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Can restaurants benefit from takeout-only venues?

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, there was a major shift in the way diners eat and how they receive their food. According to the Wall Street Journal, 33% of full-service orders were to-go in 2022. This significant increase in takeaway orders has led many restaurant operators to ask whether it is worth investing in a dedicated venue that caters exclusively to takeout orders. 

Takeout-only venues, often referred to as “cloud kitchens”, allow food businesses to accommodate orders without added overhead or hassle. Additionally, they let restaurant owners provide the same high-quality food for takeaway orders as they do for dine-in customers. 

To learn more about whether restaurants could benefit from investing in takeout-only venues, I spoke to Chef Devin Jarmon, the owner of Yes Chef Private Dining and Jarmon’s Co., and Chef Pete Blohme of Fairhope, Alabama. 

Takeout vs Dine-in: Differences in kitchen layout

One of the largest hurdles for accepting takeout orders is the unknown amount of business you can generate at any given time. 

For example, on a busy Saturday night, you can likely anticipate the amount of food you’ll serve in a physical dining room space. There are reservations, set tables, and operating hours that provide a rough estimate of the maximum amount of food you can expect to serve.

With takeout orders, on the other hand, this level of expectation can be lost due to the unpredictability of customers who may order online or over the phone. They are not obliged to the physical capacity of a restaurant, and therefore it is an open opportunity for them to log in, call, and order whenever they fancy. 

In a typical kitchen, the space to cook can be cramped and hard to manoeuvre in. More so, your kitchen staff is often limited when it comes to space and the real estate needed to put food out for customers. Having an influx of takeout orders can put even more pressure on staff who are managing in-house diners. 

It can be a tricky situation, as those in the dining room are expecting their food at a certain time. Additionally, the guests who ordered takeout are given a timeframe, and you do not want to keep them waiting as well. 

If both the main dining area and takeout section get busy, it can be difficult to operate efficiently and give each meal, and customer, their respective proper attention. 

More so, the way in which the food is delivered has an impact on the physical labour needed to produce it. For dine-in meals, the chef will often plate the meal and the waiter will serve the guest directly. Composing the dish is easy and tracked through an expeditor. 

For takeout meals, each dish and various sub-components all need to be packaged in a way that allows for the meal to taste the best it can after travelling. This will often lead to several containers being used, various temperature zones, the organisation of each order, and ensuring each customer leaves with everything they need to enjoy their meal. 

The burden this can have on staff and the physical location you work in can be great.

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Takeout-only venues: What are the pros and cons?

One pro to a takeout-only venue is the ease and dedication it takes to operate one compared to an in-person dining setting. For starters, you only need enough space to cook and package the food, so costs and overhead will be much lower. 

Additionally, you may not require as much staff, as you are just preparing the product and not serving the customers in a traditional restaurant setting. Beyond this, you are not burdening your staff with two different business channels. This allows for a higher degree of focus and quality for your takeout offerings. 

All of this makes it easy to understand why having a takeout-only operation may be beneficial to food operators. 

That said, if you do decide to go in the direction of a takeout-only venue, it’s important to remember it will be an additional cost to manage. You will also have to be aware of the extra supplies and staff needed if you are pairing the takeout-only venue within the same business organisational structure as a dine-in restaurant. 

Further, you must train the takeout-only venue staff to maintain the standards of your main restaurant, which can take time and be risky if the food is not up to par. Therefore, the extra managing of takeout-only venues and the extra cost needed can be burdensome for some restaurant operators. 

“I think with the uncertainty of the current economy, it’s important to open your mind and be willing to pivot and adapt constantly or you may not make it,” says Chef Devin Jarmon, who is also an ACF CCC-certified chef. “Just like you would diversify your investment portfolio, you should diversify your business interests.” 

A takeout-only venue can be an investment in not only your efficiency but also the evolution and on-trend status of your business and how you serve your customers. 

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What to consider when opening a takeout venue

One of the first things to determine before opening a takeout-only venue is if there is a demand for one. If you aim to create a demand for takeout options from your customers, it should paint a clear roadmap to the business you hope to attain. 

Additionally, finding a location is key. It must be easy to manage, have operating costs within your budget, and be relatively close to your other business. More so, it should suit the volume of work you aim to do while not being too large. 

The other key component is staffing the facility with people whom you have trained to make great food and uphold your business standards. 

Chef Pete Blohme, a chef and entrepreneur, shares some insight on cooks he recently worked with in a to-go-only venue. “It’s really cool… the camaraderie in the space and organisation. [The kitchen] seemed to be very efficient and well run. I also know the guy that runs it, and it is profitable for him as well.”