KitchensThought Leadership

How To Create The Perfect Delivery Menu

Tuesday, Apr 27, 2021 - 6 min

This is an excerpt from The Ultimate Guide to Food Delivery, our free restaurant resource. Download the full guide here.

Your restaurant’s menu is the culmination of your creativity, your brand, and what your guests love. Your delivery menu? Well, it adds a few twists to that formula.

Typically, top-performing delivery menus are made up of 15–20 dishes.

If you're used to preparing an extensive menu, 15-20 dishes may not seem like many. However, keep in mind that delivery customers want to make quick decisions. By providing only your very best dishes, you’re actually doing them a favor—and your delivery service will be much simpler to execute well.

A diner holds a dripping egg sandwich.
Great delivery food is quick to prep, travels well—and sells well, too.

Whether they're cooked in a brick-and-mortar restaurant or a ghost kitchen, all great delivery items have four things in common:

1. They travel well. Find the right food and packaging combination for withstanding time and temperature change.

2. They can be prepped quickly. If an item's prep time delays the rest of the order, modify it or remove it from the delivery menu.

3. They have a profit margin that covers your delivery costs. Make sure you've adjusted each item's pricing based on accurate recipe costing.

4. They sell well. Cut or overhaul dishes that add complexity to your operation without returning profits.

Designing a Delivery Menu That Travels Well

Delivery can turn a carefully constructed meal into a soggy mess. By testing each of your menu items under real-world conditions, you’ll spare customers the disappointment of a subpar meal—and keep them coming back for more.

Testing can be as simple as preparing each of your dishes, packaging them as if they were going to be delivered, and then storing them in an insulated delivery bag for about 30 minutes. Taste each item and consider how it looks compared to fresh. Is it what you want your customers to experience?

A NBRHD Kitchens team member prepares a delivery meal.
Not sure if your packaging holds up well? Test it out in real-world conditions.

You can be even more thorough by taking your delivery for a test drive. Yes, really! Bring a mock order to the edge of your delivery radius. While you’re out, have your chef prepare the same items so they’re fresh on your return. Do a side-by-side taste test and take “before and after” photos. The results may surprise you.

If you find your delivery food needs some TLC, try out these troubleshooting tips:

1. Change the packaging. Did things spill, get soggy, or cool off? Consider alternative packaging arrangements, like changing the material you’re using or cutting steam vents.

2. Tweak the recipe. Some menu items that are a favorite in-house may not shine after delivery, but can be adjusted to travel well. For example, a perfectly prepared medium-rare steak will continue to cook in transit due to its own residual heat, arriving overdone. With a slight tweak, you can send out a delivery-friendly steak sandwich instead. Similarly, a breakfast platter may cool down too quickly on its way to your customer—so retool it to become a delivery-friendly breakfast burrito instead.

3. Remove the item from your delivery menu. In some cases, it will be clear after testing that a menu item is really best served fresh in your dining room. Having some items exclusive to in-house dining will keep your delivery menu lean while giving loyal customers a delicious reason to come visit you in person.

Creative Delivery Menu Ideas

A creative menu combined with an understanding of how delivery customers like to order can lead to higher per-order spending. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Add-ons: Delivery consumers are less sensitive to price, so provide upselling opportunities like protein add-ons, extra toppings, sauces, side dishes, drinks, and desserts. Most third-party delivery apps make it simple to offer these incremental add-ons.

  • Versatility: What can you make with your existing ingredients to offer more choice without making your inventory more complex? A pizza place might offer garlic knots made with its signature dough; an Indian restaurant already serving paneer and paratha might start making kathi rolls; a pub might deliver both fish tacos and fish and chips.

  • Meal Kits: Try offering a deconstructed version of a bestseller that your customers can cook up at home as a meal kit. This way, your customers are fed and entertained while feeling even more connected to your brand.

  • Family Packs: Can you create a dinner for two or a family-style meal? These bigger-ticket orders can encourage a high per-order spend and simplify your customers’ ordering experience.

