restaurant business plan

Growing Trend in Restaurant Business- Takeout Food Not Just for Fast Food Anymore

This sounds painfully obvious, but sometimes the obvious things the last ones people pay attention to- the lesson is, you have to sell to the customer the way they want to buy. And these fays, more and more of them in the restaurant industry want to buy food to go.

America not only has become a takeout nation, it's increasingly picky about what it brings home. Takeout lunch or dinner no longer is limited to the neighborhood McDonald's or Pizza Hut, the supermarket deli or the prepared-food section of an upscale grocer such as Whole Foods. Now, in a trend that's reshaping the $537 billion restaurant industry, consumers are demanding takeout from casual and even fine-dining eateries.

Well over half of the meals purchased at the nation's estimated 935,000 restaurants are gobbled up at home, back at the office or in the car. Twenty-five years ago, far more people ate restaurant food in eateries than took it out. By 2006, the typical American ate 81 meals inside restaurants but ordered 127 to go, reports researcher NPD Group.

So the restaurant industry is reinventing itself with double-lane drive-throughs, curbside pickup and takeout-only counters. The very notion of eating out is being redefined.

More than nine in 10 family-dining and casual-dining restaurants offer takeout, as do three-quarters of fine-dining locations, according to the National Restaurant Association. And 47% of casual-dining operators recently surveyed say their takeout business will grow in 2008.

A generation of Americans is eating out in an entirely different way than did the generation before it. In 1955, about 25% of the money Americans spent on all food purchases including groceries was at restaurants. Today, it's 48%, the restaurant trade group says.

For Outback, which was among the first to offer curbside pickup for casual restaurants, the takeout business has been huge. It will account for nearly 12% of sales in 2008, or $300 million, up from less than 3% of sales about a decade ago, says Paul Avery, chief operating officer of parent company OSI Restaurant Partners.

"There was a void," explains Kyle Gaffney, general manager of both restaurants. "People wanted takeout, but they didn't want junk food."

P.F. Chang's China Bistro (PFCB), the upper-end Chinese chain, snubbed its nose at takeout a decade ago. Back then, Chang's essentially discouraged customers from requesting takeout.

"But the reality was, that's the way a lot of people look at Chinese food," CEO Richard Federico says. In fact, the top complaint the chain received was for its poor takeout service, he says.

Chang's now has a dedicated takeout area in each location. It has a person on staff who does nothing but handle takeout. And it redesigned its takeout packaging to keep food hotter. With no marketing of the service, takeout now accounts for 13% of the chain's sales, Federico says.

On top of that, the chain created the Pei Wei Asian Diner concept, a more casual chain that does 40% of its business by takeout.

Chang's newest problem: Its takeout business might be growing too fast.

Some Chang's outlets now do 20% of their business in takeout. That has created a need to design restaurants with less space for tables and more space for meal preparation.

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