A lot of people don’t understand the importance of takeout food packaging. However, anyone who has ever received a cold and unsatisfactory meal can appreciate the difference. Good packaging can often mean the difference between a satisfied customer and a grievous complaint.
For those of you who are in the business of serving takeout food, this matter is far too important to ignore. So, let’s discuss some of the finer points relating to this subject.
The Purposes Of Takeout Food Packaging
Other than the obvious purpose of holding the food, a package serves a wide variety of purposes. Let’s discuss them one at a time.
Protects Food From Dirt And Debris
From the time that order leaves your establishment to its arrival at the customer’s door, a lot of accidents can happen. Thus, it’s not enough to have hygienic practices at your restaurant. If the customer gets a big, long hair or a dead bug in their food, they won’t care if it came from your restaurant or not!
Adds To The Anticipation Factor
They say that the anticipation of something good is often better than the thing itself. Especially when selling food, you want the customer to crave your product. The creation of this craving is more complex than you might think.
It’s not only about the taste of the food, or even its cleanliness. Most people tend to judge with their eyes, so the presentation is very important. As any high-class chef will tell you, presentation is one of the main differences between good food and great food. You want the customer to salivate as soon as they see that package, knowing that something good is inside.
The package is an essential part of your presentation, as it will be the first thing the customer sees. Sure, you can do like some places and use plain brown paper bags, but you won’t be adding any visual appeal whatsoever.
Helps The Food To Keep Its Temperature
Obviously, hot foods must arrive hot, and cold foods must arrive cold. Whatever the desired temperature of the order, good packaging will help to ensure that the temperature stays where it should.
Styrofoam containers are some of the most popular choices here, as you can get a thick container without spending a lot of money. Styrofoam does a good job of insulating the food from outside air, and that’s the name of the game here. Regardless of material, a thicker package will be more effective in this regard.
If you really want to maximize the insulation factor, you should use thick, airtight containers. An airtight container won’t leak its hot (or cold) air to the outside, nor will any hot/cold air penetrate from outside. At the same time, you cannot make the package 100% airtight. If you do this, condensation will build up inside the container, wetting the food and making it soggy and nasty. The best solution is to have a container that has 1-5 small ventilation holes.
Creates A Mental Association With Your Brand
When you are selling food (of any kind), you are appealing to a very primal instinct. The urge to feed is one of the most basic drives of any living creature, and we humans are no different. We may be much more advanced than other lifeforms, but this part of our brain is still wired much as it was in prehistoric times.
Because of this, you need to think about the subconscious mind when designing your package. Of course, we aren’t telling you to use subliminal messaging in your packaging, as that would be both morally wrong and illegal. However, we are telling you to create a distinctive package that the customer will mentally associate with something they enjoy.
You do this by being creative. No one can teach you how to be unique, so this might require some trial and error before you get it right. The important thing is to create something distinctive. It doesn’t necessarily have to be fancy and colorful (although those things often help), nor does it necessarily need a unique shape. It simply has to stand out from the crowd in an immediately visible way.
A Chance To Be A Little More Green
This may or may not matter to you, but we can guarantee that (at least) some of your customers care about their impact on the environment. It’s a hot topic these days, and there is definite merit to some of these concerns. Of course, we aren’t trying to dive into this highly politicized issue, so we’re going to look at this from a marketing perspective.
Those who care about environmental issues will usually refrain from patronizing businesses that they see as “polluters” or “irresponsible.” Thus, you don’t want to be seen as either one of those things. If you use packaging that is not green in any way, you are sure to lose some business as a result. Of course, the actual amount of business that you lose will vary. Still, why burn a bridge if there is no need?
On a more proactive note, environmentally friendly packaging can be used as a marketing point. By marking your package with a sticker that says “recycled” (or something similar), you are letting people know that you have values, and that’s always a good marketing point. This is an area in which you can serve the needs of both your business and mother nature at the same time.
What Materials To Use?
When designing your takeout food package, the most important choice you will make is the choice of material. Most of the packages’ properties come from the material of which it is made. Let’s look at the most common materials and discuss their use.