Tip: For the sake of simplicity in your kitchen, consider sticking with an all-day menu. It means fewer ingredients, fewer packaging requirements, and simpler training for your cooking staff. If you’re famous for your lunch specials and you want to bring that to a delivery context, just be sure to cost out each item so you know you’re meeting your margins.

Choosing The Best Food Packaging

A delicious burger sits in a NBRHD-branded delivery box.
Beautiful packaging can encourage repeat sales, with 72% of Americans saying package design in general influences their purchasing decisions.

Your packaging is so much more than a box to get your meals from A to B. It’s a way to extend your hospitality into your customers’ homes. Beautiful packaging can also encourage repeat sales, with 72% of Americans saying package design in general influences their purchasing decisions. Plus, it'll look great on social media.

Here’s how to make the most of your packaging, from choosing the right delivery materials for your food and troubleshooting different packaging to executing your brand.

  • Ensure your packaging matches your values and your customers’ expectations. So, if you offer local, grass-fed beef and organic vegetables, serve it in a compostable box— not Styrofoam.

  • Match your packaging to your serving size. It should be the smallest size that comfortably fits the dish, but not so small that things are going to spill.

  • Your packaging is a little billboard that has been allowed into your customers’ home. Don’t miss out on that marketing opportunity.
Your packaging is an extension of your restaurant's brand. Make it something Instagram-able—like Champs and Heroes' sneaker box-inspired packaging.

Plastic, Cardboard, or Compostable Packaging?

The right packaging for your restaurant comes down to your budget, cuisine, environmental values, and customers’ expectations. Consider the following when you’re choosing your packaging materials:

Plastic Containers

A colorful meal sits in a styrofoam box.
While lightweight and sturdy, some local governments want to ban single-use plastics.


  • Recyclable in some areas and may be reusable by the consumer

  • Lightweight, sturdy, and leak-resistant

  • Visually appealing

  • May be microwave-friendly and freezer safe


  • Often not recycled (79% of the world’s plastic is not recycled, per Science Advances)
  • Some municipalities are looking to ban single-use plastics and some consumers seek to avoid such plastics
  • More costly

Paper/Cardboard Boxes

A Mamma Parmigiana chicken pizza in a cardboard box.
Cardboard packaging is lightweight, affordable, and easy to store.


  • Lightweight
  • Collapsible and nestable, requires less storage space

  • Lower environmental impact; biodegradable

  • Heat-lamp tolerant and may be microwave-friendly

  • Affordable


  • May not be sturdy

  • Can leak

  • Often no compartments


A selection of East Asian-inspired food in compostable packaging.
Compostable packaging is the most eco-friendly option.


  • Completely compostable in some commercial facilities

  • Sturdy

  • Provides some insulation

  • May be microwave-friendly and freezer-safe


  • Customers may not have access to a compost site

  • More costly

  • Often no compartments

Troubleshooting Your Delivery Food Packaging

Has menu testing revealed some issues in the way you’re packing your food? Here are some simple fixes:

In- and On-Package Branding Opportunities

Delivery brings new opportunities to impact the customer experience. While you can’t offer customers the same cozy ambience, friendly welcome, and tantalizing aromas as they would get in-house, you can set yourself apart even beyond your food.

A roll of Burger Bytes-branded stickers in a NBRHD Kitchen.
Stickers featuring your logo help to brand your customers' delivery experience.

Here are some budget-friendly ideas to brand your packaging:

  • Seal take-out containers with a sticker featuring your logo and website.
  • Make a rubber stamp of your logo for stamping your paper takeout bags and boxes.

  • Custom print some or all of your packaging with your logo. You can even brand your packaged condiments.

  • Go the extra mile and source attractive, memorable, and functional packaging.

  • Include thoughtfully designed printed menus or a QR code that links to your menu. Be sure to mention your pickup specials or other discounts.

Delivering the Little Extras

With nearly two-thirds of Americans ordering delivery or takeout at least once a week, being memorable is key to enticing customers back for another helping.

