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Signed, Sealed, and Well-Delivered: Tips for Keeping Your Delivery Looking and Tasting Fresh

Whether you have been offering pick-up and delivery for years or pivoted during the pandemic, it’s important to know which food travels best. Knowing what foods are best suited for delivery, using proper packaging, and utilizing a few inventive tactics can help keep your menu travel-ready.

When people dine in your restaurant, food has a short trip from the kitchen to the table. When they order delivery, that hot, fresh meal needs to stay hot and fresh from the kitchen to a diner’s home.

Did you know that french fries get soggy after 5 minutes, and fries are not the only food that offers a unique delivery challenge? Though maintaining delivery of the same caliber of food that you serve in your restaurant might present some unique challenges, there are creative ways around them.

Delivery Menu Considerations

Before creating your delivery menu, consider these questions:

  • Will the item travel well?

  • Will the dish get soggy?

  • Will the meal be presentable when it's delivered?

  • Do you have the right packaging?

  • Will profit margins for the item cover your delivery costs?

  • Will prep time be too long?

  • Do you have the staff for additional delivery orders?

Get it Right to Avoid Negative Reviews

When creating an online delivery menu, it’s important to understand the importance of getting it right the first time, and every time after that to avoid a negative delivery experience for your customers.

Soggy fries and mushy bread won’t just leave your customers with a bad taste in their mouths, the negative online reviews that can result can have a distasteful impact on your business.

One of the most frustrating things about Yelp reviews is that you’ll likely receive twice as many negative reviews than positive ones because most people don’t take the time to write a compliment. That’s just the nature of the beast. Delivery is all about saving time and convenience, so writing a review might only happen when you want it the least. There is a saying that any PR is good PR; not true when it comes to restaurant reviews.

An increase in delivery has also resulted in an uptick of poor press on Yelp for off-premise-related reviews. Even though your food might leave your kitchen perfectly prepared, factors outside of your control can drag down your restaurant’s star count.

Things like delivery drivers getting lost or stuck in traffic, clumsiness or lack of training, and extreme weather conditions can have a great impact on the presentation and quality of the most carefully prepared menu items.

The platform has also added a new feature that allows restaurants to promote their vaccine practices. But even with the help of Yelp’s new additions, bad reviews due to delivery mishaps continue to soar.

Avoid the chance of delivery faux and keep your food looking and tasting as fresh and delicious when it arrives as it does when it leaves your restaurant by following these tasteful tips:

  • Separate the Sauces

The first rule of delivery or takeout is to package sauce on the side. It prevents sogginess and allows the customer to add as much or as little sauce as they want. To avoid mushy bread and soggy sandwiches, pack anything that’s high in moisture on the side.

  • Keep Hot and Cold Items Separate

Separate cold foods like sushi from hot items like miso soup that can likely be heading to the same customer. This is especially important when you’re dealing with items that need to stay at their optimal temperatures like pizza or hot entrees. If a delivery driver gets lost or stuck in a traffic jam, and the hot and cold food is in the same package for longer than expected, customers may send the order back. This might cause you to not only lose this customer, but if they write a poor review, the negative impact could snowball out of control.

  • Include Reheating Instructions

Some items get less tasty almost immediately after leaving a restaurant kitchen, but their deliciousness can be easily recovered with a few minutes under the broiler or even a minute or two in the microwave. But, because some items will only get worse when microwaved, it’s very important to mark your reheating instructions clearly and prominently.

Deep-fried items may lose their crunch very quickly when packed warm. If your restaurant is well-known for crispy mozzarella sticks, and you’re afraid of the effects of travel, include reheating instructions that your customers can follow to restore them to their former glory. If you deliver pizza, it’s probably not the best idea to microwave the pie. Explaining the best way to reheat your pizza can be the difference between keeping a customer and losing one.

Reheating instructions can be printed on receipts, hand-written on a notecard, or printed directly on your packaging. You can even write them directly on your website so your customers are prepared ahead of time. It’s a simple way to show your customers that you care about the quality of your food for your delivery and takeout customers as much as your in-house guests.

