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Takeout & Delivery

Takeout Food Packaging: Why You Need to Make Smart Decisions at Your Restaurant


Dana Krook

Imagine this: You order your favorite meal online from a local restaurant, and thirty minutes later it arrives…cold. 

How do you feel? 

If you’re ravenous, you may eat it. But chances are you’ll probably feel unhappy about the entire experience. Will you be rushing to order from that restaurant again?

Probably not.

Whether you’re a restaurateur that offers delivery or takeout for pick-up, the right restaurant food packaging helps keep the food warm from your restaurant to your diner’s door.

However, food packaging isn’t only about practicality. It can be your competitive advantage in a digital food delivery market that Morgan Stanley expects to make up 11% of total restaurant sales by 2022 (up from 6% in the middle of 2017).

To achieve this competitive advantage, you need to make smart decisions about your packaging from the start, decisions that will help grow your brand. There are several factors to consider when creating your packaging. 

In this post you’ll learn:

  • Why it’s important to make smart decisions about food service packaging (hint: packaging offers many benefits you cannot ignore)
  • What factors to take into account when you create your packaging including materials, cost, food packaging trends, and your brand

Ready? Let’s get started.

Prepare Your Restaurant for an Online Ordering System

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Why It’s Important to Make Smart Decisions About Restaurant Food Packaging

Packaging offers many benefits. To realize these benefits, you need to take the time to create packaging that’s right for your business. The right packaging:

  • Protects the food from any contamination when delivering it to customers.
  • Makes a meal more appealing. Many senses influence how we enjoy the dining experience, including our sight (i.e. how a dish looks when it arrives).
  • Helps control the food’s temperature, so dishes meant to be eaten warm, for example, actually arrive warm. There’s nothing worse than ordering a soup, pizza, or pasta only to have it arrive cold. For many customers, this can be the deal breaker that sends them to another restaurant.
  • Helps sell more food. People also buy with their eyes and attractive packaging encourages repeat sales.
  • Allows you to charge a premium. Well-packaged food has a higher perceived value. For example, according to a study by Asia Pulp & Paper, customers are willing to pay more for eco-friendly packaging.
  • Reinforces your brand. Packaging is another brand touch point that lets you connect with customers through the smart use of color, design, and copy. If your restaurant is known for having a quirky sense of humor, you could create packaging that reflects this brand personality.
  • Shows customers what your values are and what you care about. If you value sustainability and care about the environment, consider using biodegradable packaging.

Factors That Will Inform The Choice Of Packaging at Your Restaurant

Now that you have a basic understanding of what the right packaging can do for your restaurant, let’s look at several factors that will inform your design: the choice and cost of material, food packaging trends, and your brand personality.

The Choice Of Materials and Cost

Choosing the right materials is the first step in selecting your packaging. There are a variety of materials available, such as plastic, cardboard, styrofoam, as well as biodegradable and sustainable alternatives. Each has its own pros and cons:

  • Styrofoam is a fantastic insulator that helps to control the temperature of hot and cold foods. However, it’s bad for the environment. 
  • Plastics are strong and offer excellent protection for the food. But again, plastics are not environmentally friendly.
  • Cardboard is biodegradable, cost-effective, easy to customize printing, and sturdy when folded correctly. Many restaurants offering pizza delivery use corrugated cardboard boxes that provide heat insulation and regulate temperature. The box closes firmly to minimize the amount of heat that’s released and has small holes on the side, allowing some air to escape. This prevents condensation and saves the pizza from getting soggy.
  • Sustainable packaging alternatives are often more costly, but far better for the environment. For example, Kore Kitchen, a meal delivery service in Los Angeles, uses recyclable glass bottles for its smoothies and compostable containers made from bagasse (a byproduct that remains after sugarcane processing).

While there are many different materials to choose from – each with their own pros and cons – choosing eco-friendly packaging may be the best option. Sure, sustainable alternatives can be more expensive, but they’re far better for the environment.

Besides, as we’ve seen, many consumers are willing to pay more for food that’s delivered in sustainable packaging – a packaging trend discussed in more detail in the next section. 

Food Packaging Trends

friends excited that the takeout pizza has arrived

Here are four of the most significant trends to consider when creating or redesigning packaging.

1. Sustainable Packaging

The growing awareness of environmental issues has lead to customers placing increased pressure on companies and restaurants to be totally transparent about the products they sell. 

Understanding a food’s origin is currently one of the hottest food trends. Customers want to where it came from, what’s in it, and how it’s made. With an increased pressure on corporate social responsibility, customers are less forgiving of companies who don’t share their values.

And it’s not just about food anymore. Customers want restaurants to embrace sustainable packaging practices too. Nearly two-thirds of Americans demand sustainable packaging and clear labeling. 

