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How to optimize your menu for food delivery success

May 27, 2021

If you’ve signed up for Otter, you’ve taken big steps towards succeeding in delivery. You’re consolidating all your orders into a single tablet to stay on top of your business, utilizing multiple delivery services, increasing your uptime, decreasing your errors, managing your hours and timing, diving into insights about your performance to optimize, and consulting with an account executive on ways to improve your business. 

It’s clear that you’re committed to succeeding in delivery. If you want to supercharge your delivery business further, you might want to consider optimizing your menu for online-ordering. If you’re wondering, “Which menu items are eaters ordering most in 2020?" "How do I decide which of my menu items stay and which go?” or “How many menu items should I have on my delivery menu?” read on to learn about the latest ordering trends and best practices for making important menu decisions to improve your performance on delivery platforms.

What menu items are popular on delivery platforms in 2020?

Eating and ordering habits vary based on location, personal preference, the state of culture, seasonality and multiple other factors. Staying on top of food trends is a good way to utilize consumer and cultural truths to optimize your menu.

Food as comfort in a complicated time

In the first half of 2020, with Shelter in Place orders and social distancing due to COVID-19, more than 500,000 delivery orders were placed a day. And in uncertain times like these, it seems that Americans crave food that provides comfort. According to Grubhub’s State of the Plate report, the top menu items ordered during quarantine have been:

  1. Spicy chicken sandwich: 353% more popular in 2020 than 2019
  2. Red velvet cupcake: 196% more popular
  3. Plant-based burger: 166% more popular
  4. Cajun shrimp chicken pasta: 164% more popular
  5. Cheeseburger sliders: 158% more popular

Methodology - All of the top foods listed had seen the fastest growth on the Grubhub platform during the first half of 2020.

The top ordered menu-items at breakfast, lunch, and dinner

It’s also worth taking note of what menu items see the most orders at different mealtimes. In 2019, the most popular breakfast item was the bacon, egg & cheese. In 2020, the top breakfast menu items are:

  1. Açai bowl: 359% more popular in 2020 than 2019
  2. Chorizo burrito: 270% more popular
  3. Potato pancakes: 259% more popular
  4. Shrimp and grits: 179% more popular
  5. Vegetable wrap: 112% more popular

As Americans continue working from home and trying to find balance in the midst of chaos, lunchtime is all about health and sustenance. The top menu items at lunchtime are all salads or sandwiches.

  1. Thai chicken salad: 399% more popular in 2020 than 2019.
  2. Tuna salad sandwich: 262% more popular
  3. Chicken avocado melt: 188% more popular
  4. Kale caesar salad: 165% more popular
  5. Avocado toast: 164% more popular

At dinner, it seems eaters are seeking both comfort and exploration – perhaps to offset the fact that we are in our homes, unable to travel, seeing endless unsettling headlines and news articles. The top menu items ordered for dinner in 2020 are:

  1. Rigatoni bolognese: 292% more popular in 2020 than 2019.
  2. Lamb vindaloo: 283% more popular
  3. Vegetable korma: 267% more popular
  4. Moo shu pork: 266% more popular
  5. Salmon avocado roll: 244% more popular

Methodology – Grubhub compared the top foods on its platform for the specified mealtimes from January 1-June 20, 2020 to the specific mealtimes in the same timeframe in 2019.

Food delivery platforms deliver more than just food

Across all mealtimes, there was an increased demand for beverage delivery. Americans who have been working from home in 2020 had to change up their “normal” morning coffee routine, resulting in a 232% increase in cold brew orders and a 261% increase in iced latte orders. When the workday winds down, Americans were looking to delivery apps to fulfill their nightly glass of vino. The most popular items searched overall in 2020 include both wine and beer, and the top alcohol orders are: 

  1. Pinot grigio
  2. Hot sake
  3. Rosé
  4. Light beer
  5. IPA

Methodology – Grubhub looked at order trends and search trends on its platform in the respective categories from March 18 - June 18, 2020 compared to the same timespan in 2019. 

