Two things I’ve observed about people in New York is that everyone jaywalks and no one cooks. Everyone eats out all the time. However, since most people are busy, a large amount of food is served via takeout and delivery (as opposed to eating in). This presents a challenge that few restaurants seem to realize: the long delay between when the food is prepared and when it is actually eaten.
How many times has this happened to you, it is late on Sunday evening and you call one of your favorite restaurants for a little delivery. You pick your favorite item off the menu, place your order, and wait in anticipation. Thirty minutes and a cash exchange later and food is on your dinner table. You pop open the styrofoam container, grab a bite, and yuck, it’s cold.
Across the street from where I work at there is a fantastic Vietnamese sandwich shop called Num Pang. Their menu is filled with tons of delicious sandwiches like ginger barbecue brisket and hoisin veal meatballs. The trick with eating Num Pang is that you have to eat it immediately. In the 10 short minutes it takes to get your order and walk back to the office, the bread has already started to become soggy. If someone happens to catch you in the hallway you might as well say goodbye to your sandwich and hello to a (not so) hot mess.
This begs the question: why don’t more restaurants and takeout joints test the experience of eating food from their establishment? Prepare an order, put it on the counter for 20 minutes, and then have the chef eat it. Better yet, have the delivery person take it out with an order and then bring it back. I’d imagine most chefs would be surprised at the “presentation” and taste of their food after it has taken a bike ride through NYC in the winter. What was once a nice pad thai dinner will likely have turned into a cold ball of yuck.
Why don’t more restaurants do this? I think many restaurants are in for a rude awakening when they start eatability testing their menu.
Here are some of the most common missteps I’ve seen:
- If you are serving something on bread (hamburgers, sandwiches, etc) then any sort of sauce or liquid on it is going to make the bread soggy within 5 minutes. If you can, just put the sauce in a container on the side. I’m sure some health-conscience customers would appreciate it as well.
- If you have to serve it with sauce, make sure to put the sauce as far away from the edges of the bread as possible. Otherwise, the sauce leaks out of the sides and make the top and bottom of the bread soggy as well.
- Separate hot and cold, just like you would at the grocery store. Styrofoam insulates surprisingly poorly, so packing a cold dessert on top of a hot soup is a bad idea. Account for leakage. Some well placed napkins can go a long way.
- Account for the cooking and cool down that happen during travel. Talk to any chef in a food competition and they will tell you that residual heat can have a large effect on the taste of a meal. Account for the 10-20 minutes of delivery time for all to-go orders.
- Test & iterate. There will always be surprises, so eatability test with different items on the menu to make sure that it is as good as you expect it to be.