Tips for takeout ordering

March 27, 2020
In order to support our favorite restaurants during the current virus-mandated closure of dining destinations, we opted to order a series of takeout meals. This is not a restaurant review, but a perspective on what worked and what might have gone better.
The first thing to keep in mind when you’re ordering something “to go” is the reason you’re not sitting in the restaurant. You want to avoid as much contact as possible and keep appropriate social distancing. To that end, be sure to prepay while you’re on the phone placing your order. If you want to add a gratuity, just ask them to tack on whatever percentage you’d like to give. This keeps you from handling credit cards and standing around others who may be waiting nearby.
Next, make sure you understand the process. Some places hold your order inside and expect you to come through the doors to collect it. Other businesses keep their doors locked (to prevent random walk-ins) and expect you to call when you arrive. Once they know you’re outside waiting, they’ll send someone out with your order and receipt.
When you get home, wash your hands before handling anything. Clean the outside of the food containers with a disinfecting wipe before opening them. If you’ve ordered a bottle of wine, beer or cocktails, wipe that down as well. Transfer the food to your own plates or bowls and discard all the packaging. Wash your hands again before sitting down to eat. 
Now, here’s the tricky part – what to order. You don’t want something that needs to be served piping hot. For example, certain fish dishes lose their appeal unless they’re eaten immediately. Try something that can stand to be less-than-hot or an item that can spend a few seconds in the microwave, like soup. Sandwiches and salads are ideal choices because they’ll be fine when eaten after the brief journey to your home.
Consider the experience of the restaurant. Do they regularly sell food to go? Are they familiar with catering? Several places in our area had a robust takeout business before their dine-in areas were closed. This meant they already knew how to package our food for the best presentation and enjoyment. They have appropriate containers of various sizes and shapes, and carry-out bags large enough to hold a complete order.
One of the failures we encountered was a place that used cardboard containers without a foil or wax paper liner. My steamed dumplings were inedible because they adhered to the bottom of the box. Everywhere else had packaging that worked well, whether they used plastic or aluminum containers to keep the food from leaking or cooling too quickly.
So far, we’ve tried a variety of places, from lunch to dinner, with a few breakfast croissants and sweet treats thrown in the mix. Except for one place that had a shift change between the time we placed our order and when we arrived for pickup, all the restaurants had our orders ready to go in a single shopping bag.
We tried crab cakes, shrimp pasta, bean soup, grilled sandwiches, several large salads and the lobster roll with crab bisque in the photo. And, one of the best parts of our experience was asking the restaurant to include wine from their selection of special-priced bottles. In every case, the wine paired perfectly with the meal.
I’m not quite sure what to offer in terms of a recipe, expect perhaps to give you a  summary of these hints and tips below. Stay safe!
How to safely handle takeout:
  • Choose a place that already knows “to-go” 
  • Check hours of operation and menu
  • Order food that can withstand travel
  • Don’t forget pairing beer or wine 
  • Verify process (walk in or call from outside)
  • Prepay when you order; add tip if desired 
  • Wash hands before unpacking food
  • Wipe down containers and bottles
  • Transfer food to your dishes
  • Discard all packing materials
  • Wash hands before eating
  • Enjoy your meal and the easy cleanup!

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