You’re hungry. You don’t want to cook. The fridge is nearly empty. Nothing from the pantry will do. You want to celebrate a birthday, or an anniversary. You want to relax. You want to get out of the house for a bit. You want to taste something new, or maybe something you haven’t had in so long. You want to eat something delicious.
For whatever reason or occasion, getting takeout from a local restaurant is always a good idea, especially right now.
Before you place your order, however, a few words on how to do that from chefs and restaurant owners across the country. Because, yes, there is a right way to do takeout.
Where should I turn for food?
“Go to a local independent restaurant because it’s going to do so much more for all of us,” says Gregory Collier, chef-owner of Uptown Yolk and Leah & Louise in Charlotte, N.C. “Nine times out of 10, somebody who works at that local restaurant is supporting another one of your favorites, or they’re supporting you in some way.”
Independent businesses have been disproportionately hit hardest by the pandemic. Simply put, supporting them by ordering takeout makes a huge difference now.
How much should I order?
Order as much as you want. And don’t be afraid to get extra and embrace leftovers, because so many restaurants have redesigned menus to travel well — and reheat well. For example, Taco María chef-owner Carlos Salgado developed a new takeout-only menu at his Michelin-starred restaurant in Costa Mesa, Calif., focusing on braised meats, housemade tortillas, salsas, rice and beans, pickles, and fresh herbs that are easy to prepare or reheat at home.
“Throughout this past year, it didn’t seem right to do fancy food at a premium, packed in a box and stuffed into a bag for takeout,” he says. “Instead, I wanted to offer familiarity and comfort, but still within our voice and within our ethos.”
Consider doubling up on restaurants, too, ordering different dishes from a few of your favorite local restaurants, like noodles and soup from one spot, followed by dessert from another.
Also, now’s the time to dispel any misconceptions that you get less food from a restaurant when you order takeout. If anything, you’re probably getting more food than you were when you dined in house.
“We’ve actually increased the size of [takeout] portions in our restaurant group,” says Ashok Bajaj, founder CEO of Knightsbridge Restaurant Group in Washington, D.C., whose restaurants include Rasika, Bindaas, and Sababa. “You’re putting it in a container, so it looks smaller than when you actually look at the food on a plate. And we tend to eat more at home than at restaurants.”
Don’t forget to place an order for beverages, too. Many restaurants are now selling cocktails and wine to go, as well as pantry items and merchandise, too.
How should I place my order?
Every restaurant has different methods for accepting takeout orders, whether it’s by phone, their own website, or delivery apps. The best thing you can do? Do some research first: Look up the restaurant’s official website or Instagram profile; don’t be swayed by the “place an order” link provided by Google. See which ordering method the restaurant prefers. Better yet, give them a call directly.
If you’re concerned about potential dietary restrictions or food allergies, make a note of that in your online order or call the restaurant directly (off hours is even better) just to make sure you’re in the clear.
So, generally speaking, which is better for restaurants: Pickup or delivery?
Pickup. Unanimously, every single one of the restaurant operators and chefs we spoke to for this story said pickup is best, without exception.
Why is that?
When you order and pickup food directly from a restaurant, it’s generally going to be a better experience for you and for the restaurant. Everybody wins.
Most importantly, if one of your goals is to support restaurants, ordering directly means your money stays with the restaurant.
That said, online ordering platforms like ChowNow, Toast and Slice are less costly, because they just charge restaurants monthly flat rate fees.
A case study: Ronan in Los Angeles recently revealed they paid $35,000 in delivery service fees in 2020 — of that total, $33,500 went toward third-party apps, and $1,500 went toward monthly flat fees for ChowNow. The day after Ronan’s numbers went public and viral, they saw 74% of their takeout orders placed directly or through low commission-based apps.
Pickup is better for you, too.
Menus on third-party delivery apps may not always be the most up to date. But if a restaurant is using ChowNow or Toast, you can be sure that the most up-to-date menu is on there.
There’s a social benefit to pickup, too, even if it’s at a social distance: “Our audience has been limited largely to locals, and doing pickup only meant we could see the people that we were serving, face-to-face,” says Salgado. “I get to know them, and I like to think these personal connections have become an investment in a longer term, that these customers will remain with us over time. It’s so needed right now.”
When should I place my order?
Most online ordering systems let you schedule pickup and delivery orders ahead of time. If you know you’re going to order, that advance notice can help restaurants better time their evening’s service.
Also, placing orders during off-peak hours and on weekdays goes a long way for restaurants — and for you.
“If you order your takeout at 7 p.m., you might be waiting a little bit longer because there might be orders that already came in, or the kitchen is also busy handling orders for outdoor dining,” says Chieun Ko-Bistrong, general manager of Haenyeo in New York City. “Weekdays are great because that’s when a lot of restaurants might suffer. Everyone wants to eat out or order in on weekends, but it’d be nice to treat yourself and order food on weekdays — chances are you’ll get your food really quickly and it’ll be a wonderful experience.”
Some restaurants might also offer takeout later, well after local curfews might close their on-site dining options, so it’s always helpful to check their takeout hours.
And if you’re picking up, timeliness is always appreciated, as is patience.
I can’t do pickup, unfortunately. How should I place my delivery order?
Use whatever delivery apps a restaurant is using, but bear in mind that menus on these apps might not be the most up to date. When in doubt, going to a restaurant’s website or calling them directly is best.
Also, that Instagram “Order Food” button really works. Restaurants with this button on their profiles will link to one of their preferred channels for takeout. Make sure you’ve got your passwords for those delivery apps handy, too, because you might have to log in again. Use that Instagram link instead of opening up the delivery app directly; it reduces the fees that the restaurant will pay to those third-party delivery apps.
I’ve got issues with my takeout order from a third-party delivery app. What should I do?
You need to contact that delivery app directly and immediately. Whatever you do, though, please, don’t blame the restaurant.
“I think a lot of customers don’t understand that if something goes wrong, the restaurant can’t do something about it,” says Sara Kramer, co-owner of Kismet in Los Angeles. “Once the food leaves our door, we can’t do much about getting a replacement meal in a timely manner. These third-party services are a bridge between us and the customer — they’re a middleman — and that introduces potential complications.”
Do I need to tip?
Yes! Whether for pickup or delivery, please tip, and please tip generously if you can.
“It’s still important to tip the restaurant staff, to tip the delivery drivers, too,” says Kramer. “It really makes a big difference, especially at this moment when they are risking being around other people to provide this food for you. If you can afford to get takeout, you can probably afford to leave a few extra dollars.”
Anything else I can do to show my support for restaurants and restaurant workers?
Some restaurants are making it easy for diners to donate meals to those in need or to staff, too, so don’t count that out the next time you place an order.
Maybe even do what Doni and Jaclyn North did recently, ordering a breakfast sandwich from Playa Provisions, a restaurant they love, even though it’s thousands of miles away from them, to donate to someone in need or to a member of the restaurant staff.
Those little acts of kindness don’t go unnoticed. And while ordering takeout and buying merchandise or gift cards really makes a difference, it’s also the intangibles that help, too.
“Honestly, for me, what really helps is when our regulars come or when I see a takeout order come in from a regular,” says Sam Yoo, chef and owner of Golden Diner in New York City. “Some of them might even stop by and just bring us cookies, or they’ll tell us how happy they are that we’re open. That emotional support — that really helps so much right now.”