2020 showed restaurants many things, maybe none as important as the need for off-premise sales. When dine-in services closed and capacities were capped, takeout became the only source of revenue for many restaurants struggling to survive this challenging year. The trend for eating at home and lockdown restrictions meant that online ordering propelled in 2020, and it's here to stay.

In many ways, 2020 served as a crash course in takeout for restaurants. Here are seven takeout lessons from the past year that restaurant owners and managers can use moving forward into 2021 and beyond.

1. Get Creative and Fun

Restaurant marketers did a wonderful job of speaking to the collective moment during 2020 with themed takeout offers like Quarantine Kits, Lockdown Lunches, Social Distancing Dinners, and Stay at Home Hors D’oeuvres. Moving forward, restaurants have seen that’s a viable way to boost customer engagement. Everyone wants a bit of levity now and then. Offer some with your takeout to stand out from the crowd.

2. Offer Unconventional Takeout Foods

What started as a way to offload perishable goods has turned into a bonafide new business avenue for restaurants. Takeout food no longer has the narrow slew of foods associated with it as it did before. Now, almost anything can be offered as takeout:

  • Specific ingredients
  • Cocktails
  • Special sauces
  • Bulk meat

What's more, customers are open to the wider variety of new recipes, products and flavours they can find online.

3. Sell Meal Kits

Services like HelloFresh and Blue Apron have gained a national following over the past few years by packaging up ingredients and selling them to the customer as a meal kit. Over the pandemic, restaurants got in on the fun. With everyone stuck at home, customers had the time to experiment a lot with cooking. What’s more fun than receiving your favorite dish from your favorite restaurant deconstructed, and then getting to cook it yourself?

4. Hop on Hashtags

We’re living through a collective takeout movement. One way restaurants can take advantage of that societal focus is by taking advantage of popular restaurant hashtags. Some extremely popular ones from 2020 include #TakeoutTuesday #TakeoutTakeover and #CarryoutWednesday. 2021 may not see such a national response to restaurant hashtags, but it still pays to pay attention to the trendings and hop on when applicable.

If you don’t have time to manage your social media marketing, online make it quick and easy. Over the last three weeks, companies have created hundreds of free social media posts to help restaurants with their messaging and promotions.

5. Carryout Cocktails

Alcoholic drinks are a high-margin menu item and generally represent anywhere from 20­–30 per cent of a restaurant’s sales. In light of this, many states have lifted their laws on alcohol delivery, allowing restaurants to serve sealed drinks to go. Restaurants have responded in varied and creative ways with Cocktail Kits, Take Home Margarita Mix, Whiskey Tasters, and Blood Mary Makings.

6. Direct Ordering

Third-party delivery services have provided a lifeline for many restaurants that needed to make a hard and fast pivot to takeout in 2020. But now that the industry has become accustomed to off-premise sales? It’s time to ditch the Grubhubs and Postmates of the world and offer your own online ordering.

Why? Because then you can keep the entire sale for yourself. Third-party services charge commissions as high as 30%. For many restaurants, that’s simply not tenable. And if customers are picking up their orders themselves, there is absolutely no reason you should be splitting that commission with another service.

7. Make it Mobile Friendly

Customers will mainly interface with your restaurant via their smartphones or tablets, especially when it comes to takeout. If you want to offer the best takeout experience possible, you need to make it mobile-friendly. Contactless menus are the name of the game, and customers expect yours to be easy to navigate on a small screen.

QR codes have gone a long way in this regard. The once-forgotten piece of technology allows customers to easily pull your website on their phones, so there’s no messing around trying to find the proper URL. Make sure your takeout and online ordering is a simple click away, though, once customers scan the QR code.

Marketing Online Services

Regardless of how you choose to promote your takeout, it’s important to market it across all your channels. Catch customers where they’re comfortable on Facebook, Instagram, email, your website, Pinterest, and any other online presence you maintain.

About our guest writer

Mark Plumlee is the Sr. Editor at MustHaveMenus an online design and marketing tool for restaurants with the world’s largest collection of menu templates. Trail Blazer fan.