Reimagining your menu for takeaway gives you a chance to serve those short on time or the ones that need a bit of convincing. There are a few key things to keep in mind when getting started, writes Amy Gray.
Some restaurants have jumped on the need: Café Vue’s famed lunchbox offers a light three-course lunch for $18. The lunchboxes have become a cult sensation, with the business set looking for a deluxe lunch without the deluxe price tag—or too much time away from work.
In Sydney, the upcoming Paddington Hotel will feature shared dishes for sit-down diners and adapt dishes for its street-side chicken shop. It’s a case of the hotel offering expanded choice for consumers and profiting for their efforts.
Re-imagining takeaway has benefits for restaurants as an opportunity to increase service without increasing dining space, and bump up profits off the emerging time-poor, city-dwelling diner demographic. Takeaway also offers a way to trial new dishes before the evening service, and can convert staunch takeaway diners into sit-down regulars.
What do people want?
Someone sitting at your café or restaurant will have different needs to a person rushing in to pick up takeaway, and catering to both behaviours requires some planning.
People are ordering takeaway because they need it quickly and easily—that means they need an easy way to order food. That could mean having
a designated area on your premises for orders if you have space, and having staff available to take and deliver orders.
“Street frontage lets you advertise your takeaway option, while managing foot traffic outside your doors.”
The issue of space can be tackled a couple of different ways. Street frontage is a bonus if it’s available, as you can both advertise your takeaway option while managing foot traffic outside your doors. If that’s not possible, another option is to partition the inside your venue to separate the queue from the sit-down diners, saving them from too much interruption of their meals and possibly reducing their dining experience. It’s not worth introducing take-away food if it’s going to detract from the in-house dining experience.
If taking orders and setting up a special area in your restaurant feels like a step too far, another option is to set up an online ordering system on your website or through a third-party provider. Deliveroo and Suppertime may be worthwhile options, depending on whether you want to offer takeaway or pickup. However, it pays to factor in the companies’ commission and service fees, which will eat into your potential profit.
Flexibility is a key factor of success in the early days of setting up takeaway. Observe how staff and customers engage—what works and what doesn’t for them, and examine why. If something isn’t working with the ordering process or in the kitchen, examine how people want the process to happen and tinker until it’s right.
It’s worthwhile taking your time to improve your ordering process, because making ordering easy means building profits and getting customers to return becomes a piece of cake.
Building up from sit-down
Designing a takeaway menu is no different to any other menu: there’s endless potential, limited only by the practicalities of running a kitchen.
The easiest option is make your entire sit-down menu into takeaway dishes. This makes it easy for the kitchen, and also gives customers a good idea of what your restaurant offers. Depending on your portion sizes, you can scale down takeaway meals and remove side options like salads and garnishes.
It’s also possible to adapt your existing menu for takeaway diners, but this requires understanding how people eat. The emphasis should be on creating food that can be eaten by hand or without cutting, because most diners won’t re-plate their meals from its packaging.
For single dashing diners, takeaway options could include unique sandwiches and rolls—like bánh mì or burritos-—that can be made quickly. For set-and-forget taste complexity, stewed pork belly or slow-cooked lamb that’s gathered flavour over hours.
Group diners will respond to shared meal options, like dumplings, rice dishes, meat cuts or dips. Some restaurants and cafes take advantage of their location near beaches or gardens and offer a picnic basket to go. Phillipe Mouchel’s PM24 used to have the Sunday meal set all sorted with one of his roasted chickens, replete with potatoes and veggies, for $25.
Working out what to include in your takeaway menu needs to factor in how well the food will travel—melted cheese will congeal into salty plastic by the time someone gets home and noodle soups don’t enjoy their long hot bath back to the office, bloating and disintegrating in the broth (though some noodle shops take care to serve the broth and noodles in separate containers). Find the right balance to ensure the food represents your restaurant’s standards and your customer’s expectations.
Takeaway does offer you the chance for experimentation though—you can try new dishes to judge diner reaction, with less upheaval to your regular menu. It can also give you the space to use cheaper seasonal produce, or create themed holiday dishes which can be a great promotional tool.
It’s also a great time to experiment with fusion in unexpected ways. Melbourne’s Sushi Burger offers supersized sushi in nori-wrapped rice buns. The buns are filled to bursting with anything from fried soft-shell crab, fresh raw tuna or beef slices slicked in ginger sauce. Somehow the change in size from its more common cousin, the sushi roll, feels like a more complete meal than a tray of California rolls ever could, and offers value for money.
Staying true to your restaurant
Ultimately, the best plan for any restaurant is to stay true to what the restaurateur is trying to achieve. When you’re consistently true to your restaurant’s goals, you’ll end up building consistent customers who want to return.
This overarching goal will help you decide the best takeaway experience for customers, and help you make sure your food matches your sit-down menu in quality.
While there will always be a bain marie sweating some potato scallops somewhere, the future of takeaway is as expansive as Australia’s dining scene—anything is possible.