Tourism's Impact on the Take-Out Trend
By Michelle Ponto
The trend of eating on-the-go has evolved from fast food convenience to a lifestyle. Consumers are no longer looking for the typical burger and fries at drive-thru windows. Instead they want everything from full-course meals to desserts that complement their own cooking at home. But those that live in the community aren't the only ones to take it 's "to go". The tourism and conference industry are also making an impact on the take-out trend.
Take-out by the Number
According to Statistics Canada, Canadians spend on average $1,487 a year on restaurant meals which is nearly 30% more than they did in the late 1990s. However, eating out isn't the only thing that has increased in the last few years. The percentage of meals prepared in restaurants but eaten elsewhere has also increased. Statistics Canada reports that in 2004, 61% of meals were taken "to go".
Some people assume that most take-out occurs during the lunch hour, but this is actually not the case. A large percentage of meals-to-go are purchased for day-to-day family dining. Research shows that only one quarter of Canadian families eat a meal made from scratch everyday. Instead, 75% of Canadians rely on processed, prepared or take-out meals for their daily evening dinners.
What's for Dinner Tonight?
As consumers' taste buds have evolved so has the world of take-out dining. Customers are no longer looking for basic fast food, but want quality meals-fast. Sandwiches, salads, sushi and soups still make popular take-out lunch items, but many families are looking to bring "dinner" home. While they are too busy or too tired to cook, they are not too busy to eat.
"They [take-out consumers] are looking to lead an active and healthy lifestyle...they also don't have time to cook," says one food operator who started a take-out Indian food restaurant in downtown Toronto in 2006. "We have loyal clients who come to the restaurant for take-out several times a week."
Indian food is just one of the meals that people want for take-out. Other popular meals-to-go include Greek or Mediterranean cuisine, pasta, chicken (rotisserie or fried), Chinese food, Thai dishes and of course, pizza. Basically in today's market, if you can package it, you can take it to go.
In fact, companies such as OrderIt.ca have made "meals-to-go" their business. Working with over 100 restaurants across the Greater Toronto Area, they do" take-out" for their hungry patrons and deliver everything from falafels to fine dining cuisine
to their doors.
July and August is the height of Canada's tourist season, but it's also the time for family vacations and summertime eating. Families may not want to prepare picnic lunches, barbeques and other meals. Instead they are looking for quick and convenient foods that they can take on the go. This means taking their favourites with them- whether it's pre-made salads and sandwiches, or desserts and cakes for parties. But don't limit your take-out menu to just the basics. Include all your popular items and don't forget about beverages. The more you can make yourself a one-stop-shop, the easier ordering will be for your customer.
Another emerging trend is selling frozen prepared meals. In addition to providing take-out menu items, many restaurants have started offering frozen meals. These include packages of their own gourmet hamburgers, steaks, pizzas and pasta sauces or pastas such as ravioli and lasagna to accommodate those that want the good taste of restaurant dining in the convenience of their home.
Conferences and other meetings bring new people to the area. Whether it's providing lunch for a bus tour or snacks and meals for a conference, it gives you the chance to increase your sales while promoting your business. Themed lunches such as Greek souvlaki or a Japanese themed Bento box make an interesting switch to the usual sandwiches and coffee lunch... and will leave a lasting impression.
Doing Take-out Right
If you're going to do take-out, keep your customers happy by doing it right:
Make ordering convenient by having your take-out menu available online and in print in the restaurant.
Test your packaging to make sure it's leak-proof, is convenient to carry and doesn't affect the taste of your food.
Include special reheating instructions on the package (usually a sticker will do).
Put your customer's safety first.
Pre-packaged sushi, sandwiches and other foods should include a best before date.
Advertise your meals-to-go menu on your website, on table top cards and on your regular menu even if it's just one sentence.