• David B Townsend

DESIGNING A RESTAURANT MENU FOR TAKE HOME MEALS

Updated: Apr 29

As dining culture has become awkward during the Pandemic, some things we have learned will set the course in operations at many restaurants for years to come. One, We learned that cramming tables to maximize seating will be altered in favor of more personal space. Dining habits have changed, and although some aspects of sit-down dining will return pre-pandemic, some of the new approaches will continue to become trends as the public has new demands.

Two, in learning to sell take-out, we became aware that not every item on your menu works for traveling to eat at home. Even as indoor dining makes a return, we are at a point that we may need to address the take-home-meal. It is here to stay.


Some restaurants did take-out well; others struggled because their menus do not travel well in packages and hurt their brand image. It helps to think about how to prepare and deliver meals that travel well. Its starts by designing a menu that is strictly for the take-out, Home-Meal. The type of container you are using is a crucial component to success. Does the container need to be oven-ready or micro-wave compliant? Foils can heat in a gas oven but not in a microwave. What about recycling or using compostables?

Depending on the type of container, recyclable, compostable, you will end up spending two bucks or more on each single-serve entrée. If you use the standard food cost formula, this theoretically will add 5 or 6 dollars to the retail price. So, you may want to feature family packs, where one container will be enough to feed a family of four. This strategy will cut down on the packaging costs.

The BIG DON'TS on your take-home menu

No fried potatoes. They don't travel more than 5 minutes without turning into a soggy mess.

Fried foods, in general, are likely to lose 'crispness' and not hold well. Anything with a protein covered in breadcrumbs or Panko will not travel well and will be soggy from the starches drawing liquids out of the meat.

I would leave burgers off the menu because the fast-food giants can do it better and cheaper. However, if that is one of your signature items, by all means, test out various packaging methods to see what works best.

Steaks, in general, like a steak sandwich, are probably not going to travel for more than a few minutes, and you can neither microwave nor oven heat without overcooking it. You could take a lesson from caterers by searing the meat to rare with instructions to finish cooking on a home skillet, but then you've lost the convenience and leaves too much room for error in relying on the guest to know when it is ready.

Design a menu with the expectation that the entrée you pack in-house may sit in the container you choose for up to 30 minutes or more. What items can you assure will remain warm and not turn to mush, like fries, or retain too much heat, arrive on the fork overdone, and tough, as in the steak or steak sandwich. Stick with stews, liquid-covered or sauced meat, or seafood.

IDEAS WHICH WORK

Rather than a thick-cut steak, think of a Philly Cheesesteak. Using chopped beef strips that can cool and later be zapped in the microwave for 20 seconds to reheat will undoubtedly taste better than an overcooked T-Bone.

Contrary to my dislike of including fried foods in a take-out menu, a well battered Fried thick-crusted dark meat thigh can hold for quite a while if packaged in a nearly air-tight box or aluminum foil. It's not going to be as crisp as fresh out of the fryer, but a tight package can slow the process. Just remember to keep the cold sides in a different container.

List of possible menu entries:

MENU IDEAS

As with any good menu design, you want to use each significant ingredient in two or more dishes. A whole-roasted chicken can be cut up for various dishes; thighs slow-cooked in a Mediterranean kalamata olive, lemon, and light tomato sauce, come to mind. Chicken breasts can be used for chicken almondine or a lemon caper entrée.

SIGNATURE ITEMS:

PORK, POULTRY, & PASTAS

PORK LOIN - Savory dry rub with apple wedges and shallot butter sauce

It's cooked whole, and cut into four servings, and wrapped in foil for holding inside a tight lid container for travel.

[SERVES four with side: mashed, gravy, grilled Brussel spouts]

PORK RIBS- ½ OR FULL RACK- BBQ OR DRY SAVORY RUB (Cumin, Paprika, Turmeric)

PULLED PORK SANDWICH

ROASTED HALF CHICKEN, LEMON ROSEMARY, OR CHIPOTLE BBQ

Sell as halves, wholes, use thighs as combo plate, and breasts for sandwiches.

Chicken Thighs in savory tomato/onion/fig sauce

Chicken Breasts in lemon/caper sauce

Chicken Sandwich, breaded breast on a roll with cheese, tomato, lettuce, and spicy aioli sauce

ROASTED TURKEY BREAST- SEASONAL

Fall only breasts as a meal with fixings, also used for sandwiches.

PHILLY CHEESESTEAK SANDWICH- traditional Rib Eye cut into strips and sauteed with onions and peppers.

(use the rib eye also for the pasta Bolognese)

PASTA'S They travel well and can be reheated without sacrificing taste.

PASTA Bolognese, CHOICE OF PENNE, LIQUINIE, OR WIDE NOODLE (pappardelle)

BAKED ZITA pasta with Italian sausage, cheese, tomato

LASAGNE- MEAT OR VEGGIE

FETTUCCINE ALFREDO

These are just a few examples of developing and working menus for direct sales as a take-home-meal replacement. Although seated dining will slowly return, times have changed, and the trends we saw on the horizon, which may have taken years to become commonplace, were accelerated by the Pandemic. Take-Home Meal Replacement is no longer a nice option; it is a basic necessity for any restaurant.