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  • Writer's pictureDavid B Townsend

Create an In-Home Meal Program in Your Restaurant

Updated: Apr 22

[this is a revised short-read of a longer article: Rethinking Restaurants for In-Home Meals]

Entrepreneurs and talented chefs continually opening new restaurants with visions of serving creative food and reaping social accolades from a community who love what they offer. Many miss the mark in that foodservice isn't just about creating menus for immediate consumption.

Struggling with outdated Concepts

Unless you are in a 'major metro-area' drawing from a large population, having tables full of diners is a constant challenge. Few restaurateurs are sure how to capture their niche in the local community. But many new restaurant owners fail to see the changing trends and likely ignore the way of future foodservice delivery systems. And I don't mean hiring or contracting with an actual delivery service. It's about merchandising ready to eat, take-out meals in your restaurant for eating later on.

"Diners are increasingly buying prepared food at places that aren't restaurants. They're going to convenience stores with made-to-order food, or grocers with prepared food, like Whole Foods, college stores, corporate cafes, community centers, and food trucks. In fact, one-third of prepared meals this year won't come from a typical restaurant or fast-food joint." (*1)

The concept of dining out is changing radically. The numbers illustrate it. Going out for dinner is on the decline. Derek Thompson, of the ATLANTIC, who has written extensively on trends in foodservice, writes, "a decline in traffic, along with rising labor costs, has forced restaurateurs to raise their prices to pay the rent. As a result, dining out is getting more expensive."

Thompson continues on these trends in food, "In 2015, for the first time on record, Americans spent more money at restaurants than at grocery stores. In 2020, more than half of restaurant spending is projected to be "off-premise"—not inside a restaurant. In other words, spending on deliveries, drive-throughs, and takeaway meals will soon overtake dining inside restaurants, for the first time on record." (*1)

The Changing Landscape of Food Marketing

Many others who follow restaurant trends have written about the changes in foodservice, particularly highlighting the 2017 merger of retail giants- Amazon and Whole Foods. The titanic shift they are influencing is how food gets to the consumer's table and the alternatives possible — mostly involving new technology. These shifts will affect everyone in retail food sales within a decade; restaurants, grocers, caterers, and any food-related retail. Technology, backed by design changes in a restaurant, can help a busy parent pick up packaged salads and sandwiches, or even pre-cooked meals to enjoy in-home a few moments later.

While guests are demanding products that are healthier and better quality, they also expect a host of conveniences to get food on the table. Seated dining service demands are less formal, convenience-driven. The new reality is a universe where food is created and consumed today entirely different than even a decade ago. Beyond the fact that not everyone wants a hot meal, and dozens of ideas for to-go items can fill the bill, the hot meal concept, as one alternative, is about holding, packaging, and making the ease of reheating for possible short distance travel and convenience. One cannot open the doors of a restaurant, pub, or delicatessen without dealing with a new approach to foodservice.

Offering Alternatives for Dinner

The couple dining tonight has a family member babysitting. They want to take a meal for them at home. It would be best if you had a simple way to build this marketing into your server's dessert presentation. Better yet, offer a selection in a merchandising case for pre-made salads or microwavable entrees visible on the way out the door! Pre-orders, take-out, and delivery are just the beginning of what guests are expecting.

Time for a shift in thinking

The two most significant expenses in setting up a take-out program, after any investment in new equipment, are going to be the extra labor and packaging costs, besides, of course, cost of raw food ingredients. Food costs and its packaging should be designed into the menu pricing directly, as you are building a brand with your packaging. It may cost upwards of $2.00 per serving if using compostable, compartmental clamshells, or oven-ready containers.

Here are just a few logistic details you need to consider while implementing a new To-Go Foods program.

Set a goal of increased sales you want each day/month

Overview foods that fit your current menus

New Food Costs

Analysis of Packaging needs

Food Safety consideration for travel

Display- where and how

POS considerations- how to ring up sales

Production Scheduling

Timeframe to roll out a new program

You need to think about the end consumer- How and Where is this meal consumed? Get over the made-to-order concept entirely while approaching this program. Think, instead, how can you package and make your signature items look presentable in a box. Moreover, finally, consider asking your current guests what they want, and how can you feed them in a different way than having them sit down in your dining room.

David B Townsend is a Food Service consultant working in the Sacramento region and Sierras. He designs custom food programs to create a take-out food plan which works within our existing food operation; deli, coffee shop, or casual restaurant. Recognized, from decades in food service, He has created diverse programs from convenience stores to 'fine-casual' to increase sales in off-site catering as well as grab-n-go services.

Reach him at: 530-263-7763 /

Also, check out :

To see a galley of food shots: Click

For more articles on food and the restaurant business: AMBROSIA

*1 Derek Thompson the ATLANTIC Jun 20, 2017 "The Paradox of American Restaurants."


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