How to Optimize Your Menu for Travel

Since COVID-19 irrevocably changed the restaurant world, many businesses that never bothered with online ordering systems before suddenly found themselves scrambling to open up new channels for takeout and delivery. Social distancing makes dining in dangerous, while third party delivery platforms often take high commission fees that are untenable for struggling businesses.

When adapting a menu for online ordering, you need to optimize the food for travel and figure out how to balance profitability with dishes that can survive the ride. It’s different than figuring out in-house menus because you need to make up the cost of delivery and still guarantee that food ends up fresh and delicious in the customer’s hands.

How can you get your menu fit for online ordering?

Tips to Remember

Guaranteeing that your food stays fresh and just as good as what you serve in-house is tough but worthwhile, because it can vastly improve profits in the long run. Online ordering is the reason so many businesses made it these many months of COVID-19.

  • Curate your menu. Unfortunately, you can’t serve everything that you offer in-house. To stay on par with your brand and make your food as good as it should be, remove items that won’t hold up in transit and replace them with similar dishes that will better weather the distance.
  • Separate high-moisture items. Things like sauces should be packaged on the side, because when food comes pre-made with toppings it can get soggy and taste worse.
  • Punch a hole for steam. Hot food needs to let out steam so that what’s inside stays crispy, crunchy or whatever consistency it’s meant to be. Don’t bother doing this with items like soup or anything that spills, but for items like fries, this will help keep them the ideal texture and taste.
  • Separate hot and cold. Temperature-control is one of the most difficult but necessary aspects of delivery. If the drive takes an unexpectedly long time, or the courier makes multiple deliveries in one run, separately bagging items with vast temperature differences will keep the meal copacetic.
  • Use compartmented containers. Not only does this improve overall presentation, but it keeps foods separate so they don’t intermingle. Don’t risk bad reviews about soggy, subpar foods; though these containers are slightly more expensive, they add a little something extra to delivery and make customers more eager to entrust their online ordering with you again.
  • Include reheating instructions. Just like people often take home leftovers at the restaurant, people are also likely to store away some delivery after the fact.. It breeds loyalty if customers can enjoy a good meal for days on end. The average customer won’t know how to go in for seconds except hitting a few buttons on a microwave, so add instructions on the receipt, on a notecard included with the order, or as part of the packaging such as on the tape that seals the boxes shut.
  • Show don’t tell. Get people ready for their order by demonstrating what they can expect when they dine with you. Post pictures of your plated meals and what dishes might look like if eaten at home and post them to your social media so customers can easily visualize what it’s like to order from you. Getting them thinking about your food is the first step toward making a customer for life.
  • Determine a delivery radius. Figuring out what will keep food safe and high-quality without losing money on a long delivery route means determining the optimal radius to offer customers. You don’t want food sitting in the car or on the back of a bike for more than an hour because that risks the food’s temperature falling into an inedible danger zone.
  • Provide a good experience. With delivery, customers are paying the same price they would in-house without the ambience or good customer service they get with dine-in—plus a delivery fee. Invest in small ways to maintain your brand on online orders and get creative with hospitality, so customers feel like they’re getting what they pay for.

Developing an online order system could be exactly what your restaurant needs to continue thriving. Optimizing your menu for travel takes time, but when it’s done right, you can turn the whole system into a good marketing tactic. Promote your curated menu as a special, delivery-only deal that customers will want to take advantage of, and potentially bring in altogether new audiences on top of satisfying your existing ones.

With these tips, you can now begin experimenting with online ordering systems at your restaurant. Knowing what foods can travel and what parts of the system need adjustment is key to creating a new, delivery-friendly menu that makes you and your customers much happier.

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