Chinese takeout box
Hospitality Marketing

5 Tips for a Successful Restaurant Takeout Operation

There are a lot of celebrations in the spring and early summer, which would usually draw big crowds to restaurants and bars. There are the brunches for Easter, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. There are the pre-prom dinners and graduation parties for students. There are intimate anniversary dates and plenty of birthdays. 

Like my husband’s. 

And my mom’s. 

And my both my nieces’. 

And lots of my friends’. 

And mine. 

Yes, in two days I will turn the big 3-5. And it’s been hard to get excited about that, when I can’t go out for dinner and drinks with friends to celebrate. 

The current pandemic has made restaurant takeout more important than ever. It’s the only income restaurants are able to earn right now. And with insufficient financial relief for every restaurant who needs it, every penny counts.

From a customer’s perspective, ordering food for takeout is nice, but it doesn’t feel very celebratory…unless restaurants turn on the charm for their takeout or curbside experience. So I’ve put together some tips to turn a normal ol’ pickup meal into a specialty to go event that your customers will love.

1. Make it Easy

One barrier to ordering takeout for a family is getting everyone’s order. Even nailing the details for a small family of four can be frustrating when the order taker doesn’t know a restaurant’s substitution options or what questions you’ll ask when they order. We’ve all been here:

“We’re ordering dinner, what do you want?”

“Uh, what do they have?”

“Here’s the menu.”

“Ok…I’ll have a veggie burger.”

“As it comes?”

“No pickle and no onion.”


“Can I get a salad instead of fries?”

“I don’t know, I don’t work there. I can try?”

“Ok. Can they put avocado on my salad?”

“Yeah, I still don’t work there. Maybe?”

One down, three to go.

Make meals easy (on both yourself and the guest) by offering packages. 

Austin restaurant Contigo offered an Easter Sunday Brunch of grilled ham, brioche monkey bread, deviled eggs, mushroom & broccoli quiche, fruit salad, and herb roasted potatoes. It served 3 to 4 people, all for $50. Not a bad deal for a delicious Easter meal. They sold out fast.

You could provide similar packages for Mother’s Day or dinners for two to make ordering simple.

2. Make it You

People go to restaurants for great food, drinks, and good company. But why do they go to your restaurant? And how can you provide the same unique experience in a curbside or takeout format? 

Better Half Coffee & Cocktails is irreverent and has a Texas throwback vibe…so they’re doing a car hop curbside experience with rollerblades. Easy Tiger offers gift packages of their famous bread or pretzels, and it comes with a super cute tote bag. Have it delivered to your favorite grad or birthday boy/girl.

Remember that if it’s stylish, even curbside service or takeout food can be incredibly appealing, and get those helpful social media posts from customers.

3. Make it a Deal

Some restaurants may have a harder time with takeout if they’re at a higher price point. While some people will drop a chunk of change on a high-end meal for a special occasion, many will be less willing to justify the expense if they can’t have the whole restaurant experience. 

Can you add an incentive to get customers to buy? Super high-end sushi restaurant Uchi is serving a takeout menu of sushi and rolls, plus beer, wine, and sake — and they’re sweetening the deal with a $25 gift card. 

If I were on the fence about ordering a celebratory sushi dinner from Uchi before, the gift card would certainly make it easier to say yes.

If a gift card isn’t an option, what about a little bonus? A little bite-sized dessert or a few fresh rolls? A tiny bottle of homemade bitters for cocktails? A little jar of spice rub?

Throw something extra into the mix to make people feel like they’re getting a deal.

4. Make it Personal

People are craving connection more than ever. How can you provide that connection through the filter of plastic gloves, face masks, and a 6 foot distance? 

Get creative. My friends at Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden are providing funny handwritten notes with the orders from their general store.

You could get even more personal by wishing customers a happy birthday/anniversary/Mother’s Day in your note. To find out if there’s an occasion — add a box to your online order system to ask. Don’t make it a required field, but give customers the option to tell you if it’s a special day, so you can congratulate them in writing.

You could also add extra little goodies like stickers, magnets, or a koozie. These things are cheap and will be much appreciated. Or add a little card asking them to post a picture of their takeout food on social media for free advertising.

5. Make it Boozy

The food is only part of the dining out experience that we’re trying to recreate. Drinks must be considered too. 

Some states have loosened their stance on to-go alcohol, and restaurants should take advantage of it. Consider a temporary discount on beer and wine prices as an inducement to order with you instead of at the liquor store down the street.

Cocktail kits from restaurants have also been popular, and they’re novel enough that they’ve received a lot of social media attention from customers. 

My suggestion? Skip the gin and tonics and stick to specialty cocktails with house-made ingredients. Your proprietary bitters and infusions will be much more worthy of a to-go order than something guests already know how to make. 

As a dinner-for-two add-on, you could offer a mini bottle of your favorite bourbon with some fancy cherries and your best bitters for restaurant-quality Old Fashioneds. For Mother’s Day, a little vodka, house-made Bloody Mary mix, and all the fixin’s will keep mom happy. My mom, anyway. 

Don’t forget recipe instructions. Some people don’t know a muddler from a jigger, so make it foolproof.

Just make sure you’re complying with all applicable state and local laws, please.

Even though it won’t be the same as getting together with friends, we’ll be getting a BIG sushi dinner to go (plus a bottle of champagne) for my 35th birthday on Thursday. Come share a toast with me over on Instagram!

Header photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

5 Tips for Successful Restaurant Takeout

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