Menu Channel Differentiation in Takeout, Delivery and Catering – Why it Matters

Menu differentiation has become a non-negotiable practice for restaurants seeking to improve margins and drive customer engagement; Menu differentiation needs to be segmented by sales channel, take-out, delivery, third party platforms, and catering. This differentiation includes both offerings and pricing as effective strategies to meet the unique needs and preferences of customers.

  1. What are your customers’ preferences based on each channel?
  2. How does the menu impact the efficiency and profit of my operations?
  3. How do I build a menu that engages customers to order directly and continuously?

Begin by analyzing customer data to understand their preferences and behaviors when ordering off-premises.

Consider conducting surveys for each sales channel when possible, use this data and compare differences such as identifying what is most important, convenience, speed, food preferences, price, portion size, etc.

Also study and analyze your menu data from each channel and review what customers are purchasing. Also review things like check size and add ons that can help you better structure what to upsell. Differentiate between customer groups, like first time buyers vs. repeat buyers, loyalty vs. non loyalty.

Based on this analysis, highlight both top selling and low selling items for each channel. Use this as a starting point for your change initiatives for each channel.

Develop separate menus tailored to each off-premises sales channel. These menus should reflect the specific needs and expectations of customers using these services.

This would include the following menu sets:

  • Take-out and delivery
  • Third Party
  • Catering

Keep in mind that unlike food served in your dining room these menu items will represent your brand in both a digital and traveling environment. So focus on these qualities to ensure you are offering your best on all menus.

Portability: Items on the off-premises menus should be selected or designed with portability in mind. Dishes should travel well without compromising taste or quality.

Simplify: Streamline the off-premises menu to make it more manageable for both customers and kitchen staff. Focus on a selection of your most popular and easily prepared items.

Signature Items: Showcase your restaurant’s signature dishes on the off-premises menu. These items can serve as a hook to attract customers and create a unique selling proposition.

Packaging: Invest in quality, eco-friendly packaging that keeps food fresh and presentable during transportation. Well-designed packaging can also enhance the customer’s experience.

Prices: Adjust menu prices for off-premises orders to remain competitive in the market. Consider offering meal bundles or special promotions to incentivize off-premises sales.

What you offer within each ordering platform is an important way to accomplish your goals. Go back to the three priorities above to provide guidance on how to differentiate your menu within each platform.

Starting with your own online ordering platform, the underlying theme you must ensure is that your 1st party experience needs to be as good as if not better than a 3rd party experience. 3rd party ordering platforms have much to offer customers, especially variety, convenience and delivery, so you have to offer similar and more.

Optimize your website and mobile app for a seamless user experience. Make sure customers can easily navigate the off-premises menu and place orders. Here are some other important things that you need to consider.

Exclusive Items: Offer exclusive menu items or limited-time specials that are only available on your proprietary site. This gives customers a unique reason to order directly from your restaurant.

Customization Options: Provide more customization options on your proprietary site. Allow customers to personalize their orders to a greater extent, ensuring they can get exactly what they want.

Loyalty Programs: Implement a loyalty program that rewards customers for ordering directly from your website or app. This could include discounts, free items, or access to special events.

Detailed Descriptions: Provide detailed descriptions and high-quality images for menu items. Include information about ingredients, preparation methods, and the story behind the dish. This enhances the overall dining experience for customers.

Pricing: Maintain the same pricing that you have within your restaurant for dining in. Also, consider offering one or two products as price leaders that you can effectively advertise and draw attention to. Example could include some side items for a dollar with the purchase of any regular meal.

Standard or limited Menu: Maintain a standard menu on marketplace platforms. Avoid offering exclusive items that are not available in your physical restaurant. This helps in maintaining consistency across all platforms.

Profit and Operations: Focus on ensuring that what you offer is profitable and easy to execute. Know your cost and profit for each item, ensure your offerings are easy to execute and are consistently great.

Limited Customization: Limit customization options on third-party sites to streamline the ordering process and improve ease of execution. While some customization is important, too many choices can complicate orders and increase the likelihood of mistakes.

Pricing Strategy: Adjust menu prices, 20%-30%is standard on third-party platforms to cover the commission fees. However, be cautious not to overprice items, as customers may compare prices across platforms.

The best practices for your 1st party ordering all apply however there are a few ways in which you can continue to differentiate your menu.

B2B vs B2C: Customer needs and wants are very different for these two sectors and the best programs actually recognize that two specialized menus help meet those needs better than just one. Create a separate events menu for your B2C customers that offers a menu and services more similar to event catering than drop off catering.

Dietary: Offer options for group outliers around dietary needs, vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, nut free, are just a few popular examples. Provide complete and detailed labeling of items.

Individual Meals: Post pandemic this is a huge trend and easily accomplished by bringing in a limited number of entree or meal items individually packaged from your take-out and delivery menu.

Quantities: Ensure your customers know how many it will serve, no guessing, no ambiguities. Make it clear and accurate, a small range is also appropriate. I dissuade restaurants from having any number of guests format, as it adds operational complexity and can more easily provide situations where customers under order.

Professional Imagery: Provide high-quality, professional images of your dishes on all platforms. Visual appeal is crucial in enticing customers to place an order.

Consistent Packaging: Ensure that the packaging of your food is consistent, regardless of the ordering platform. This helps in maintaining the quality and presentation of your dishes, reinforcing your brand image.

Keep an eye on market trends and competitors in the off-premises dining space. Be prepared to adapt and innovate to meet changing customer demands.

By differentiating your restaurant menu by sales channel for off-premises dining, you can cater to the distinct needs of these customers while maximizing your revenue potential in the growing off-premises dining market.


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