July 16, 2020

How To Re-Engineer Your Restaurant Menu For Delivery During COVID-19

July 16, 2020

How To Re-Engineer Your Restaurant Menu For Delivery During COVID-19


There’s So Much Opportunity To Be Gained From An Optimized Delivery Menu

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, restaurants have discovered innovative ways to replace revenue streams, appeal to new audiences, and create meaningful food delivery experiences in spite of everything. This great collective pivot has revealed the massive opportunity that delivery menus provide—if they’re optimized specifically for delivery.

We sat down with Aaron Salit of The Culinary Edge to explore these new best-practices for running a profitable and resilient delivery-focused restaurant (which are not the same in 2020 as they were in 2019). And we’re eager to share what we learned.

We’ll discuss… 

  • The 5 factors that should drive your delivery menu innovation
  • Actionable strategies for tapping into changing consumer preferences
  • Foods that do and do not travel well in to-go packaging

And much, much more.

Stories of successful pivots, new dishes, and creative offerings in the midst of this crisis give us hope. Our goal is that, by sharing these strategies, you can become one of those stories too.


The Five Factors That Guide Delivery Menu Engineering

Knowing which menu items to remove, which to change, and which to scale up is challenging in any menu engineering exercise—add the urgency and complexity of COVID-19 on top, and it’s a nightmare.

To simplify the process, we’ve identified five key metrics you can use to guide your pivot to a delivery and takeout focused menu.

  • Demand
  • Productivity
  • Profitability
  • Food Waste
  • Deliverability (this one is evolving quickly)

Whether you’re building a delivery menu from scratch or reimagining an existing delivery menu, these metrics are vital to creating a business that’s relevant, resilient, and sustainable.


Give The People What They Want

Your customers’ food preferences are very different now compared to three months ago. People feel a sense of isolation from friends and family, they’re highly sensitive to food safety, and they’re tired from having to make a whole new set of food decisions.

We’re seeing restaurants adapt to these changing preferences by refocusing their menus to offer customers… 

  • Familiar comfort foods. In times of uncertainty or stress, virtually everyone gravitates towards foods they know and love. People are generally not eager to take risks on new or novel foods right now.
  • Simpler meal planning. Most people have been forced into a completely new meal planning routine. By helping customers plan ahead with offerings like family bundles, DIY cooking kits, or multi-purpose ingredients, you go a step beyond providing food and alleviate a point of stress.
  • Meaningful connection. Zoom calls are great, but they’re not a replacement for the warmth of an in-person interaction with a close friend. People crave kindness and thoughtfulness, and any way you can maximize that deeper emotional connection through your menu will make a huge difference to customers.

Aaron Salit explains:

“People don’t need variety right now. They’re not looking to be impressed. They want something they can trust, that they know. If your customers really want meatloaf and mashed potatoes, give it to them.”

One of Chicago’s most celebrated fine-dining establishments, Alinea, did just that. As the restaurant closed their dining room, they opened up a small delivery-only menu of comfort favorites that maintain the brand’s artisanry while appealing to current food preferences.

Alinea's delivery-only menu


Scaleable Dishes Work Best

Now’s not the time for time-consuming, hands-on dishes. That sauteed chicken breast in its own pan sauce takes several minutes to create and is hard to scale. A braised beef dish that can be made in large batches, then reheated on-demand over the next three days—that’s the kind of dish that’s flexible enough for our rapidly-changing industry.

Focusing on a handful of batchable, scaleable foods allows you to simplify your menu. Your ingredient list can be trimmed, your kitchen operations can be streamlined for those few key dishes, and your team can work more efficiently. This insulates you from being overcome by sudden shifts that disrupt your workflow and employee bandwidth.

Batchable foods include:

  • Family-style bundles
  • Grain/burrito bowls
  • Braised proteins
  • Batch cocktails (if your state has waived alcohol restrictions)
  • Cold salads
  • Pasta and sauces
  • Casseroles

Aaron outlines how it works:

“The general go-ahead is to create dishes you only have to batch produce once or twice per week. Then you can have a simpler daily schedule, like prep for two hours, followed by a five-hour delivery window. Scheduling time efficiently helps reduce food waste and labor costs. It’s also good for employee safety because it minimizes crossover.”

Guerrilla Tacos is a great example of how you can communicate to customers why they’ll love batch taco kits: it’s a good deal and the tacos freeze well, so they’ll have on-demand food for weeks.

Guerrilla Tacos batch taco kits deal


Optimize Recipes For Higher Margins

Cost-efficiency is just as important as labor efficiency. Continuing to sell low-margin foods, unless they’re high-volume staples, is likely a waste of energy. With fewer sales, you need to generate more profit per order.

This is why costing your food is a non-negotiable right now. If you don’t know precisely how much margin comes with each dish, you’re powerless to identify and lean into your most profitable dishes. 