  • Include photos of your delivery dishes on your website

Help your guests understand what to expect when they order from you by posting actual photos of the menu item as it appears in the delivery packaging. Instead of showing off your beautiful plating that customers can enjoy when they dine in, let them see what the same item will look like when delivered. This prevents customer disappointment and gives you the valued trait of transparency.

  • Use Proper Packaging

Don’t skimp on quality when it comes to packaging. The right packaging will keep your food fresh and your customers happy, which means repeat purchases. There are plenty of options out there to get creative with unique packaging, and each has its own suitability. Regardless of the aesthetics, however, look for packaging that seals properly, insulates when needed, is oven or microwave safe (clearly marked packaging that cannot be placed in a microwave), and is breathable.

*Pierce Containers With A Small Hole: One trick of the trade if you're sending hot food to a customer is to pierce a small hole in the takeout container to let some steam escape and prevent dishes from losing their crispness or crunchy texture.

To avoid soggy, smashed, or runny meals, use packaging with compartments. Better yet, if you’re delivering a meal that contains multiple courses like salad, pasta, and a side vegetable, package each item in its own dedicated container. It might cost a bit more, but in the long run, keeping items apart will pay off.

Packaging is the New Plating

With more and more diners continuing to eat at home, packaging has become the new plating. Try some of these unique packaging ideas to make your delivery service stand out.

  • Minimalist Packaging: Minimalism keeps the focus on the food instead of the packaging. Minimalist packaging uses simpler labels, subtle colors, and flat design concepts. Be simple, clear, and bold.

  • Package Designs with a Twist: Adding a single design twist or feature can help elevate your delivery packaging. If you offer take-out drinks, add a straw holder to your cup holders, for example.

  • Fun Packaging: Having fun and creative packaging doesn’t have to be limited to children. Bright colors and unique forms common in children’s products may be used successfully in adult-targeted products as well. Include a coloring sheet with a pack of crayons, or using your business name or logo, design a customized sticker or a fun trinket like a fridge magnet to remind your customers to order again next time.

  • Customizable Box: Creative custom boxes can help you stand out and provide a memorable experience to your customers If you know a customer has small children, for example, use a food container with cartoon stickers. Create a personal touch by including a friendly note with every order.

  • Edible Packaging: One of the most exciting food delivery packaging ideas being developed is edible packaging. There are many edible wrappers, straws, cups and cutlery.

Loliware produces cups made out of edible bioplastic. The cups are available in multiple flavors and can be composted into the soil in 60 days.

Designed to be eaten with a warm meal or a tasty ice-cold treat, edible cutlery is another unique packaging option.

  • Seed-Infused Packaging: One of the more innovative food delivery packaging solutions is seed-infused packaging. After use, customers can use the packaging to grow plants at home.

  • Sustainable Packaging: Eco-friendly packaging solutions are an excellent investment for any restaurant. Eco-friendly food packaging prevents the use of mixed materials, including labels which are usually made from non-biodegradable materials that may damage recycling or composting efforts by destroying equipment and polluting the environment.

For simple solutions to sustainable packaging, see our post, Easy Being Green, Simple Solutions to Sustainable Packaging.

Create a limited delivery menu

Creating a delivery- and takeout-specific menu is important. You don’t have to overhaul the menu completely — you want your food and your brand to come across the same way in-house and off-premise — but it’s in your best interest to remove the items that’ll be irreversibly damaged by time in transit and add a couple of travel-friendly items in their place.

Your Eggs Benedict might be a top seller in your restaurant, for example, but will likely not travel well. Create a delivery version like a Benedict Breakfast Sandwich that comes with hollandaise on the side. If your turkey platter with mashed potatoes and gravy is a big seller (especially during the holidays), think about introducing a Hot Turkey Sandwich served with a side of mash, keeping the gravy in a separate container.

