How customisation can allow restaurants to exploit the popularity of home dining

Image credit:  Rawpixel  (Shutterstock)

Image credit: Rawpixel (Shutterstock)

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The world of home food delivery has become incredibly sophisticated, to the point that almost any kind of food can now be enjoyed from the comfort of consumers’ homes. But is this really the same as the restaurant experience? As takeaway chains grow, many traditional establishments are worrying that these companies may be detracting from their business. There is certainly a growing trend of turning to take-outs rather than physical restaurants. However, all is not lost – with a few smart tactics restaurants can harness the appeal of home dining whilst showing customers that the restaurant experience remains the real deal.

“It’s not surprising delivery companies are doing well, as there is demand, but I’ll eat my hat if deliveries outstrip restaurants.” – David Moore"

Why is home delivery so popular?

Before restaurant businesses can attempt to compete with take-away outlets, they must understand the reasons why companies such as JustEat, Deliveroo and Uber appeal to consumers. Restaurant Hospitality reports that, CEO of GrubHub Matt Maloney said at the New York Times Food for Tomorrow conference that his company alone will process about $2.5 billion worth of food orders this year. According to the Financial Times, between 2009 and 2014, the UK market for take away food expanded 2.7 per cent to £6.5 billion, whereas the value of food bought in restaurants fell 5 per cent to £17.1 billion.

In September, even Amazon got in on the act, announcing its plan to deliver meals from over 100 restaurants to London postcodes with a new app. Offering free delivery on orders above £15 and no price mark-up for just £7.99, it is easy to see why this option might be appealing to busy city-dwellers. They even offer delivery from the Michelin-starred Indian restaurant, Benares, in Mayfair!

According to Maloney, due to this demand, “virtual” restaurants are on the up, where owners eliminate in-house dining and instead focus on creating restaurant-quality food for large volumes of orders from homes.

As Hannah Thompson explains in an article for The Guardian:

“The trend is so unmissable that one restaurant group, London rotisserie chicken purveyors Clockjack, last week opened a “delivery-only” kitchen, solely offering food to the City through Deliveroo orders. That’s a “restaurant”, but without any seating. At all.”

She claims this is “the biggest sign yet that restaurateurs are seriously tapping into the delivery trend.” And the tactic appears to be working. Customers appreciate that “You go online and, in one click, you’ve chosen a meal: half an hour later, it’s here. And it’s actual restaurant food, carefully packaged, still hot, from a restaurant you like and trust.”

There are also more specific gripes that some consumers have with dining out, including queuing for no-reservation tables, tipping stress and dress codes. Others simply want good food with minimal effort, maximum flexibility and total comfort.

Maloney suggests that home delivery may be appealing for restaurant owners, too, as “it’s hard for restaurants to focus on in-house customers when the kitchen does 250 delivery orders a night.” Thus, many companies are either focusing solely on delivery or choosing to create separate delivery menus featuring dishes that will last the delivery journey and remain high quality.

What is the restaurant’s edge?

However, there remains an important place in the dining industry for the sit-down restaurant. David Moore of Michelin-starred Ped à Terre comments: “I don’t see people inviting friends round to their front room, to look through a Deliveroo catalogue. When you go to a restaurant, you want the charm, the service, the conviviality. It’s about personalities.”

Financial Times reports that Alex Paterson, analyst at Investec, says that the effect of takeaway growth on restaurants is divided: “there are high level restaurants with high quality food and high service that are trading quite well, but the middle is quite congested”. His insight would suggest that it is the premium experience of restaurant dining that sets them apart from home delivery. Thus, in order to retain a large customer base, restaurants should not immediately rush to convert to delivery, but instead focus on quality and premiumisation of the customer experience at all levels.

Mid-range food options generally offered by take-aways, such as noodle dishes, burgers and pizzas, will be subject to further scrutiny as the home dining trend increases and consumers use online tools to compare options. However, restaurants can avoid being forced into cycles of competitive pricing and quality compromise by instead offering unique dishes that consumers can’t simply ‘order in’ instead.

Customisation: giving consumers the best of both worlds

Kzenon  (Shutterstock)

Kzenon (Shutterstock)

But, in such a rapidly evolving industry, what can restaurants with an emphasis on in-house dining do to stay ahead? Here are three top tips on how to make your restaurant survive among a sea of take-out competition:

Create interactive choices

One of the main drives for consumers choosing delivery food is the flexibility available in choosing smaller dishes and any combination of accompaniments to compile their own meal. Whilst maintaining the specially-crafted menu options that draw customers to high-end restaurants, consider incorporating an element of flexibility into your offerings to catch the attention of the more particular restauranteur. Whether this is recreating the enjoyment of assembling a takeaway feast by serving food in shareable dishes or allowing guests to cook elements of their meal how they like them at their table, interactivity is a huge pull for the modern diner. You could even take a leaf out of Benihana’s books and let guests watch chefs cook up-close.

Appeal to the occasion

Whereas some consumers will initially think of eating out, but eventually decide on a take-away for the sole reason of ease and comfort, those celebrating a specific occasion are almost guaranteed to stick with the restaurant option. However, to make your establishment an appealing choice in this situation, you must engage with the element of celebration. Emphasise indulgence, where your food and drinks menu can be seen as a special treat. Also exploit the element of conviviality with sharing menus and special prices for groups. Offer high-end options for those truly important occasions and remember that each moment must be made memorable.


Last but certainly not least is customisation. As customers become more discerning each year, and are presented with more options both by take-away companies and sit-in eateries, they are coming to expect their food exactly as they like it. From offering a wide array of side dishes and sauces to allowing guests to quest their food to be cooked with speciality methods, customisation is the key feature that home dining simply cannot replicate – so use it!

As Moore says, “It’s not surprising delivery companies are doing well, as there is demand, but I’ll eat my hat if deliveries outstrip restaurants.” If you remember to capitalise on consumers’ desire for customisation, choice, and celebration, you can be sure that your restaurant will continue to see success.