage of the transaction or the capital expenses and potential liabilities of an inhouse delivery service.

    • Continuity: You are in control of a larger portion of your customer’s dining experience.

    • To-Go Fees: Small to-go fees are becoming standard acceptable practice that can be initiated to cover the minimal costs associated.


    • Marketing: It’s all on you. If this is your sole avenue of offsite dining offering, connecting to new customers will require more than word of mouth. More on how to do this in Part III’s Marketing & Communication.

    Best Practices

    • Online Ordering System: Do whatever you can as fast as you can to move away from telephone ordering. Besides freeing you from the error prone system of call-in ordering, Online Ordering Systems accept payment, so you’ll never have to literally eat no-shows.

    Also, when you’re in control of your online ordering, you’ll retain the diners contact information for future marketing opportunities. PLUS, when customers are in control of their ordering, check averages are 15-30% higher.

    When selecting such a service, look to meet the following criteria:

    o Integrates with your Point of Sale (if yours can’t be connected to such a service it deserves to be called a POS)

    o Provides menu item descriptions

    o Customers can modify their orders according to your specifications

    o Has suggestive selling built-in

    o Catalogs your customers so you can send them offers later


    Even though 3rd Party Delivery (3PD) represents the smallest segment of offsite dining following traditional statistics, it’s fair to assume we’ll see a drastic upward spike as social distancing continues as people of all ages turn to delivery services.


    Discoverability: The exposure this platform offers is potent. You’ll have the potential to connect with new customers who, for whatever reason, otherwise may not have tried you in person

    Convenience: Setup and implementation is largely handled by the 3PD companies and upfront costs are minimal.


    • Loss of profits: 3PD providers keep a percentage of the transaction that varies by platform

    o GrubHub: 10% + 3% processing + 20% for marketing and priority placement

    o DoorDash: variable% usually close to 20%. Fees to customers are $5-$8

    o UberEATS: 30-35%... new pricing models have been met with confusion

    • Unpredictable Drivers: Delivery drivers will justifiably maximize their income by bundling deliveries, adding time to the order. Other driver related friction points are relatively rare, but sometimes concerning. These are often NOT people with industry empathy (or food handler cards.)

    o PRO TIP: Concerned about reports of drivers snacking, some savvy operations include a small portion of fries for the driver. Developing a rapport with the regular drivers is recommended.

    • Lack of Control: Once your food leaves with the driver, it’s out of your hands. Even though public awareness is maturing, a poor experience due to delivery related issues often reflects poorly on you.


    You might already be on a 3PD platform: Part of many 3PD business models includes creating listings of local restaurants based off the menu they’ve posted online. People order from their app, they in turn call you, place an order, then pick it up and complete the delivery order.

    o Download the app and look for yourself

    o Check for accuracy: menu, hours, etc.

    o There is a process to having your listing removed

    Best Practices

    * Pre-Curate your menu with 3PD in mind: Besides trimming your menu items with takeout and delivery in mind, give those prices a small bump, and post them on your website and/or social media. 3PD companies will likely notice large hikes and deny your submission. Consider 10-15%, this won’t cover the 3PD take, but it will minimize it.

    * Identify the services in your area: Get in with the top 2 or 3 but avoid long contracts if you can. Consider this an audition, go for broad exposure and drop the low performing platform(s)

    * Don’t turn your in-app site off and on: Most 3PD apps have a feature built in that allows restaurants to hide from view to allow the kitchen to prioritize inhouse orders during high volume. Doing so tells the app your service is unreliable and will cause your app listing to fall lower making your restaurant less likely to be chosen. Do your best to stick to your stated hours.

    * Your restaurant’s in-app rating matters: 3PD app users are more swayed by your ratings than the pictures of your food. If your ratings are great, more new customers will find you by rate sorting.

    * Draft a message to remind customers of the 3PD dynamic and include it with the delivery: “We took pride in preparing your food, and double checked its quality before your order left our restaurant. We understand that 3rd Party Delivery times vary. If you’re in anyway unsatisfied with the quality of your food please contact us directly (Provide contact info)”

    o This will lessen the chance of an undeserved poor review

    o If they do contact you directly, use this as an opportunity, use this as an opportunity to make a direct takeout customer.

    Part III: Marketing and Communication

    How do you cut through the noise and connect your offsite dining offering with customers?