Turn a negative into a positive by promoting these special delivery-only items on social media to attract new diners and entice your regulars to try out your delivery service.

Be Mindful of Maximum Delivery Radius

While you might be tempted to deliver to as many homes and businesses as possible, keep in mind that distance can have a strong impact on customer satisfaction and the integrity and safety of your food.

Keeping the radius small can prevent:

  • Leave your customers’ stomachs growling for too long

  • Food getting hot, cold, or melted

  • Food becomes unsafe to eat if it sits within the “danger zone” for too long.

One Hour Rule: Keep the distance from your restaurant to the customer only the distance it will take for food to be delivered within an hour. Keep in mind that this can vary if the carrier is driving a car or riding a bike, if the delivery is happening during a busy rush hour, and if weather conditions are less than optimal (snow, rain, wind, extreme heat). This is especially important for ice cream, hot beverages, and hot sandwiches with sauce.

Travel-Friendliest Foods

Some food items travel much better than others, and it’s a good idea to adjust your menu for optimal delivery. Use these ideas as inspiration to experiment and create new dishes to increase your delivery revenue.

  • Barbeque

Barbecue meats, such as pork ribs, beef brisket, and chicken wings, are perfect for delivery travel. Not only do they travel well, but they won’t lose points for presentation.

  • Pork ribs

  • Beef brisket

  • Chicken wings

  • Kebabs

  • Grilled BBQ veggies

  • Pizza

Quite arguably, the most popular delivery food in America is pizza because it’s delicious, easy to eat, feeds a crowd, evokes a feeling of fun, and travels well.

With a multitude of options available and many more to create, the options are only limited by your imagination. Cover the pizza basics with pepperoni, cheese, and mushroom, but consider adding a few unique options for your vegetarian, keto, and gluten-free customers.

Trending Now:

  • Cauliflower Pizza Crust

  • Plant-based Pies

  • Vegetarian Pies

  • Gluten-free Crust

  • Fathead Dough Keto Crust

  • Sushi and poké bowls

Whether it’s hand rolls, sashimi, poké bowls, or sushi burritos, sushi is a reliable bet when it comes to delivery. While some customers may be squeamish when it comes to having raw fish delivered to a door, it's generally made-to-order and supposed to be served up relatively cold in the first place. Common sides like edamame and miso soup tend to travel well too. Adding some of these Japanese favorites to your delivery menu is an easy-to-travel bet.

  • Fried Chicken

With the right packaging, fried chicken ranks high in the list of top delivery foods. It is great comfort food and ideal for ordering in large quantities if you have a big group or family. Throw in some sides like mashed potatoes, fries, and dinner rolls, or add extra sauces for an upcharge to help boost your revenue. Offer a few different varieties like crispy, extra crisp, and traditional.

  • Carb-friendly

Next on the list are carbs like pasta and noodle dishes. When packed properly, these carb-filled goodies are great for delivery. Upsell your pasta orders by “beefing up” your customer options with chicken, beef, fish, tofu, and pork add-ons. To make sure your pasta dishes arrive mess-free, keep the sauce on the side (unless specified by the customer) and make sure the package is sealed and sturdy.

  • Sweet Endings

Oftentimes, when we think of food delivery, the first thing that comes to mind are savory foods, but, we don’t forget to add some desserts to your delivery menu. Baked goods and desserts are perfect for delivery as they rarely have temperature requirements and when packaged properly, they travel well.

Make a List and Check it Twice (or Even Thrice)

Emotions and stress run high enough for your customers during the busy holiday season without adding a botched order or an overlooked allergen to the mix. It’s very important to triple-check each order for accuracy, as it’s not easy to fix an error after the order has left the premises.

Keep a list of items for the kitchen and prep staff and delivery drivers to check so nothing is overlooked. Did the customer request sauce on the side? Extra napkins? Did they indicate special dietary or allergy concerns? Make sure these issues are checked, double-checked, and even triple-checked to avoid problems once the items are in your customers' hands.

By Eileen Strauss



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