This means that plastics and anything that can’t be recycled is a no-no. Instead, biodegradable, eco-friendly, and even edible packaging is in. Many restaurants are already following suit with McDonald’s announcing they would ditch foam packaging in 2018 and Starbucks promising to make coffee cups that are 100% recyclable.

The bottom line?

Sustainable packaging can help you win over customers who support environmentally conscious brands. On the flip side, fail to adopt sustainable practices and you’ll probably feel the wrath of customers who care deeply about these issues. What side of the fence will you be on?

2. Minimalistic Packaging

The minimalism trend is present everywhere: Clean and simple websites, book covers with less clutter, and yes – you guessed it – packaging free from unnecessary materials and cluttered designs. 

McDonald’s, for example, chose to replace packaging that told a story with a simpler and more elegant design. The reason? They wanted to portray themselves as modern and progressive.

But what is driving this trend?

There are many factors:

  • Minimalistic packaging embraces a no-nonsense approach
  • It’s material savvy, cost-effective and, often, environmentally friendly. 
  • It helps brands create and reinforce an upscale image, which increases the perceived value of the brand.
  • With less clutter clouding the message, the brand can better communicate their core message and increase awareness with customers.

To remain ahead of the curve, include relevant information and graphics on your packaging and only use essential materials.

Prepare Your Restaurant for an Online Ordering System

Not sure how to get your restaurant ready for takeout and delivery?

Download Guide

3. Personalized Packaging

To stay ahead of the competition, many brands are personalizing their packaging. Look at Coca-Cola, with their pre-named cans for a perfect example of this type of packaging. 

The rise of this trend isn’t surprising. Personalization offers many benefits for companies, It helps them create stronger, more emotional connections with customers and gives them free, word-of-mouth marketing thanks to social media.

Personalization also provides “a nice touch” that ensures companies remain top-of-mind with customers. Wouldn’t you feel special if you received a personal note every time you ordered food?

As a restaurateur, you could print personal messages on your to-go items that make customers feel special. Simply leave a space on the packaging and then write a small note that reads “Made with love for [insert customer name] by [insert server name].”

4. Convenient Packaging

Customers today have busy lifestyles that demand convenience.

That need for convenience has a big impact on restaurant takeout. Customers are buying the convenience of ordering and eating food on the go or in the comfort of home – without having to cook or do dishes.

This means your food delivery packaging needs to be designed with convenience in mind. It should be lightweight, easy to carry, and resealable (so it doesn’t need to be eaten all in one go).

For example, if you’re a restaurant that specializes in noodles, your takeout might have a convenient handle at the top. Or, if you focus on sandwiches, do what Eat&Go did and offer  accordion takeout tubes that inch smaller and smaller as you eat. The end result is something that fits in the customer’s pocket.

If you need some food packaging inspiration, check out the article from TrendHunter titled 26 Examples of Convenient Food Packaging.

Brand Personality

Packaging is an ideal opportunity to market your restaurant brand. Include your company name or logo on the packaging so your brand is visible to anyone who sees it.

But there are more opportunities here than just slapping some logos on a takeout box.

As mentioned right at the beginning, packaging provides yet another touch point for customers to interact with your brand. Your food packaging shows customers what you care about and, by extension, what you don’t. 

That means your packaging is as an extension of your brand and should be designed with your brand personality in mind. Ask yourself:

  • Does this material align with your brand?
  • Do the visuals and information on the packaging properly communicate your image?
  • Does the packaging speak to your audience? 

Answering these helps you figure out if your packaging will have a positive or negative impact on your brand. As we’ve seen, the materials alone can have a big impact, with many customers today boycotting brands who don’t choose their packaging wisely.

Because We All Judge a Book by Its Packaging

Restaurant takeout packaging potentially offers many benefits for your business – from simply protecting your food and controlling the temperature to helping you charge a premium and portraying a positive brand image.  

To grab hold of these benefits, make smart decisions about your packaging from the start.

These smart decisions include:

  • Selecting the right materials for your packaging (e.g. biodegradable or recyclable materials)
  • Monitoring and embracing the latest packaging trends, like minimalistic and convenient on-the-go packaging
  • Ensuring your packaging reflects your brand personality and says something about what you stand for

The only remaining question is, will you make smart decisions about food packaging at your restaurant?

Prepare Your Restaurant for an Online Ordering System

Not sure how to get your restaurant ready for takeout and delivery?

Download Guide

Dana is the Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, sharing tips for and stories of restaurateurs turning their passion into success. She loves homemade hot sauce, deep fried pickles and finding excuses to consume real maple syrup.

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Orange takeout box with TouchBistro logo
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