Fewer Seats, More Shelves: How Restaurants are Preparing for the Takeout Order Boom

Since 2014, online ordering for pickup and delivery has grown 300% faster than dine-in traffic. In its early years, digital ordering provided an opportunity to access tech-savvy customers and boost sales. Now, it is crucial that quick-serve and fast-casual restaurants offer the ability to order online. 

As takeout sales outpace dine-in sales, many restaurant brands are innovating to accommodate off-premise customers — or even prioritize them. When a brand first launches online ordering for takeout and/or delivery, there are a few things we expect to see: a mobile app, new website features, or an appearance on your favorite food ordering marketplace. The high number of takeout orders have become a catalyst for operational changes within the restaurant, and mastering innovation here can give your brand a serious advantage. 

Pickup shelves at sweetgreen. (Source: Yelp)

Many brands are now adjusting location layout to accommodate more diners and delivery couriers waiting for their orders. Smaller dining areas have given way to bigger lobbies, and signage is crucial to direct customer foot traffic. The “pickup” area now takes center stage, and many have found success by including shelves. Shelving units not only provide additional space for takeout orders, but they also allow an organized system to expedite pickup times. At sweetgreen, these shelving units have even found space outside of the restaurant. With their outpost program, pickup shelves are placed in participating offices, allowing sweetgreen to deliver and shelve orders en masse. 

At Firehouse Subs, a 1,100+ location sandwich brand, off-premise orders now make up 62% of sales — that’s up from 47% just six years ago. Their executive team has altered the design for future locations to accommodate the anticipated influx in takeout orders. Previously, most locations were about 2,000 square feet with 50 seats, as required by company policy. Future stores will be as small as 1,400 square feet and seat as few as 26 people. New or old, all locations have been equipped with a wire shelving unit to hold sandwiches awaiting pickup. 

Pickup shelves at Firehouse Subs. (Source: Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business)

Back-of-house, kitchen spaces are also undergoing a major transition. At sweetgreen every location has a second assembly line to focus solely on online orders, which accounts for 50% of their total sales. Not only does this facilitate faster throughput for digital orders, it also ensures good service for those customers who still choose to eat in-store. In some of their busiest NYC locations, there are as many as four kitchen lines.

Assembly line at sweetgreen. (Source: CBS News)

Some concepts, including sweetgreen, are taking kitchen innovation a step further and opting into “ghost” or “cloud” kitchens. Ghost kitchens have no real storefront and are optimized to prepare off-premise orders, specifically delivery. 

While physically altering your restaurant space can be hard work, making strides to accommodate off-premise diners can have major benefits to your restaurant’s business. 1 in 4 consumers say they spend more on off-premise orders than they do dining in, especially when the order is placed online or through a mobile app. This appears to be true: one study found that customer spend increased by 18% when ordering a pizza online versus ordering it over the phone.

Source: QSR

In addition to increased ticket prices, new diners who order online are more likely to re-order within 60 days than a walk-in customer. On top of that, a majority of customers are likely to dine at a restaurant where they’d previously enjoyed a takeout experience, making online ordering a powerful acquisition tool for both sides of your business. Inviting customers to interact with your brand via their mobile phone grants you the ability to integrate digital loyalty programs, prompt internal feedback, and collect data relevant to your sales.

Whether your restaurant brand is planning to test the off-premise waters soon or has already jumped in head-first, follow our blog for more content on restaurant trends and digital ordering:

Morgan Burke

Morgan Burke

Morgan is on the Inside Sales team at LevelUp. She’s passionate about green energy and sustainable agriculture. Favorite pastimes include being outdoors & crafting up insane vegan junk food recipes. Someday, she hopes to be able to keep houseplants alive.

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