Packaging Tips

To-Go Food Best Practices: What Customers Expect


The COVID-19 pandemic turned the restaurant industry on its head, bringing with it new protocols from the government, new expectations from customers and many, many new challenges for owners. Perhaps the greatest shift came in where food is actually enjoyed; Between March and April of 2020, takeout went from accounting for 18% of the average restaurant’s sales to over 70%, and delivery sales jumped from 2% to 10%.  

While dine-in is slowly but surely making its return, it’s safe to say the convenience and safety of takeout and delivery are appealing enough to ensure they aren’t going anywhere. Restaurants are now tasked with meeting the increased demand for top-quality takeout and delivery experiences, while also catering to the returning crowd of dine-in customers. A tall order, but one that can be met when to-go food best practices are followed. Keep reading to learn what customers today expect from an easy, sanitary and delicious to-go dining experience, and how restaurants can rise to the occasion. 

Order Accuracy 

There’s nothing like the excitement of takeout food arriving—only to be followed by the disappointment of an incorrect order or missing utensils. These practices can help you avoid a meal-ruining mishap: 

  • Check for special requests. No onions? Extra sauce? These small details go a long way in providing the best meal experience for customers—and in the case of food allergies, are absolutely crucial to address. 
  • Establish a delivery team. If takeout and delivery account for a sizable percentage of your restaurant’s sales, consider forming a team specifically responsible for managing takeout and delivery orders. These employees can ensure accuracy and efficiency for a smoother process from the time an order is placed to when it leaves your doors. 
  • Provide all necessities. Unless requested otherwise, customers expect all the needed utensils and condiments to come with their meal, just as they would for dine-in. Don’t forget plenty of napkins, either! 

Quality Packaging 

We like to say that when it comes to takeout, the food is only as good as the container it comes in. The right container can make the difference between a messy, cold or stale presentation and a truly memorable one. Review the necessities of quality food packaging to ensure yours is up to the task:  

  • Insulate hot foods. There’s nothing more frustrating as a customer than when hot food is delivered cold. Luckily, the right container can keep food hot for longer than traditional packaging. Look for containers made with polypropylene (PP) plastic known for its durability and insulating properties.  
  • Keep liquids from leaking. Soups, dressings and condiments always pose a leaking threat, but even pastas and sides can spill through the cracks of a flimsy container and lid. This makes leak-proof containers a must for most restaurants’ takeout and delivery needs. 
  • Choose ventilated containers. Without proper ventilation, fresh salads can quickly wilt and sandwiches can go from scrumptious to soggy. Look for containers with micro-ventilated lids or side ventilation to keep your food’s integrity intact. 
  • Keep dressings separate. Because every person has their own preferences, dressings and sauces are usually best left to the customer to add onto their meal. Have a stock of small containers specific for keeping dressings and sauces separate from main dishes when packaged. 

Safety Precautions 

Even in a pre-COVID-19 world, sanitation in restaurants was a top priority. Now, the protocols have only heightened, making it imperative for your team to follow every guideline to put your customers at ease: 

  • Seal your bags. With COVID-19, it has become a widespread practice for restaurants to seal their takeout and delivery bags for further sanitary precaution. This can be as elaborate as a branded tamper-proof seal, or as simple as a few staples. 
  • Provide wipes. Consider having sanitary wipes on hand for wiping pens after customers sign their receipts for pickup orders, or for delivery drivers to keep in their cars for frequent pre- and post-delivery wipe downs.  
  • Enforce hand washing. Now more than ever, frequent hand washing is a necessity for anyone in a restaurant environment. Ensure employees wash their hands before and after preparing food, after handling cash or credit cards or after any interactions with customers. Have hand sanitizer ready for delivery drivers and customers retrieving takeout.  
  • Supply PPE when needed. Follow local and federal guidelines, especially the often-changing guidelines for wearing a mask, and ensure your employees and customers do as well. Supply gloves for when employees are handling food directly.  
  • Keep sick or exposed employees at home. Minimize the risk of infectious spread by ensuring no sick employees come into work. Be transparent with your team about the expectations surrounding sick days, and have a policy in place for employees who have potentially been exposed to illness. 
  • Consider contactless or curbside. Contactless payments and deliveries and curbside pickups have gained immense popularity, helping restaurants avoid a backlog of orders and the spread of illness. As we near the end of year two of the pandemic, it may be worth making these tactics a permanent practice. 

Easy Pickup 

Whether it’s a driver picking up an order through a third-party app, a member of your team tasked with deliveries or a customer coming to pick up for themselves, no one wants to wait around on an order. Make the hand-off process more seamless with these tips: 

  • Create a designated pickup area. Again, if you see delivery and takeout permanently becoming a substantial part of your business, a designated pickup area within your restaurant will help ensure an efficient process from start to finish. Consider creating a ‘pickup and delivery only’ section or shelf to which you can direct customers and delivery drivers. 
  • Label orders by name. Especially if you allow customers to grab their to-go orders themselves, labeling orders with customer names is a necessary practice. This takes the guess work out of finding the right order, preventing potential mix-ups and refunds. 
  • Alphabetize your orders. Once labeled with a customer name, each order should be placed in the designated area in alphabetical order, making it easier for delivery drivers and customers to find the order they need. 
  • Stagger delivery and pickup times. Avoid an overflow of customers or delivery drivers waiting on orders by staggering delivery and pickup times. That way, your team can meet expectations by focusing on getting the food right without the overwhelming pressure of dozens of waiting customers. 

Missing Some Essentials? 

If your restaurant is in need of highquality to-go containers, sanitary products, to-go bags or more, simply reach out to Sunshine! We’re happy to collaborate on the right containers, tableware and supplies for your business.