The Paper Pile

Where the small things add up.

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The paper chase is more intense than ever in an age of takeout. / serezniy © 123RF.com

Pre-COVID, printed menus, to-go boxes, comment cards, and event posters were steady, somewhat fixed costs. They were simply the price of doing business. Now, comment cards and posters aside, they are your business, and the cost associated with paper goods has skyrocketed.

There are, of course, ways around having to print a daily supply of soon-to-be-discarded paper menus: QR codes, chalkboards and menu boards, and tablets (Sanitize! Sanitize! Sanitize!). The issue of takeout containers, however, is a different story.

“When restaurants had to pivot to basically an off-premise service model, everything was being sold as to go, so obviously paper costs increased,” says Sydney Lynn, director of client advisory services for Restaurant Solutions, Inc. “[Our clients] went from 20 percent in to-go sales to 100 percent in to-go sales. Increased purchases in packaging went up even though the sales basis was drastically decreased.”

Where before restaurants might have been able to get away with a less expensive container, the shift to curbside and delivery has forced many operators to shuffle their packaging choices. Peter Moore, director of sales at Colorado-based EP Distribution, says the company has seen both an uptick in to-go packaging and changes in requests. “[Our customers] are ordering heavier duty to-go containers, and those who have been buying compostable have switched to recyclable because they stay more air-tight and handle heat well,” he says. “When you have nice food, you want it presented nicely.” 

At Craftsman in Edwards and Bird Craft in Frisco, business is booming—and so is takeout. Chef-owner Chris Schmidt says that 60 to 70 percent of Craftsman’s sales are from carryout, and that’s with the dining room, patio, and tent open. “With all that business comes elevated expenses,” he says. “Our dining room supplies have at least doubled this summer.”

Although Schmidt says he’s not married to a particular brand (he’s constantly shopping around), many operators feel forced into more expensive packaging. “It has to be more sustainable, more secure, maybe divided, and all of those containers are more expensive,” explains Lynn. “Restaurants are still in the hospitality business, they still have to prove value, consistency, and experience—but to go.”

What are you spending on to-go containers? Have you had trouble getting hold of your preferred options? Email your experiences (and thoughts, opinions, and questions—anything, really) to askus@diningout.com

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