Right now, restaurants are looking for ways to diversify their income and pivot to meet the needs of their communities while dining halls are closed. One way some restaurants are handling the challenge of the pandemic is by offering meal prep services. While some restaurants have offered meal kits for years, most are just now breaking into this potential revenue stream.

Benefits of Offering Meal Prep in a Crisis

Grocery stores around the world are short on essential items during a time that people are less secure about their food supply than ever before, thanks to being laid off or temporarily out of work. People are looking for an inexpensive way to feed their family, and meal prep kits can fill that need for them so long as their price point doesn’t break the bank.

How meal kits help your restaurant and local community:

  • Provide a service to the community that they need right now.
  • Generate a new stream of revenue that can continue when things are back to normal.
  • Reduce the overhead cost of cooking and serving food to guests.
  • Offer lower price-point options to customers.
  • 82% of meals are eaten at home according to NPD Group Inc research (this is before COVID-19 isolation, meaning these numbers are likely to skyrocket)
  • Customers gain the flexibility to alter recipes, and you can start a recipe contest online to increase more social media engagement and followers.

What goes into a meal kit?

The best meal kits start with a simple-to-follow recipe. Include all essential ingredients, packaged separately, with easy-to-follow instructions. You can choose to add cutlery to meal prep, or opt to leave the disposable cutlery out of the picture to reduce your restaurant’s waste impact. At the same time, we all rush to stop our reusable cups, cutlery, and even grocery bags.

Anything your customer needs to complete the recipe should be included in the meal kit, save for the cooking dishes. Remember, some specialty spices may not be stocked in their pantry. You can pre-season the meals, or choose to include small containers of spices for each one needed. Pre-seasoning will help reduce plastic waste and cut back on materials and overhead costs for providing meal kit services at your restaurant.

You can partner with other vendors to provide fresh ingredients. Farmer’s markets are closed right now, too, in many places, causing local vendors to have an overabundance of produce that you can use for your meal prep kits. Stimulate your local community’s economy by partnering with these vendors who are currently taking a hit, and see the benefit for both your companies, as well as your customers. Make sure to tell your customers when you partner with local vendors, the sense of community and connection will raise brand awareness and create a sense of loyalty with local customers.

Who buys meal kits?

Before self-isolation and social distancing became commonplace due to the pandemic, busy moms, young couples, and seniors were the most popular buyers of meal prep services and meal kits. Now, with grocery store shelves nearly empty and everyone trapped at home, meal prep services are on everyone’s mind, but people are looking for options that are less expensive than the big brand names.

According to a Nation’s Restaurant News study published in 2017, 49% of consumers say they would buy meal kits from their favorite restaurant if it were offered. Since then, meal kits have only grown in popularity, and now they are more of a necessity than a convenience.

How do you price a meal prep service?

While prices for big-box meal prep services have a wide range, it can sometimes be challenging to calculate the pricing for your meal prep services. Instead of looking outward, look inward at your current pricing models when adding this service to your restaurant. If your price-point is currently in the teens and twenties, look to making meal kits with a $10-$15 price point. Since meal kits are not adequately prepared and ready to eat, their price should be lower than completed meals.

Jessica Delgado is trying to keep her head up and looking forward, she told webinar guests on Texas Restaurant Association, “As long as you’re open-minded and ready to change in any way, and you still have your solid menu, and you adapt and overcome a bit to make it more economical for these tough times that’s going to help everyone.” Read her notes on pricing and what she and other restaurant chain owners are doing to weather the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic here.

How can you market your new meal prep service?

Host a meal prep class online. Open up a meal kit your restaurant has prepared, go through the steps, and create a mini-cooking show restaurant guests can follow along with. Add the video to your website’s homepage, and have an order form for meal prep under your video anywhere you post it; YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Right now, people are in their homes, which have little to no knowledge of cooking other than pouring a bowl of cereal. Be the all-in-one resource they need by providing virtual cooking lessons in conjunction with your meal prep service.

Create a recipe sharing contest. As we’ve mentioned above, a recipe sharing contest engages customers and gets them excited about your restaurant’s food. Offer a platform for them to share their recipes made from your meal kits, and start a contest for best recipes.

Pair with retail items. Does your BBQ sauce or a special blend of spices get guests talking? Do you sell wine by the bottle? Start offering these items as add-ons to meal prep delivery. You can do this in MenuDrive by adding modifiers to your meal kits.

Create discount deals for bulk orders. Get large families and those who want to stock up in the current crisis on board with your meal prep kits by offering a discount when buying in bulk. For instance, instead of $15 per meal per person, offer them for $14 once you get to 10 meals, etc. When providing bulk orders, you can reduce the packaging depending on customer needs. Ask how many people are eating each meal to alter packaging and reduce the cost and waste of packaging each meal.