Whether you call it takeout, carryout, or food to go, this category of the food business shows no signs of slowing down, regardless of the outlook for the economy. From fast food to fine dining, takeout continues to flourish and adapt to the times and the technology. Here’s our take on the Top Ten trends in this growing category.
1. More people taking out than dining in. Sure, unemployment is still high, but everybody’s still busy, whether they’re out there pounding the pavement looking for a job or working 70 hours a week at a company that’s running too lean from layoffs. Multi-taskers, active families, and workaholics still abound, and they’re eating on the run. Who has time to actually sit down and dine at a leisurely pace? Apparently, not too many
2. VIP treatment for takeout customers. Little perks like special curbside delivery have become standard for many of the bigger players. Applebee’s, T.G.I. Friday’s, Chili’s—they’re all bringing takeout orders to your car at the curb. Ruby Tuesday spotlights their takeout menu, calling it RubyTueGo. Things like special parking and designated takeout counters will continue to make to-go customers feel like they’re every bit as important as the dine-in folks
3. Sustainability matters. Restaurant customers demand the convenience of takeout. But they also want to be kind to the planet, and they’re becoming better informed on the subject. A growing number want takeout containers to be made of plant-based, nontoxic materials, and they’d like them to be recyclable or at least compostable. Some cities are even taking steps to ban restaurants from using materials made of styrofoam. Manufacturers will need to step up to meet the foodservice industry’s demand for sustainable takeout containers. One brand of takeout packaging, Monogram®, offers a line of containers called Monogram Sustain™. These products contain renewable resources, and are also compostable, biodegradable, petroleum free and nontoxic. Expect to see more operators that are using eco-friendly containers such as these to let customers know about it, via on-package or on-premise messaging. One caveat: the container MUST still do the job of preserving the food’s integrity. That will always remain Priority One.
4. Packaging technology in Fast Forward mode. Next to the food itself, packaging is probably most important element the success or failure of a takeout program. Manufacturers will create containers that are better at keeping food at the desired temperature, that don’t leak, are convenient to carry—and are as “green” as possible.
5. Social Media Madness. Consumers will find new ways to order and streamline the purchase process. Operators will find new ways to make ordering takeout more convenient. Texting, tweeting, emailing will become bigger than ever. In Chicago, Rockit Bar & Grill tweets a new special every Tuesday and Berry Chill yogurt uses Twitter to reward followers with freebies. Kraft Foods has developed an iPhone app, iFood Assistant, that helps consumers shop for and prepare meals using Kraft products. New social platforms and cell phone apps are being invented every day. Who knows? Soon you may be able to beam the food to your car with a few clicks of your iPhone.
6. Street Smarts. Taco trucks and other urban mobile food vendors remain at large on America’s streets and will continue to grow in numbers and expand the variety of foods offered. Savvy customers will be wise to their whereabouts thanks to twitter and other technologies not yet invented.
7. Need for Speed. Technology and marketing innovation will improve the takeout experience for restaurant patrons. Double drive through windows, and high-tech computerized systems will help speed up order delivery and improve customer service. Pizza Hut’s app for iPhone and iPod Touch is approaching one million downloads, generating more than $1 million in sales. Younger consumers love speedy technology, especially if it helps them get their pizza faster.
8. It’s Going to Be Intense. The competition for the takeout dollar, that is. Every foodservice outlet is after it. Even fine dining is getting in on it, offering the patron a way to enjoy white tablecloth cuisine without the need to tip the waiter. Louise’s Trattoria restaurants in Southern California derive a substantial portion of their sales from takeout. In the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, such upscale eateries as Axel’s, J.D. Hoyt’s, and the Twin City Grill promote the availability of their cuisine “to go.”
9. They’ll Take It Where They Can Find It. Supermarket delis and convenience stores have been offering ready-to-eat foods for carryout for a couple decades now, and are showing no signs of scaling back their efforts. Retail stores today sell nearly as many of these types of takeout meals and snacks as restaurants. Some retail chains, such as Wegman’s in the Northeast, are known as much for their prepared deli meals as much as anything else in their stores. Expect that kind of fierce competition for the takeout dollar to continue.
10. Where’s My Onion Rings? Order accuracy will remain a key issue with takeout patrons. It’s their number one complaint. Operators must install policies that ensure customers get what they order every time with zero tolerance for mixed up orders.