April 07, 2020

Easter dinner to-go: Some tips for making the most of holiday meal demand

At the Founding Farmers restaurants in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, diners can order and pay for their Easter dinners online and then pick them up through curbside delivery service. (Photo by Ken Fletcher)

Converting from traditional dine-in to 100% takeout and delivery is a learning process for restaurant operators and the potential demand for a popular holiday meal represents a unique opportunity for restaurants operating in the current landscape. Here are some tips from a few operators:

For Easter as well as all of its takeout/delivery meals, the Daily Grill restaurants in California have converted parts of their currently unused dining rooms into staging areas. Chefs place food in to-go packaging as it they make it; packages are grouped and assembled by staff in the dining room, then organized for pick-up customers as well as specific delivery partners.
Holiday takeaway: You can stage tables of ready-to-go components of a traditional Easter meal: spiral hams, deviled eggs, vegetable sides, rolls, desserts, to entice customers to augment their home-cooked meals.

Cracker Barrel has been advertising two sizes of its Easter Heat n’ Serve meals with spiral hams, choices of sides, and rolls. Beverages and desserts are add-ons. The meals are cooked, chilled and shipped cold with reheating instructions on the packaging. The company is offering an Easter feast for four to six people and another for 10.
Holiday takeaway: Cook, chill and package up complete Easter meals or components in advance and sell them cold with reheating instructions.

Since there’s no current need for the permanent plates, bowls and serving ware traditionally used in the dining room, a number of restaurants have removed these items from their cook line and put disposable packaging (plates, bowls and family-service pans) in its place. Others are moving coolers and storage equipment on wheels closer to the cook to minimize the need to walk across the kitchen for supplies.
Holiday takeaway: Set yourself up to cook, package and label meal components with assembly-line efficiency.

The realities of offering takeout/delivery required some menu tweaking at Chiara Bistro, Westwood, Mass. Previously, the restaurant paired horseradish mashed potatoes with its tenderloin and rack of lamb entrees. Because mashed potatoes didn’t reheat well, the kitchen now prepares batches of layered potatoes with leaks, celery root and cheese for a much more appealing side dish that safely and easily rethermed at home. It also switched from pencil thin asparagus to thicker stalks that will hold texture better.
Holiday takeaway: Develop dishes or alter classics so that they travel and reheat safely and well. Include reheating instructions on labels.

At each of the Founding Farmers Group’s three pickup locations in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, a refrigerated truck parked outside holds all reserved orders. Diners order and pay online, text the make and model of their car, and restaurant employees place the packaged food in the trunk. Ferris Steak House in Rocky River, Ohio, has converted its menu to all family-style offerings for Easter. It also has invested in commercial food transport equipment for its delivery vehicles to ensure food stays hot on the way to customers’ homes.
Holiday takeaway: When cooking, packaging and holding food for pickup or transporting for delivery, make sure to hold the foods at their proper food-safe temperatures.