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By Katherine Pendrill
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the restaurant industry and one of the biggest changes has been the rise of curbside pickup restaurant operations.
In fact, a survey by Bluedot found the use of restaurant curbside pickup has only continued to increase as the pandemic has worn on. As Bluedot reveals, 67% of consumers were using curbside pickup as often or more frequently in January of 2021, compared to 45% in April of 2020.
And while curbside pickup may seem like a major departure from the traditional dining experience, these figures are unsurprising given the many benefits of restaurant curbside pickup. For customers, online ordering and curbside pickup is not just a safe way to visit a restaurant during the pandemic, but it’s also a very convenient way to grab takeout. In most cases, customers don’t even have to get out of their car to collect their order.
And curbside pickup isn’t just popular with customers. Curbside pickup restaurant operations are also great for business because they provide a low-cost way to offer takeout – especially for restaurants without drive-thru ordering systems. And unlike third-party food delivery apps, curbside takeout allows restaurants to offer a quick and convenient takeout option at no extra cost per order.
Whether you’re new to this off-premise restaurant model, or you’re simply looking to optimize your current curbside pickup restaurant setup, this guide will cover everything you need to know, including:
Let your customers know how to order takeout and delivery from you.
Before diving into our top curbside tips, let’s start with a more basic question: what is curbside pickup?
Curbside pickup is a method of serving takeout that involves staff bringing an order directly to a customer waiting in their car, which is parked at the curb in front of your restaurant (or at another dedicated pickup spot). This model is considered a safe way for customers to pick up takeout orders from restaurants because it allows staff and customers to maintain a safe distance from one another.
Though curbside pickup has taken on new meaning in the past few years, the idea originally started with drive-in restaurants with carhops, where staff would serve and bring out food to guests waiting in the comfort of their cars. Now, this midcentury model is providing a perfect template for takeout in the COVID-19 era.
So how does curbside pickup work today?
Though it differs from restaurant to restaurant, generally curbside pickup starts with a customer placing an order for takeout by phoning the restaurant, or by using an online ordering system or app. After the order has been confirmed, the customer drives to the restaurant and waits in a designated spot for staff to bring their order out. If the restaurant is using a digital order system, the customer can confirm when they’ve arrived so staff knows exactly when to bring the order out.
No matter what curbside pickup looks like at your restaurant, this simple setup comes with a lot of benefits for both restaurants and customers:
Setting up your own curbside pickup restaurant operation may seem fairly straightforward, but there are some strategies you can use to make your setup more efficient and successful. Below are nine restaurant curbside pickup tips to try.
Before you begin offering curbside pickup, you’ve got to create a dedicated curbside takeout menu. Though it may seem easier to simply offer your full menu, creating a small menu specifically for curbside pickup will help you streamline your kitchen operations and ensure you don’t sacrifice quality when packaging meals to go.
To curate the perfect curbside pickup food menu, keep the following tips in mind:
When you package orders for delivery, you can usually count on couriers to have warming bags that keep things hot. However, this is not the case when it comes to curbside takeout.
To keep curbside pickup food orders safe, secure, and at the right temperature, keep the following in mind:
Once you’ve decided on your curbside takeout menu, you need a way for customers to actually order curbside pickup. The easiest way to do this is by implementing an online ordering system.
An online ordering system allows customers to view your takeout menu, place an order, and pay, all from your website. And if you use a platform like TouchBistro Online Ordering, all these online orders will be streamlined directly into your POS so there’s no need for manual order entry and the kitchen can begin preparing orders as soon as they come in.
Similar to a direct online ordering system, you can also use certain third-party apps to accept curbside pickup orders. While these apps are relatively easy to set up and use, you will have to pay a hefty commission fee on each order. Moreover, research by Sense360 has shown that the majority of consumers (63%) actually prefer to place their orders directly with restaurants, versus just 18% who prefer to use third parties.
You can also choose to take curbside pickup orders over the phone. However, you’ll be limiting the number of customers you can serve at one time. Not to mention, every order you take over the phone will need to be manually entered into your POS by staff – a process that’s time-consuming and error-prone.
Not sure how to get your restaurant ready for takeout and delivery?
While some venues have the luxury of a quiet street with plenty of curbside parking, this isn’t the case for every restaurant. This means you might have to get a bit creative when it comes to your curbside pickup spot.
If your restaurant has its own parking lot, you can use traffic cones or other markers to create a dedicated spot where customers can wait for their curbside orders. Make sure this spot provides plenty of visibility between your staff and your customers, and is located in an area that’s convenient enough to serve customers quickly.