Here’s how food costing generates higher margins.

  1. You calculate the cost to produce each dish using per-ingredient costs
  2. Identify high-cost ingredients, see how they lead to low-margin dishes, then either cut or adapt those recipes to create higher-margin versions
  3. Scale your optimized recipes for batch production and expected sales so you can set revenue and profit expectations for the week
  4. Repeat to quickly adapt as demand and ingredient prices change

We’re currently giving away Galley’s recipe management and food costing platform to impacted restaurants for free. We’ll let Aaron explain why it’s perfectly suited for a time like this.

“I’m a huge fan of having Galley for simple food costing and margin understanding. People need a system that’s flexible enough to handle changing ingredients, like re-updating your food costs when you shop from the farmer’s market instead of Cisco.”

Cost your recipes to optimize your menu for free—get started here.


Use Stock Responsibly

As you simplify your delivery menu, keep in mind the foods that generate large amounts of waste. Food that generates a high trim yield is money down the drain. Ingredients that quickly spoil or decline in quality are a burden to effective batching.

Instead prioritize foods that… 

  • Can be prepped and kept for 3+ days
  • Freeze and thaw without a big drop in quality
  • Are able to be cross-utilized in multiple recipes
  • Have flexible minimum order quantities from vendors

Now’s a good opportunity to explore new options for vendors and sourcing, according to Aaron:

“If you have to buy a giant case of lettuce, you’re probably not going to use it all right now. Identify the packs that don’t meet your current needs and find smaller-quantity alternatives so you’re now throwing money away for no reason.
Farmers markets can be great for procurement. You may be able to get better deals directly with local producers, and that’s better for your community and can be used in your marketing.”

Local vendors may charge a higher price per pound of produce, but compared to the wasted margins you get when tossing surplus supplies from larger packs, you’re still likely to find a good deal.

Food delivery services


Serve Foods That Travel Well

Your customers know that they’re prioritizing convenience over quality when they order delivery or takeout. Many restaurants use this as an excuse to not pursue delivery quality.

But restaurants that take the entire customer experience seriously—from farm to the kitchen table—will easily make an impression that lasts.

Here’s how to start assessing how delivery-ready your menus is.

Take a look at your menu and circle all the foods that you know deliver well, meaning they don’t get soggy, lose their best flavors, or create a huge mess. Identify what complete menu items are still available, then trim down some more to find the six best dishes you can serve to satisfy your customers’ needs. 

Make those dishes, package them up for 30-40 minutes, and taste them like your customers would at home. Are they as good as they need to be?

Food Deliverability & Travelability

You also need to reevaluate your packaging. Poor packaging can destroy even the most deliverable dishes. Here are some best practices to follow:

  • Avoid styrofoam if you can help it
  • Plastic containers enable customers to easily store leftovers
  • Use liners, like wax paper, to avoid cross-contamination of moisture
  • Hot foods on bottom, cold on top
  • Separate liquids and sauces to keep items from getting soggy

Shake Shack, realizing that burgers and fries suffer from poor deliverability, created a whole new way for customers to enjoy their burgers like they’re straight off the grill: cook-at-home burger kits.

Shake Shack cook at home burger advertisement

Ultimately, deliverability is about creating a home experience that makes your customers feel taken care of by a brand they love—and that goes beyond the food you serve.

Your customers are looking for reassurance. They’re looking for food they can trust. They’re desperate for meaningful connection.

Aaron puts it perfectly:

“The most meaningful thing you can do is express how valuable their order is. Invest in your customer. Give them reheating instructions so it’s obvious you still want to give them the best experience possible. Send a free container of rice or dessert with a thank you note. 

People are limited in how they can show kindness right now, and restaurants have a rare opportunity to brighten somebody’s day.


There Are Two Ways To Look At This

Re-engineering your menu can be one of two things…

  1. A necessary challenge you have to overcome to survive
  2. An opportunity to create a brand and experience that’s meaningful and relevant

We believe restaurants that use this as their chance to improve their businesses and customer experiences will not only fare better during the pandemic, but also thrive down the road.

Yes, you can improve your margins today, but people will remember which brands changed as little as possible and which proudly embraced this new reality.

That’s how you use this crisis to build a resilient, profitable brand that thrives far into the future.

And we’d love to help.

Galley helps you optimize your recipes for greater margins, then enables you to quickly pivot as ingredient prices change—so you’re never in the dark about your true margins in real-time. See how it works.


Get the Help and Tools You Need

Galley: Modern Food Production Software

Galley helps food organizations master their entire operation with real-time inventory intelligence, flexible recipe creation and menu management, efficiency-boosting production guides, and a platform that scales with you. See how it works.

The Culinary Edge: Menu And Recipe Innovation

The Culinary Edge is a consulting firm that helps food organizations strategically develop recipes and menus, streamline operations, expand into new markets, and strengthen their organizations. Learn more.

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