Special Report

20 Ways Restaurants Are Upping Their Takeout Game in the Coronavirus Era

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In an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, in March or April almost every state issued orders shutting down its restaurants for dine-in service. (The sole holdoutwas South Dakota.) Many restaurants simply closed completely, either temporarily or for good, but many more shifted their efforts to takeout and delivery — even those that had previously offered pricey high-end dining experiences in elegant surroundings. (You might be surprised at some of the famous names on this list of 18 fancy restaurants offering takeout and delivery during the coronavirus crisis.)

Many kinds of eating places, like sushi bars, Chinese restaurants, pizzerias, and delis, had of course already had vigorous takeout and/or delivery businesses. Now, though, in an effort to up their dine-out game, restaurants all over the country — neighborhood independents, famed temples of gastronomy, and fast-food chains alike — have come up with out-of-restaurant creative strategies to help increase business and serve their communities.

24/7 Tempo consulted food service industry sites such as Nation’s Restaurant News, Restaurant Business, Restaurant Hospitality, Fast Casual, and QSR Magazine, as well as local and regional news and lifestyle publications and restaurant websites, to learn about inventive dine-out-related promotions, technical innovations, and other initiatives introduced by restaurants as ways of helping to cope with the shutdown. 

Click here to see ways restaurants are upping their takeout game in the coronavirus era.

Restaurants in some states — among themAlaska, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee — are now slowly reopening for dine-in service, with restrictions on overall capacity and distance between tables and new safety standards for both employees and customers. (Here are every state’s rules for staying at home and social distancing.)

Some of the measures on this list may have evolved (and one was a one-time experiment). But even when restaurants everywhere are able to resume some semblance of normal service, it seems likely that many will continue to encourage takeout and delivery, both for their customers’ peace of mind and because they now have refined dining-out systems in place.

Source: Courtesy of Atelier Crenn

Atelier Crenn
> Location: San Francisco
> Innovation: All-vegetarian meal kits

Chef Dominique Crenn, the first woman in America to be awarded the coveted honor of three Michelin stars, is known for her multi-course tasting menus, priced from $345 to $475 per person. For the duration of the crisis, however, she offers meatless three- and four-course meal kits for one to six persons priced at $38 and $55 per person.


Source: Courtesy of Damien S. via Yelp

> Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
> Innovation: Takeout by reservation

To minimize wait times and avoid a pile-up at the pickup station, this “cozy farmhouse-style” restaurant lets customers reserve a time to come get their food. Pickup is offered Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Source: Photo by Karen Ducey / Getty Images

> Location: Seattle
> Innovation: Three food service options in one

This Pacific Northwestern fine dining institution has pivoted to a three-part operation: Drive On Thru serves burgers, a veggie melt, the famed Canlis salad, and ice cream sandwiches every weekday; the Bagel Shed opens weekday mornings for bagels, breakfast sandwiches, and coffee; and Family Meal delivers a daily changing dinner menu, complete with wine, on weeknights.

Source: Wolterk / Getty Images

> Locations: Nationwide
> Innovation: New employee safety precautions

Even before the pandemic hit, this popular chicken chain was sending employees out to walk drive-thru lines, chatting with customers and taking orders to speed up their experience. With drive-thru now of paramount importance to the chain, Chick-fil-A has added outdoor hand washing stations for those working the lines.


Source: Courtesy of Cranky Al’s via Yelp

Cranky Al’s
> Location: Wauwatosa, Wisconsin
> Innovation: Kids Quarantine Box

In addition to regular menu items, this doughnut, brunch, and pizza place near Milwaukee is making stay-at-home days a little brighter for youngsters (and presumably their parents) with this DIY box of six plain doughnuts, chocolate and vanilla icing, M&Ms, Oreos, and rainbow sprinkles.

Source: Courtesy of Creator San Francisco

> Location: San Francisco
> Innovation: Food transfer chamber

To further minimize human contact, this semi-automated burger chain has introduced the Creator Transfer Chamber — a kind of airlock between kitchen and customer. Food is packed in hermetically double-sealed tamper-evident bags, then placed in a chamber with a pressurized window facing outwards. The customer retrieves the food, then the chamber self-sanitizes before the next order. Creator has open-sourced the design so that any takeout restaurant may utilize the technology.


Dig Inn
> Locations: Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn and Rye Brook, New York
> Innovation: Farm boxes

In addition to menu items, this healthy food-focused chain now makes available for pickup or delivery a weekly Dig Acres Farm Box, featuring a changing assortment of fruits and vegetables from the independent farmers who supply the restaurants. The chain recognized that, while pantry goods were easily obtained elsewhere, people often had more difficulty sourcing fresh produce while sheltering in place.

Source: Courtesy of El Torito

El Torito
> Locations: Southern California
> Innovation: Free kids’ meals

This Southern California Mexican chain is offering free meals for children with grownup takeout orders. The chain also offers a $10 discount on pickup orders of $35 or more.

