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More and more Americans order prepared food to go – and eating establishments that cater to this trend are poised for a healthy increase in incremental sales. Are you really ready for carry out?

Consumers have a growing appetite for convenience in their lives – and in their eating habits. Studies show an increase on take-out sales over the last five years. It is not just in pizza and QSR operations; casual-dining restaurants are seeing this uptick as well.

Families are busier than ever. Working parents, after school activities, homework and evening activities all compress the time on what we quaintly called, the dinner hour. Today's technology allows parents or older teens to go online and place a pick up order from a computer, smartphone or tablet. Restaurants that simply rely on phoned in orders limit the convenience for busy consumers which will hinder sales. If you do not have online ordering, now is the time to explore your options. I have opinions, of course; contact me for ideas and recommendations.

There are many ways to build your bottom line by catering to this demand for take-out. If you do not currently offer take-out, you might consider adding this feature. However, if you have been doing take-out for years, here are some ideas to fine-tune your effort:

Make ordering super-easy:

  • Offer online ordering by Web, smartphone or tablet.
  • Create an incentive for customers to download your smartphone app.
  • Offer a special hot-line number for call-ins.

Create a special take-out menu:

  • Suggest certain menu items for take-out – featuring items that "travel" well.
  • Create a regular take-out schedule – e.g., "Wednesday is Spaghetti Night."
  • Pre-pack popular items so that they are ready to go, even for drop-ins (think Little Caesar's Hot & Ready)Capture the full sale by bundling take-out packages – include beverages, sides, desserts, etc

Make pick-up fast and easy:

  • Dedicate short-term parking spaces where patrons can park close.
  • Offer curbside take-out
  • Have a mobile credit card machine for use at the curb.

Have the right packaging

  • Keep in mind the quality and taste of the food in to-go packages. Customers expect to find the same delicious meal in their take-out containers as they receive in your establishment.
  • Ensure your packaging keeps cold foods cold, and warm foods warm.Be aware of eco-friendly options.Pre-pack utensils in carry out bags – consumers will not forgive this mistake.
  • Finally, keep them coming back for more – create a "Take-Out Club" for frequent visitorsIf you do carryout, do it right.

Carry out is not an after-thought, it is a serious and separate business. Treat it as separate profit center with its own P&L and measure the effects of marketing, packaging and promotion. The numbers will surprise you as you feel the reduction in labor. Invest in this business so customers come back and recommend their friends.

Wishing you success in pizza – Ed

Ed Zimmerman is a pizza industry veteran and President of The Food Connector. His almost four decades of foodservice experience includes food manufacturing and distribution leadership, food industry technology, marketing services and restaurant and grocery operations management.

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Ed Zimmerman
Ed Zimmerman is a pizza industry veteran and President of The Food Connector. His almost four decades of foodservice experience includes food manufacturing and distribution leadership, food industry technology, marketing services and restaurant and grocery operations management.
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