Most restaurants do not use paper bags for their food, but you will sometimes encounter them. Usually, they will be used as an outer bag, with the actual food container inside. This is presumably done so that the whole thing will be easier to carry, but it could be a waste of money at the end of the day.
Most of the time, these bags are made of brown Kraft paper. Kraft paper is much stronger than normal paper, but still much weaker than the other materials on our list. These bags also offer little to no water resistance. Thus, we recommend that you use paper bags as outer bags. They just aren’t strong enough to be used as a primary bag, unless you happen to be selling food items that are very small.
Plastic bags offer a lot of advantages, which is why they remain so popular. The best thing about these bags is the fact that they are waterproof. As long as the bag isn’t ripped or pierced, it will keep all moisture away from your customer’s food. If you want to use an airtight package, plastic is the only cost-effective way to do so.
At the same time, plastics are not environmentally friendly, so you might want to consider where your business is located and how the locals will view that kind of thing. Attitudes vary a lot from place to place, so judge things as best you can. Plastics also offer little to no insulation, so they won’t do a good job of keeping the food at a steady temperature.
Of course, the weather in your area will play a role here. If you are delivering hot food on a hot day (or vice versa), there won’t be much need for a thick, insulated package. Like the paper bag, this one is usually best to use as an outer covering for another one. On rainy days, this will make it far easier to deliver the food intact.
Styrofoam is probably the most common takeout food container, and there is one good reason for that: It offers the best insulation. Any food order that is placed in a styrofoam container will retain its temperature for a lot longer. The thicker they are, the better. Of course, you can only make them so thick before they start to become too expensive for practicality.
Styrofoam is even less environmentally friendly than plastic. Some people say that styrofoam takes millions of years to decompose. This estimate is probably a little too high, but, even the most generous estimates say that it takes ten years. That really is too bad because styrofoam is one of the best-value options you have.
Cardboard is also a great choice, and there are plenty of reasons that it might be chosen. For one thing, it’s cheaper than just about anything. The only cheaper material would be paper, and those bags are pretty weak. Cardboard can actually be very durable if it is sufficiently thick.
That brings us to another point about cardboard. As long as you use double-walled cardboard (as opposed to card stock, which is single-ply), you should get plenty of insulation from a package of this type. For example, consider the cardboard pizza boxes that are standard for that type of business. You have probably noticed that they do a pretty good job of holding their temperature.
If you are looking for an environmentally friendly option, cardboard is definitely the best choice. Cardboard can easily be made from recycled paper, and most pizza boxes are included in that statement. The next time you order a pizza, check the box closely, and you will probably see that recycling symbol. While styrofoam and plastics will take many years to break down and return to the earth, a piece of cardboard will break down in just three months.
We would be doing you a disservice if we didn’t at least mention these containers. Depending on the nature of your clientele, you might want to make use of reusable containers. Most businesses don’t do this, but some have found it to be very practical. It is best to use a durable material like thick cardboard, aluminum, or glass for these reusable containers. Textiles are another valid option. When considering this approach, you should ask yourself how likely it is that your customers will go along with this.
A Word About Personalization
Some companies have found it helpful to use a certain amount of personalization on their packages. This could be as simple as writing the customer’s name on the package. You could also print special messages and put them on the packages, with the goal of making the customer feel like someone special. These messages don’t really have to mean anything, and are often nothing more than a simple “thank you for doing business with us.” You could use humorous messages to create a feeling of connection, as laughter is one of the most convincing things on earth.
We hope that this relatively brief overview has given you a better understanding of the subject matter. Because food packaging is one of those things that most people take for granted, it is easy to assume that your choice of packaging does not matter. Of course, this is a serious error to make.
So, to summarize what we have learned today: You should begin by thinking about the purposes that your package should serve. Look at the list above and determine which reasons are the most important for your business. Then, you will be able to select a material that suits your needs. When it comes to shape and style, that is mostly a matter of preference. If you would like to learn more, please fill out the contact form.