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Driving Off-Premises Sales With Personalization, Attention to Detail

Operators compete in takeout and delivery with technology, hospitality and menu innovation.

Operators compete in takeout and delivery with technology, hospitality and menu innovation.
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Takeout and delivery were already on an upward trajectory when the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered restaurants nationwide in 2020. The spread of the virus throughout the year—and its associated restrictions on restaurant dining—only exacerbated demand for off-premises foodservice options.

While on-premises restaurant visits were cut nearly in half in 2020, according to data from The NPD Group, off-premises transactions rose sharply.

Restaurants capitalized on this massive shift in order dynamics by refining their delivery and takeout operations with specialized menus, new operating procedures, new delivery partners, and investments in digital ordering technologies and mobile apps.

The latter in particular offers keys to future success in driving takeout and delivery sales, says David Portalatin, vice president and food industry advisor at The NPD Group. The suggestive selling capabilities that digital ordering provides have proved effective across both the retail and foodservice industries, he says.

“If I physically walk into a restaurant today, unless I am a very frequent customer, they don’t know me—and they don’t know what I ordered the last time I was there. But the algorithm knows all those things,” he explains.

The digital algorithms that suggest menu items based on order histories and other variables can be used to promote new items, remind customers of specials and drive bigger tickets for off-premises dining, Portalatin adds.

That’s the logic behind the My McDonald’s mobile app, for example, which analyzes customers’ preferences in an effort to provide a more personalized experience for customers and optimize sales opportunities for the restaurant.

“Gone are the days when airline miles were the standard for status and mobility,” says Dina Paz, culinary director at Sterling-Rice Group. The best new points programs “are found at restaurants that offer one-of-a-kind deals for loyal and repeat customers.”

Operators can also leverage these ideas to increase off-premises sales:

Enhanced experiences

Operators are finding new ways to showcase their hospitality to ensure that the overall off-premises experience is just as memorable as the food, Paz says. This includes thoughtful, well-designed packaging that protects the temperature and integrity of menu items in transit, personal flourishes such as handwritten notes, and clear, easy-to-follow instructions for reheating.

“Repeat off-premises dining success means attention to detail,” she says. “In 2020, operators were in ‘get-it-out-the-door’ mode. But 2021 will bring higher stakes for operators to remain top of mind with consumers who are seeking consistently delicious and personalized results from their favorite restaurants.”

Dedicated menus for off-premises dining

Operators with the kitchen capacity to create menus available only for takeout and delivery may have an edge. These can be virtual brands, perhaps licensed from another foodservice entity, or a carefully curated assortment of items that travel well and can be offered via third-party delivery services at a reasonable price point—and still yield a profit.

“You don’t have to offer your entire menu for delivery,” says Monica Challingsworth Lyons, partner and head of global relationships at Synergy Restaurant Consultants. “You can create items with the ingredients you already have, and maybe test some items that you might not have had the luxury to test, and still offer a great experience for guests.”

These delivery-only menus can take the form of what Sterling-Rice Group’s Paz calls “super promotions,” through which operators create promotional events lasting one day—or less—that showcase unique items or deals to drive traffic and create buzz.

Snacking and brand partnerships

Consumers’ habit of snacking throughout the day also presents an opportunity. Competition from convenience stores that are attracting consumers seeking afternoon snacks will drive restaurants to fight back with snackable items of their own. Expect to see operators “expand their portfolio with more snackable, portable, on-the-go type offerings,” Portalatin says. That could include “packaged snack offerings or more snackable-type menu offerings in terms of portion size and price point,” he adds.

In addition, the lines between retail and foodservice are blurring as consumers have become conditioned to see a branded presence across both, says Sterling-Rice Group’s Paz.

“Expect more channel alliances to occur as hybrids of retail snacks and favorite comfort dishes continue to up the ante on craveability,” she says. “Think more partnerships with beloved brands across the board.”

Competition in off-premises dining has become even more intense as operators across segments have added takeout and delivery components to their offerings. As consumer demand for takeout and delivery persists in 2021, operators will continue to enhance their off-premises strategies to drive sales through digital ordering and loyalty programs, revamped menu strategies, and enhanced overall experiences.

Mondelez International Foodservice offers resources to help operators optimize their off-premises sales, including branding and snacking opportunities.

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