The plant-based burger craze

Outside of comfort foods and alcoholic beverages, 2020 brought on a massive increase in vegan and vegetarian orders. Vegan orders have risen by 23% - largely driven by an increase in plant-based burgers orders: +90% between 2019-2020. The top plant-based burgers ordered in 2020 are:

  1. Black bean burger: 233% more popular
  2. Grilled portobello mushroom burger: 179% more popular
  3. Impossible burger: 167% more popular
  4. Quinoa-based burger: 161% more popular
  5. Eggplant burger: 147% more popular

Methodology – Grubhub looked at the top foods from 2019 and compared those to the top foods of 2020 to see which menu items were still gaining in popularity so far this year. 

If your restaurant is in New York City, Los Angeles, Portland, Vegas, or Boston, you may want to consider increasing the amount of vegan and vegetarian dishes on your menu as these five markets see the most plant-based orders (in comparison to the overall number of orders). 

Best practices for optimizing your delivery menu 

When considering what stays, what goes, and what gets added, there are five key things in mind: keep it concise, stay true to the in-restaurant dining experience, rank in order of popularity, make it look and sound as good as it tastes, optimize often.

Step 1: Keep it concise and simple. 

We’re all familiar with the feeling of analysis paralysis, and when it comes to online food ordering, the options are so endless that it can feel overwhelming. We encourage Otter clients to stay at close to 15 total menu items.

Most restaurants’ in-store menu includes more than 15 items, so when making the cut, consider:

  1. Will the menu item hold well in delivery packaging?
  2. Do the ingredients in a menu item keep their texture?
  3. How long does it take before the menu item gets cold or soggy?
  4. Can your restaurant staff prepare enough of this menu item in a quick time period to fulfill delivery orders? How long does it take to prep this menu item?
  5. Are your margins on this menu item high enough for it to make sense?

Step 2: Optimize for higher basket size.

Around 7 of your 15 items should be main course options, and the remaining items should be a mix of starters, sides, drinks, and desserts to encourage eaters to order a full meal – mimicking the in-store dining experience for them, resulting in a higher basket size for you. Outside of a mix of courses, also consider breaking your menu down by course for ease of ordering (starters, mains, desserts, sides, drinks), and be sure to include combos and upsell-modifiers on main dishes. 

Step 3: Keep your most beloved menu items up top.

With eaters having endless restaurant options to choose from on delivery platforms, make sure your best selling (and highest margin) items are at the top of your menu. This ensures that people will experience the most beloved menu items you have to offer, leading to happier customers and better reviews. 

Step 4: Make your menu items look and sound as delicious as they taste.

Hungry people will order food that looks and sounds delicious. This isn’t a new thought, but it’s a critical one to keep in mind for delivery. Make sure that each of your menu items has a detailed description associated with it, using words that paint a picture of the way your food tastes for the eater. In addition to the description, the visual representation of your food is a great way to make your restaurant stand out from competitors. If you’re wondering how to take great delivery platform food photos, check out our article, “How to Shoot Delivery Platform Food Photos like a Pro.” 

Step 5: Take note of what’s working and what isn’t to optimize accordingly

We’ve all heard the phrase, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, isn’t an act but a habit.” This is true of most things in life – your delivery business being one of them. Keep track of food trends, feedback, reviews, and performance data to continue optimizing over time. If you’re thinking “unified performance data that includes insights by location, menu item, and delivery platform would be helpful,” make sure you check out Otter's Business Manager product. 

The benefits of optimizing your menu for delivery

Optimizing your menu for delivery takes a lot of commitment, but it will pay off – 25% of customers say they spend more on off-premise orders compared to a regular dine-in experience, the delivery industry has grown 300% faster than dine-in traffic since 2014, and the food delivery industry is predicted to reach a value of $37.7B by 2024, resulting in a CAGR of 12.3% during 2019-2024. If you're seeking a partner committed to helping you succeed in delivery, be sure to take advantage of Otter’s round the clock support. 

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