If there is no parking lot available to your customers, consider contacting your local authorities to request permission to set up temporary parking in front of your business. If this isn’t an option, choose a dedicated pickup spot and provide clear instructions to customers about where they should wait. For instance, it might make sense for customers to park on the street behind your business while they wait for their order, instead of out front. Just make sure you have a procedure in place for customers to let you know when they’ve arrived.
The key to successful curbside pickup restaurant operations is making sure customers know where to go and what to do to collect their orders.
When creating pickup instructions for customers, make sure to address each stage in the process:
Let customers know exactly where to place an order for curbside pickup – whether that’s directly on your website, through a third-party app, or by phoning you directly. If you’re not using a restaurant online ordering system that lets you digitally communicate with customers, you might want to ask the customer to provide information about their car upfront so staff can easily identify them when they arrive.
Once customers have placed their order, give them an estimate of when it will be ready so they can time their arrival accordingly. If you’re using an online ordering system or app, the system can be used to send a confirmation email or SMS text to the customer to let them know when their order is ready.
Let customers know exactly where to park while they wait for their curbside pickup food order – whether that’s a parking lot, the curbside, or another location.
Make sure customers have a way of letting you know they’ve arrived. They may be able to do this through an app, or by calling or texting your restaurant directly. Identifying customers quickly is crucial as a Bluedot survey found that consumer willingness to wait for orders has dropped from 10 minutes to just 6 minutes during the pandemic.
Develop a procedure for contactless hand-off. This might involve asking the customer to pop their trunk so staff can place food directly in the vehicle, or staff may need to hand the order through the car window or door. Whatever method you choose, try to limit face-to-face contact between staff and customers as much as possible.
If you’re using an online ordering system or a third-party app, you can collect payment when the customer initially places their order. However, the customer isn’t paying in advance, you’ll need to bring payment terminals out to your pickup spot to collect payment.
As mentioned above, most online ordering systems or third-party apps allow customers to pay for curbside pickup orders in advance. This is ideal because there’s less need for staff to interact with customers upon pickup.
However, if you’re taking orders over the phone or your online ordering system isn’t set up for online payments, you’ll have to collect payments when customers arrive to collect their orders. In this case, it’s worth investing in credit card readers that allow you to accept contactless payments. With contactless payments, customers simply need to hover their card or mobile wallet app over the payment terminal to complete the transaction – no need to input their card or touch a PIN pad.
Contactless payments are ideal for curbside pickup because they are not only a more sanitary way for customers to pay, but they are also significantly faster. Visa has found that contactless transactions take as little as half a second to process, which is seven times faster than guests paying by chip card and PIN. And when you’re processing a high volume of orders, this time saved can translate into smoother restaurant curbside pickup operations.
You may have provided your customers with clear instructions for curbside pickup, but what about your staff?
First and foremost, you’ll need to set up new workflows for your front-of-house and back-of-house staff. Kitchen staff will need to monitor your kitchen order system to keep an eye on incoming curbside takeout orders, while front-of-house staff will need to coordinate the handoff of orders and take payments when necessary.
Depending on the volume of curbside pickup orders, you may want to have a dedicated staff member in charge of coordinating curbside service.
One of the primary reasons curbside pickup has become so popular during the pandemic is because it offers a safer way for customers to enjoy their favorite restaurant dishes.
To ensure your curbside pickup restaurant operations keep everyone safe, keep the following in mind:
And don’t keep your restaurant cleaning a secret; let your customers know how hard you’re working to keep things sanitary and safe. Even before the pandemic, 75% of diners said they would steer clear of a restaurant with bad reviews of its cleanliness. Now cleanliness is even more important to customers so let the public know exactly what steps you’re taking to keep them safe by including information on your website, social media, or even alongside each order confirmation.
After doing all the work of setting up a great curbside pickup experience, you want to make sure your customers actually know about it!
From social media to restaurant signage, here are the best ways to advertise your curbside takeout business:
While the pandemic may have accelerated the adoption of curbside pickup restaurant operations, the ease and convenience of this model mean that it could end up being a good source of off-premise revenue in the long run. And by following the above tips, you can ensure your curbside operations are not just efficient, but also profitable.
Katherine is the Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, where she writes about trending topics in food and restaurants. The opposite of a picky eater, she’ll try (almost) anything at least once. Whether it’s chowing down on camel burgers in Morocco or snacking on octopus dumplings in Japan, she’s always up for new food experiences.
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