A famous English proverbs states, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” We are seeing this wisdom bear out in real time as restaurants race to adapt to the COVID-19 crisis.

“Anything we can do to keep the business alive. It’s vital,” says Mike Werlinger, co-owner of Ama’s Mexican Restaurant, in Hearne, Texas. “We have no dining. Takeout is the lifeline.”

This pandemic is illustrating both the resolve and inexhaustible ability of restaurants to innovate and find new business avenues as they shift their entire sales models overnight. Here are some of the most creative takeout ideas and promos we’ve seen restaurants adopting as we created our Coronavirus Response Kit.

Unconventional Takeout Foods

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when appraising your potential takeout options. Most items in your restaurant’s pantry that would otherwise spoil—eggs, bulk meats, cheeses, condiments, etc.—can be repurposed into unconventional takeout options, such as charcuterie boards, BYO omelettes, dough, sides a la carte, signature sauces, and more.

Creative Coronavirus Specials

Speak to your customers’ current experience with specials and promotions tailored to the lockdown. Everyone needs a bit of levity right now, and specials like Quarantine Kits, Lockdown Lunches, Social Distancing Desserts, and Stay Home Hors D’oeuvres will help distinguish your takeout. Some restaurants have taken it a step further by including toilet paper and other essential supplies with their orders.

Heat-and-eat dishes

Not all dishes work well for takeout. Some meals can’t be easily packaged, and certain foods will lose their heat or texture in transit. Restaurants have adapted to the problem by creating heat-and-eat dishes. These dishes can be frozen or refrigerated, prepared en-masse ahead of time, and sold via delivery or carryout. They’re a great workaround for restaurants who never considered takeout when planning their menu.

Meal Kits

Other restaurants have taken the heat-and-eat option a step further. They’re deconstructing their favorite dishes, packaging the ingredients with instructions, and delivering them as meal kits to their hungry customers. Not only are meal kits a fun divergence from typical takeout fare, they’re generally more cost-effective for the average family looking to feed four to five people.

“To boost our takeout we’ve added something called ‘Family to go for 4,’” says Gwen Holtsclaw from ScrubOaks Restaurant, Fayetteville, North Carolina. “We’ve taken our top entrees and now you can get Chicken Alfredo, enough for four people, for what it would cost for three people in the restaurant.”

Restaurant365 Graph

Food Subscriptions

While meal kit services have become a fixture over the past few years, the subscription service model represents all-new terrain for restaurants. Prior to COVID-19, purchasing a meal subscription from your favorite restaurant did not even exist as a concept. Now, it’s become the latest innovation in a yearslong shift away from tradition restaurant sales towards takeout. Customers sign up for a plan with their favorite restaurant, and their meals are delivered or picked up at a predetermined time. Subscriptions provide business with steady, reliable income amidst all the uncertainty.

Wholesale Ingredients

With mere hours to collect themselves after the closure orders were sent out, many restaurants are reckoning with what to do with surplus inventory. To move the inventory before it spoils, several restaurants have started selling their ingredients in bulk, either to other business or directly to the consumers, sometimes right from the store.

“We’re calling it a pantry minimart,” says Belinda Carrasco, owner of Josy’s Grill in Odessa, Texas. “We set up mini traffic cones to attract attention and direct customers to our store, where up to ten customers are allowed in at a time to purchase takeout food or shop at our pantry mini mart.”

Hashtag Movements

At this point, you’ve probably seen them on social media: #TakeoutTuesday #TakeoutTakeover #CarryoutWednesday #TheGreatAmericanTakeout. Participating in national hashtag campaigns can amplify your brand and help you reach new audiences. Make sure you also tag your location (city or district, not physical address) so that local customers can easily find you while browsing.

If you don’t have time to manage your social media marketing, online make it quick and easy. Over the last three weeks, companies have created hundreds of free social media posts to help restaurants with their messaging and promotions through the Coronavirus. Here are some ways their customers have gotten creative.

Meal Donation

Meal donations are becoming more popular as people reckon with how to best support local communities and their favorite restaurants. Meal donations are a great way to accomplish both. Some kitchens have switched over completely to a donation model, where every meal purchased goes to medical first responders, out-of-work food service employees at-risk communities, and anyone else on the frontlines fighting against COVID-19. Other restaurants have used a “Buy two meals, we donate one” promotion to help give back while maintaining some normal sales.

Carryout Cocktails

Alcoholic drinks are a high-margin menu item and generally represent anywhere from 20­–30 percent of a restaurant’s sales. In light of this, many states have lifted their laws on alcohol delivery, allowing restaurants to serve sealed drinks to go. Restaurants have responded in varied and creative ways with Cocktail Kits, Take Home Margarita Mix, Whiskey Tasters, and Blood Mary Makings. 

Restaurant365 Graph

Wine pairings and subscriptions

According to The New York Times, wine sales are up 66 percent since the beginning of quarantine. To meet this demand, restaurants have been selling wine by the case, pairing wines with their favorite dishes, and offering wine subscriptions that deliver monthly or bi-monthly. Moving backstocks of wine is an easy injection of cash into your takeout program.


Regardless of how you choose to promote your takeout, it’s important to market it across all your channels. Catch customers where they’re comfortable on Facebook, Instagram, email, your website, Pinterest, and any other online presence you maintain. 

Mark Plumlee is a marketing writer at MustHaveMenus, an online design and marketing tool for restaurants. Trail Blazer fan by day, sleeping dude by night. 

Business Advice, Menu Innovations, Outside Insights, Story