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How Does Curbside Pickup Work?

Curbside pickup for restaurants is a method of serving takeout customers “at the curb” so they don’t have to enter the building or even leave their cars. As the coronavirus pandemic has forced restaurants to react to an unexpecteded crisis, curbside pickup offers a safe and efficient way to serve customers and limit person-to-person contact. Any restaurant can offer curbside pickup by slightly altering their current takeout procedures. We’ll walk you through the process so you can start offering curbside pickup food orders in your community.

1. Make a Curbside Station

Chalkboard sign outside with Curbside Pickup Only written on it

Restaurants across the country are creating their own take on the curbside pickup model by making pickup stations unique to their business and brand. Consider your curbside station as an extension of your indoor operation. You should be able to provide the same service you would under normal circumstances, but now you’ll be doing it from a temporary location and your customers won’t be leaving their cars. Here are some tips for setting up a successful curbside station:

Choose a Location

The location of your curbside station should fulfill a few requirements. It should be shielded from the elements, it should provide plenty of visibility between your staff and your customers, and it should be convenient enough to serve customers quickly. Make it as easy as possible for customers to figure out where they’re supposed to park.

  • Parking Lot - If you have your own parking lot, you’re lucky enough to have the space to set up a large station. You can also use traffic cones to direct customers where to park or even create a temporary “drive-thru” where cars can pull up alongside your station.
  • Sidewalk or Patio - If your restaurant is located in a metropolitan area, you don’t have the advantage of a large parking lot to work with. Contact city authorities to request permission to set up temporary 10-minute parking in front of your business. In cities across the country, officials are providing traffic signs to help restaurant owners offer curbside parking directly in front of their business.
  • Waiting Room or Vestibule - If the weather doesn’t permit you to serve customers outside, you can set up shop in your vestibule. As long as you have windows and a clear view of arriving customers, your staff can exit the building to bring out orders to waiting cars.

Make it Visible

Making a curbside station doesn’t just help you serve customers safely in these uncertain times, it’s also an opportunity to attract attention to your business. You could use a basic folding table to serve as your base of operations, but you could also take the time to create an eye-catching station that stands out to anyone driving or walking by your storefront. Try using some of these items to bring attention to your curbside service:

  • Canopies - Canopy tents will shield your employees from the sun on hot days and protect them from drizzling rain on overcast days. They also come in a variety of colors that can be easily seen from the road. When passersby see a colorful canopy in your parking lot, they know there’s activity going on at your restaurant.
  • Banners and Welcome Flags - Your loyal customers have probably been driving by your business to take a peak and see if you’re open. A friendly welcome flag waving in the wind is one of the clearest indicators that your kitchen is open.
  • Outdoor Signs - Instead of using your outdoor signs and sandwich boards to advertise the daily specials, write a clear message stating “Curbside Pickup Available.”

2. Create a Curbside Procedure

To get your curbside pickup service running smoothly, you’ll have to implement some new procedures. Your plan should address every step of the process, from how you plan to take customer orders to your method of handing off the takeout bags. These are some important factors to consider when you create your procedure:

Online Ordering

You can limit the contact between your staff and customers by setting up online ordering. When customers place their orders and make payment through a mobile app or your website, the person-to-person interaction is removed from the process. It's a safe method of serving your guests and increases your efficiency. When orders are completed, send a confirmation email or SMS text to the customer to let them know their order is ready.

You can also take orders by phone, but you'll be limiting the number of customers you can serve at one time. With online ordering, customers never have to wait for the phone line to open up and you can use your workforce for other more important tasks.

Create a Curbside Menu

Making sure your takeout meals are as enjoyable as your dine-in meals can present some challenges. Each dish needs to look good and taste good after extended travel time. The easiest way to work around this is to create a specific, pared-down menu for pickup and delivery only. This gives you more control over what your customers are ordering. It also helps you to simplify your inventory and ingredient requirements.

Identifying Your Customers

After ordering, request that your customers provide the make and model of their vehicle. Writing the vehicle information on takeout bags will help your staff identify the customer’s car when they arrive and promptly deliver their order. You can also direct your customers to call when they arrive.

Contactless Handoff

For no-contact pickup, you can ask your customers to pop their trunk upon arrival. Your curbside staff can place the food order directly into the customer’s trunk and avoid all person-to-person contact. Take it one step further and develop a no-contact strategy that covers food prep, packaging, and delivery.

3. Train Your Staff

Takeout order held out to car

Curbside service may be unfamiliar to your employees, so it’s important to train them on your new procedures. Explain that even though they aren't interfacing with customers in the normal way, there are still opportunities to provide the best service possible. Here are some topics to cover with your staff when you introduce your new service:

Follow Safety Protocols

If your customers see a staff member chewing their nails or running their fingers through their hair, they won't feel confident about the safety and cleanliness of your business. Talk with your employees about the importance of safety protocols. Sanitation and good hygiene are always a huge factor in foodservice, but it's especially important in the current climate for your staff to be extra conscious of how their behaviour will be viewed.

Communication

Make sure there is good communication between your staff inside the building and your staff at the curbside station. If someone is taking orders by phone inside the building, they should be able to pass on requests to the curbside staff quickly. Consider using walkie talkies or headsets so that everyone stays on the same page.

Be Attentive

Your curbside staff should be extremely attentive to the arriving cars. Make sure they know that recognizing a customer's car is crucial to providing the best curbside service possible. Just as your guests expect to be greeted when they enter your building, they will expect to be noticed when they park. A friendly wave goes a long way.

Always on Duty

Your curbside station should have at least one staff member on duty at all times during working hours. Guests who have to wait for service may feel compelled to get out of their cars, which defeats the purpose of speedy, efficient curbside pickup.

4. Advertise Your Curbside Pickup

Once you have your curbside service in place, you need to let the world know you are ready to start taking orders. Not everyone is going to see your on-site banners and sidewalk signs, so try utilizing other forms of advertising to reach your customer base. Thankfully, there are numerous ways to communicate with your customers through digital sources, and many are free.

Google My Business

If you haven't already claimed your business on Google, now is the perfect time to get your business info listed. It's free to create a profile, and it ensures that users can find you online when they search for your restaurant name. Your listing should include your updated hours and what types of services you are offering right now, whether it's dine-in, takeout, or delivery.

Social Media

Keep your restaurant's social media profiles updated and make regular posts about your new curbside service. If you're reopening your restaurant after a closure, try making a countdown post every day to build excitement around your opening day and your new curbside menu.



Curbside pickup for your restaurant is a great way to keep your business thriving even if you can't open up your dining room to your customers. You don't need to hire delivery drivers or a third-party service, and you can get started right away with items you probably already have in your restaurant.

By Michale Ferguson
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