FOODSERVICE TAKEOUT TRENDS: <br />More Diners Get Food to Go Than Eat In

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FOODSERVICE TAKEOUT TRENDS: <br />More Diners Get Food to Go Than Eat In

To make ends meet in these rocky economic times, Americans are leading truly busy lives — multitasking to beat the band — and that means a lot of meals eaten on the go. As a result, the takeout/carryout foodservice category remains truly strong, in spite of the current economic blues.

Actually, more people get food to go than dine in nowadays, according to the NPD Group. Restaurants are catering to takeout needs by offering designated parking and curbside car delivery, as well as creating special takeout menus.

Packaging is critical to takeout success, and sustainability is important here because consumers see containers made of Styrofoam and other non-recyclable materials as environmental no-nos. They want earth-friendly containers that are compostable or recyclable. Some cities have even banned Styrofoam takeout containers.

Another key takeout trend is the growing use of social media technology like Twitter and iPhone apps for ordering takeout.

Following are the top 10 takeout trends as compiled by The Food Channel’s “Beyond the Plate” series, sponsored by U.S. Foodservice, which recently launched a “Beyond the Plate” Web site covered elsewhere in this Foodservice Trend Alert:

1.    More people taking out than dining in. Multitaskers, active families and workaholics abound, and they’re eating on the run. Some people would rather relax at home while dining on takeout food, too. Call it comfort a go-go.

2.    VIP treatment for takeout customers. Perks like curbside delivery have become the norm for bigger players like Applebee’s, T.G.I. Friday’s, and Chili’s, who bring the orders to customers’ cars. Other perks like special parking and designated takeout counters make to-go customers feel just as important as the dine-in folks. Ruby Tuesday has a catchy to-go menu called “RubyTueGo.” Supermarketers might cherry-pick some of the more workable takeout ideas here.

3.    Sustainability matters. Takeout diners are becoming better informed about sustainability and a growing number want takeout containers to be made of plant-based, nontoxic materials, which are recyclable or at least compostable. Manufacturers are getting the message of the foodservice industry’s growing demand for sustainable takeout containers and are answering with products like Monogram’s line called Monogram Sustain, which contain renewable resources, and are also compostable, biodegradable, petroleum-free, and nontoxic. Operators, including retail grocers, would do well to let customers know they’re using eco-friendly containers, via on-package and/or on-premise messaging. Mr. Grocer, those corny white Styrofoam boxes have to go. Still, priority one must be that the container preserves the food’s integrity. 

4.    Packaging technology in fast-forward mode. As noted above, containers have to be as “green” as possible, and they are probably also the second-most important factors in a successful takeout program after the food itself. Manufacturers will be creating containers that are better at keeping food at the desired temperature, that don’t leak and are convenient to carry.

5.    Social media madness. As consumers find new ways to order and streamline the process, operators — grocers included — will find new ways to make ordering takeout more convenient. Texting, tweeting and e-mailing will be bigger than ever. Rockit Bar & Grill in Chicago tweets a new special every Tuesday. New social platforms and cell phone apps are being invented every day and used by smart foodservice operators.

6.    Street smarts. Taco trucks and other urban mobile food vendors will continue to proliferate and expand the variety of foods offered. Hip customers will track their whereabouts via twitter and other technologies yet to come.

7.    Need for speed. Younger consumers love speedy technology, and double drive-through windows and high-tech computerized systems will help speed order delivery and improve customer service. Pizza Hut’s app for iPhone and iPod Touch is approaching 1 million downloads.

8.    It’s going to be intense. The battle for the takeout dollar is on, and every foodservice outlet is after it. Even fine dining is joining in with restaurants like Louise’s Trattoria restaurants in Southern California deriving a substantial part of their sales from takeout. In the Minneapolis/St. Paul market, upscale venues like Axel’s, J.D. Hoyt’s and the Twin City Grill promote the availability of their cuisine “to go.”

9.    They’ll take it where they can find it. Supermarkets and c-stores have been offering ready-to-eat foods for carryout for a couple of decades, and today food retail stores sell almost as many of these types of takeout meals and snacks as restaurants. Think Wegmans, known as much for its prepared deli meals as anything else in its stores. The takeout war is only going to escalate.

10.    Where’re my onion rings? Order accuracy is the No. 1 complaint with takeout patrons, but most supermarket takeout operations are self-serve, so customers get what they see, a competitive advantage grocery foodservice folks might think about stressing to their takeout customers via clever signage or in their ads.