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Why To-Go Packaging is the New Dinnerware

To-go packaging today must deliver a convenient experience. OUTSIDE INSIGHTS | JANUARY 26, 2022 | TOM COOK

The boom in off-premises business as a result of COVID has increased the need for better to-go packaging. For most restaurant brands, off-premises represents the majority of their business. Now, more than ever, restaurants must maintain the quality, look, temperature, and particularly the convenience of their food as they attempt to re-create the in-store dining experience at home. Off-premises is now the “new dine-in," and to-go packaging is the “new dinnerware,” so it is critical that to-go packaging delivers a convenient experience. In these uncertain times, one thing is for certain, off-premises dining is here to stay, and will continue as the engine for growth for most restaurant brands.

The Idea Improved Off-Premises Packaging (IOP) is developed and designed to meet the specific needs of off-premises customers. By addressing off-premises customer needs, it improves hospitality and elevates the guest experience. IOP is improved structural packaging that maintains off-premises food quality and temperature, while simultaneously making off-premises dining more pleasurable and convenient for customers. It also incorporates meaningful and informative messaging and graphic elements, which resonate with customers and build brand equity. Combined, these deliver a rewarding and memorable brand experience for to-go customers which will differentiate your brand from your competitors.

The Process The critical first step in the creation of IOP is developing a thorough understanding of the problems, annoyances and weaknesses customers have with off-premises food and beverage packaging in general, and your brand in particular. Effective ways to accomplish this include quantitative problem detection research to determine the most frequent problems, and importantly, their severity. Little if anything is gained from solving a frequent problem that many customers don’t consider a real problem. Another successful method is to conduct ethnographic research where customers are observed, and their behavior is studied throughout their use and consumption of your off-premises product offerings. This can be done by eating occasion. For example, groups of customers could be observed and studied in their homes while eating at the dinner table, or while sitting in their family room while watching television. Other groups could be studied while at work (home or office) or while “dashboard dining” in their cars. Witnessing customer behavior and problems first-hand frequently provides stimuli that leads to and results in new packaging ideas and improvements. Problems and issues represent opportunities for, “which of these issues could be resolved by developing improvements in off-premises packaging?” For each problem and issue, brainstorm and explore potential packaging solutions. These could be added features, structural changes, messaging opportunities, technological improvements, etc. Evaluate each of these and home in on the solutions that could result in the most significant improvement and problem solver. Packaging concepts can then be developed. And once again, consumer research can be used to validate the concepts in terms of customer responsiveness and receptivity.

The Benefits For restaurant to-go customers, most importantly IOP provides added convenience in terms of portability, holding and handling, and eating and drinking. For restaurant brands and operators, the benefits are numerous and ongoing, including increased customer satisfaction, goodwill, and top-of-mind brand awareness. IOP is much more than a product “carrier” that’s forgotten by customers after the meal is consumed. It’s a powerful marketing tool that savvy brands can utilize to delight customers and thereby increase sales and customer loyalty.

Tom Cook is a Principal of King-Casey []. For more than half a century, King-Casey has been helping restaurant brands grow their businesses and dramatically improve the customer experience. King-Casey’s solutions are firmly grounded in insights derived from hard data and analytics relative to consumer behavior. King-Casey provides a complete range of drive-thru innovation, and menu optimization services including assessment, research, menu reengineering, menu strategy, and menu communications. King-Casey and Personica recently started working together to help restaurant brands optimize their menus and pricing strategy. You can email Tom at

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