    Part III: Marketing and Communication

    3rd Part Delivery (3PD) has some marketing already baked in. Whatever you can do to drive more traffic to takeout will provide you with greater profits, more control, and overall better service. This article will be touching on standard channel best practices and techniques, but I’ll be placing a greater emphasis on promoting takeout, and techniques to convert your 3PD diners to start ordering directly from you.


    Be honest. Don’t be hesitant to share how this has affected the industry, your restaurant(s) and, whatever you do, don’t leave out the impact this is having on your staff, and if you’re able to support them in any way, include this too.

    Telling real stories from your perspective is potent and will resonate with your audience and community. As stated, many operations are sleeping or closing… what’s happening with the food? Are you feeding your un or under-employed staff and their families? Donating it locally? Share what you’re doing with it, it could inspire others.

    Open and positive communication often leads to greater goodness weather its for you, someone you know, or a stranger in need.


    This article isn’t intended to cover overall marketing best practices. Instead the focus is on the most affordable and effective practices and channels NOW: Social media, email, and the long-overlooked newcomer - The Delivery Bag.

    Social Media

    Create a post, or series of posts, that speak directly to our availability. A surprising number of restaurants have gone to sleep or have decided to close for good. Those of you still in the game are competing with fewer rivals… but with active social distancing in effect, consumers don’t know who’s active.

    Social Media Posts: Be sure to link your posts as directly to an ordering platform as you can

    * Link your posts to a point of sale

    o 3PD apps have websites too: Go there, find your listing and use that link to start your social media posts. There will be an option on the customer’s end to switch to the app

    o Website: Unless you have a compelling reason not to, link to your menu page. If this menu is simply a scanned .pdf of your dining room menu, go with what you have, but consider how soon you can redraft it to reflect your optimized for to-go version and how it would display on a mobile phone. If they can’t order from you online, be sure to provide clear ordering instruction displayed obviously

    * Put some money behind your posts: Money is tight, but social media is cheap. Even a 5 or 10 buck “Boost to followers and their friends” will help to penetrate people’s feeds. When/if you do this be sure to include a call to action in the post’s text encouraging people to share this with anyone who would want or need to know you’re ready and available to order from.

    * Get organic support from you network: Ask your employees, family, friends, business community, etc. to share your posts on their feed(s)


    Those of you who have been using email marketing have likely been using this channel already. If you’re someone who’s collecting emails through a loyalty program or other methods and saving for a rainy day… it’s pouring! Look into mass email platforms such as Constant Contact and MailChimp, whichever you choose will have tutorials that’ll get you up to speed.

    * As you craft your communication, be sure to have a clear call to action such as “ORDER HERE” and have it linked to your online point of sale.

    * Include incentives such as “X off your first order”

    * Be weary of over communicating, it may inspire recipients to unsubscribe

    * Developing and/or cleaning up your email list will be a useful resource to announce the reopening of your dining room in the future.

    In the Bag

    Consider this; some restaurants spend hundreds of dollars a month to market through mass mailers to varying degrees of success. QSR restaurants, primarily pizza, enjoy the highest conversion 30-50%. Other dining segments are far lower, less than 15% and of those who do redeem offers, tend to be one off value shoppers.

    What about the bags that transport your offsite dining? The open rate of those are 100%, the recipient has already aligned with your brand and/or product, you have data to customize your incentives (what they ordered), and it doubles as a communication platform.

    The opportunities are vast.

    * Convert 3PD customers to direct takeout ordering: Include to-go menus and incentivize your customers to order pick-up directly from you.

    o PRO TIP: if you’ve curated a menu for 3PD and elevated the prices by say, 10%, share THAT menu and offer a 10% discount and/or other incentives to order directly from you.

    o While you’re incentivizing them, include coupons, free app cards, and/or (when social distancing eases) to promote in house events to draw more diners into your space.

    * Branding: Slap logo’d stickers on the packaging. They’re inexpensive, versatile, and can doubles as a tamper seal for packaging.

    o More robust, built-for-delivery to-go containers are reusable. Your logo on those containers will live on in diners’ homes.

    * Build a following: Invite them to sign up for your loyalty program, email list, or to follow on social media,

    * Connect in new ways: Include reheating instructions, kid toys with kid meals (small tub of playdough?), recipes, trivia, etc. BE CREATIVE it will earn you loyalty and engagement.

    For further support, feedback, or collaboration on this or other aspects of your operations as you adapt in these rapidly changing times, contact

    ©2020 Harbor Restaurant Solutions Group Written by Andrew Cook, FOH & Operations Consultant