An Alla Vodka-branded napkin rests under a bowl of freshly served pasta.
Branded napkins are a simple but effective way of standing out from the competition.

Here are some in-bag treats that REEF’s NBRHD Kitchens has executed with our partners:

  • A Spotify playlist with QR code on a nicely designed note card. This can be a playlist they would hear in-restaurant, it could be seasonal, or it might match the meal.

  • A printed cocktail recipe card that pairs with one of your dishes.

  • A freebie promotion (such as a free dessert).

And here are even more creative ways to drop a bit of hospitality in with a customer’s order:

  • Trivia questions (and answers). This is a great match if you host in-house trivia nights or if your food pairs well with sports.

  • A sample size of a signature sauce or seasoning mix with directions on using it in home cooking.

  • A good old-fashioned branded matchbox.

  • A short story of how your business or a beloved dish came to be, especially if it has roots in your family history.

  • A simple handwritten thank-you note.

Food Photography: How to Make Your Delivery Food Look Its Best

Tantalizing food photos are the difference between a new customer finding you or swiping past you on a delivery app. According to DoorDash, including photos of your menu items increases upsell conversions by up to 19%.

A decorated dining table full of diverse, plated delivery food.
Well plated food—like this NBRHD Kitchens spread—can help entice delivery customers.

Stunning food styling and photography can help convert new customers in those few crucial moments when they’re scrolling a delivery app in search of tonight’s dinner.

Food photography is an art and while you likely have access to a camera, you may not be able to pull off the top-notch images required to show your food at its best. We highly encourage bringing in an experienced food photographer for this task.

What's Your Food Photography Budget?

Photographers’ rates vary based on their experience, your location, and the level of styling required. As with any other specialty service, do your research and request quotes from several photographers.

A selection of sport bar foods, like chicken wings, sit plated on astroturf.
Great food photography—like this Rebel Wings photo—captures a full dining experience.

The cost to hire a photographer can be based on the number of final, edited images you would like (this could be $50–$200 per image or more), or the photographer’s day rate (this could be $500–$600 for a newer food photographer and $1,500+ for a more experienced professional).

Be sure to review the photographer’s portfolio of food work specifically. Just because they can expertly capture the romance at a wedding doesn’t mean they can make people fall in love with your burgers.

Stunning food photography can be expensive, but keep the following in mind:

  • You don’t need to photograph every dish, just your top 5–10 bestsellers and the dishes that set you apart.

  • You can use these photos beyond your menu—like in your social media and other marketing.

  • Some third-party delivery apps include food photography in their fees or offer it as an add-on.

  • Make sure to only use your photos within the bounds of your photography user agreement.
A diner holds a Mini Wonders burger slider above a white plate.
Want to stand out from the crowd? Add a pop of the unexpected—like this Mini Wonders shot.

Delivery Food Styling 101

While you can hire a food stylist to work with your photographer, you or your chef might prefer to take the lead on food styling. Research has found that plated food is rated as more delicious, so take time to be purposeful and creative in styling each menu item.

  • Add appropriate garnishes with pops of color (herbs, peppers, and citrus) and texture (oil, salt flakes, fresh ground pepper) to improve the look of items that are a bit more amorphous or single-color, like some soups, stews, and noodle dishes.

  • Create a background that aligns with your brand, whether it’s your iconic pottery dishes, branded napkins, or a textured tabletop.

  • Create realistic expectations so the customer doesn’t feel misled.

  • Show off your assets. If your veggie wrap comes with your signature handmade tzatziki that people crave for days after, make sure that sauce shines in the photo.

  • Most food photos are shot from above or straight on. Discuss options with your photographer so you can style the food appropriately.

Tip: You may be tempted to use stock photography if your menu items follow a standard formula, like sushi or wings. While it may seem to save you money in the short run, it’s not recommended. Customers may feel misled if what they receive isn’t what was pictured.

This is an excerpt from The Ultimate Guide to Food Delivery, our free restaurant resource. Download the full guide here.



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