Source: Courtesy of Jessica H. via Yelp

> Location: Lexington, Kentucky
> Innovation: Live music during pickup

Giuseppe’s, which styles itself “Lexington’s favorite Italian,” makes the takeout process a little more civilized than usual: pianist Dave Hall performs smooth jazz on the restaurant patio nightly from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. while customers pass by to pick up their orders.


Source: Courtesy of Dina M. via Yelp

Golden Diner
> Location: New York City
> Innovation: Dinner for breakfast, breakfast for dinner

It’s easy to get the sense of time screwed up when you’re under lockdown and working from home (if at all), so this Lower East Side hotspot, run by an alumnus of David Chang’s seminal Momofuku, has introduced an all-day menu for takeout and delivery. That means, according to an Instagram post from the restaurant, that “[Y]ou can get wings & quesadillas for breakfast, matzoh balls & breakfast burritos at night.”

Source: Courtesy of Leo's Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria

Leo’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria
> Location: Wappingers, Cornwall, and Newburgh, New York
> Innovation: DIY pizza kit

Leo’s is just one of the many pizzerias around the country that’s not only still offering pizza for takeout or delivery but also giving the home-bound the opportunity to bake their own pies, when and where they want to. The Leo’s pizza kit includes a ball of dough big enough for one large pizza, along with the restaurant’s sauce and an ample portion of shredded cheese.


Source: Courtesy of Nervous Nellies

Nervous Nellies
> Location: Fort Myers Beach, Florida
> Innovation: Boat delivery

The Gulf Coast waters off Fort Myers see a considerable amount of boat traffic, and are also home to a number of permanent boat residents. Rather than make those on the water come ashore to pick up their orders, this steak and seafood place delivers food to their boats. For those who prefer to pick up their own meals, the restaurant also provides complimentary dockage.

Source: Courtesy of Nikki W. via Yelp

Paper Place Deli and Market
> Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
> Innovation: Free toilet paper

One of the more curious effects of the pandemic has been to encourage hoarding of toilet paper. Around the time cities and states started announcing lockdowns the second week of March, sales of this common household necessity rose some 845%. Paper Place decided to do its part to keep America hygienic by giving away a free roll with its sandwiches and other takeout orders.

Source: Courtesy of Pizza Vetri

Pizzeria Vetri
> Location: Philadelphia
> Innovation: Family pizza packages plus coloring pages for kids

This pizza emporium offers “family bundles” for easy dinners. Included in the $50 fair are a salad, antipasto plate, two pizzas, and a dessert, as well as coloring pages for the younger set. Orders for both takeout and delivery are packaged in tamper-proof bags and boxes.


Source: Page Light Studios / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

Ruby Slipper Café
> Locations: Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida
> Innovation: DIY pancake kits

While other establishments might offer make-your-own pizza or doughnut-decorating kits, this 11-unit breakfast-focused place is selling DIY pancake breakfasts. Kits, which must be preordered, cost $20 and include 10 pancakes, eight slices of applewood-smoked bacon, and an assortment of toppings, including marshmallows, sprinkles, and cream cheese icing.

Source: Courtesy of Sauce Pizzeria

Sauce Pizzeria
> Location: New York City
> Innovation: Pies for hospitals

When people complete their online orders, Sauce asks them to also “purchase a cheese pie for a hospital” as part of their order. Customers are also given the option of picking up and delivering the pie(s) themselves, should they wish to volunteer.


Source: Courtesy of Scrub Oaks - Contemporary American Pub

> Location: Fayetteville, North Carolina
> Innovation: 4 for 3 deal

This gastropub has rolled out a “Family to go for 4” promotion, offering four servings of ScrubOaks’ most popular entrees — like chicken Alfredo — for the price of three.

Source: NoDerog / Getty Images

Taco Bell
> Locations: Nationwide
> Innovation: Drive-thru for truckers

Because trucks and the like — which play such an important role in keeping stores and restaurants stocked with food — can’t negotiate the typical Taco Bell takeout window, the chain turned its corporate headquarters in Irvine, California, into one gigantic drive-thru for essential workers who drive oversized vehicles last Friday, May 1. “Truck-Thru at HQ” offered the truckers free meals including a Crunchwrap Supreme, a bean burrito, cinnamon twists, and a Baja Blast. There’s no word yet as to whether the company plans to repeat the offering.

Source: Courtesy of Tropical Acres Steakhouse

Tropical Acres Steakhouse
> Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
> Innovation: Takeout butcher shop

In addition to regular menu items, this restaurant is selling takeout customers fresh-cut steaks and frozen steaks and other proteins (lamb racks, crab cakes, chicken breast, etc.). The prices are low — a 14-ounce strip steak goes for $13; 6-ounce chicken breasts are $2 each — and Tropical Acres notes, “Compared to a grocery store, our beef quality is the highest end of USDA Choice.”


Zen Box Izakaya
> Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
> Innovation: Pay-what-you-can meals

A Japanese restaurant near the famed Guthrie Theater, Zen Box Izakaya is offering a takeout menu of bento boxes and ramen on a pay-what-you-can basis. Those who can’t afford the suggested prices can buy the food anyway — and if anyone pays above the suggested prices, the surplus is used to offset prices for the less fortunate.

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