Adding a Grab-and-Go Section to Your Pizza Restaurant

As customers seek more take-home options during the pandemic, now's the time to explore the grab-and-go market at your pizzeria.

By Tracy Morin

For today’s on-the-go customers, it’s no surprise that grab-and-go options are increasingly in demand. Yet many outlets are still missing out on this growing segment. In 2018, Nestle Professional reported some telling stats by Datassential: “Grab-and-go (prepared foods for takeout that don’t need to be preordered) in restaurants at all price points grew 67.1% between 2013 and 2017. Penetration, however (the number of establishments offering some type of grab-and-go), was only 0.4%, indicating plenty of room for additional growth.” 

In light of the surging omicron wave of COVID-19, now might be the perfect time to add a grab-and-go section to your pizzeria. It’s like adding any other new piece to the business puzzle—you’ll need to invest in the right equipment, maintain optimal food quality, and market the option to new and existing customers. Here, several experienced grab-and-go purveyors share their best advice for success.

Think variety.

Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace, with eight locations in New York and New Jersey, offers a wide selection of gourmet meals for customers, made fresh daily by its chefs. “They’re ready to simply slide into an oven, heat and eat,” says Jillian Gundy, marketing manager for Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace, based in Farmingdale, New York. “We have chicken marsala, eggplant rollatini, grilled vegetables, as well as packed salads, delectable soups and more. The easiest foods to select on a lunch break are our ready-made sandwiches, wraps and soups, all of which we make each morning and restock through the day.” Four of its locations also serve up pizzas, ready to grab by the slice or the whole pie for a quick lunch or dinner.

Joe Fugere, founder and CEO of Seattle-based Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria, agrees that the usual suspects—sandwiches, salads and soups—all work well in a grab-and-go format. “But you can also add desserts—we sell cannoli and tiramisu—salad dressings, entrees and frozen products like lasagna, gelato, pastas and sauces,” Fugere says. “Similar to what grocery stores offer, this setup allows us to cater to both the true grab-and-go customer and families looking for a dinner for four that’s fully prepared and ready to be heated or cooked at home.”

Newk’s Eatery, based in Jackson, Mississippi, with more than 120 locations in 16 states, also offers a robust grab-and-go section that even features ready-to-serve proteins, such as broiled shrimp and tenderloin steak, that are seasoned and seared in-house. Other items range from salads, soups and sandwiches to slices of Newk’s Dozen-Layer Cake, according to Michelle Spohnholz, VP of marketing. “These items make it easy to make a meal by mixing and matching proteins with soups, salads and dessert,” she says.

Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace

Expand your reach. 

Though grab-and-go sections are usually an in-house hit, you can also expand your brand reach to local grocery stores, farmers markets and more. Tutta Bella, for example, was tapped by QFC, a grocery store chain, to offer grab-and-go items in its newest location, and Fugere jumped at the chance. “We’re always looking for new opportunities to get our authentic food in front of discerning customers,” he explains. “Great food appeals to everyone but is not always easy to find in the grab-and-go environment. This arrangement provides us the opportunity to provide scratch-cooking quality to the consumer who’s in a hurry—whether it’s a quick lunch visit from surrounding offices or those doing their normally scheduled grocery run.”

“Guests who are visiting us for lunch may also want high-quality dinners at home, so Newk’s makes it easy for them to solve dinner while they enjoy their lunch.”
— Michelle Spohnholz, Newk’s Eatery

Don’t forget dinner.

You can also expand your grab-and-go business by thinking across dayparts—and serving sizes. “Our Express Market coolers are a way to reach a different type of guest, one who’s looking for convenient meal options for their busy lifestyle,” explains Spohnholz. “Guests who are visiting us for lunch may also want high-quality dinners at home, so Newk’s makes it easy for them to solve dinner while they enjoy their lunch. Many of our grab-and-go meals can serve multiple people, so they’re perfect to take home to your family after a busy day, or you can just grab an item for lunch on a quick break from work.”

Colleen Kearnes/Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria

Attract more orders. 

Grab-and-go customers are usually busy and in a hurry. Hence, Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace ensures that its grab-and-go foods are easily accessible both in-store and online. “Customers can order on [grocery delivery platform] Instacart or apps such as UberEats, Grubhub and DoorDash,” Gundy says. “We offer many possibilities to make our foods available to all!”

At Newk’s, every Express Market cooler is located in one of two places in-store—and both are close to a door, allowing for guests to easily access the convenient meal options. Customers can also place online orders for grab-and-go items through the Newk’s website or mobile app. And Tutta Bella works closely with its partner grocery store to market its grab-and-go offerings while spreading the word through direct mail and social media. “We’re also looking into A-frame sandwich boards and other signage strategically placed at the store entrances to increase exposure,” Fugere adds. 

“We prepare grab-and-go foods daily, as well as throughout the day, based on demand. We also invest in ingredients that…match the level of freshness and quality our guests expect during a dine-in experience.”
— Joe Fugere, Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria

Ensure optimal quality.

To serve up grab-and-go foods that maintain the same quality as your regular menu items, examine everything from equipment to ingredient sourcing. For example, each Newk’s location houses an open-air cooler, neatly stocked with freshly prepared take-home items. “These coolers allow for displaying the visual appeal of fresh ingredients prepared in-house each day, along with easy-to-read labels made by our label system,” Spohnholz says. 

Fugere bought equipment from display case manufacturer Structural Concepts, then brought in a local award-winning restaurant design firm to create an irresistible esthetic. The final key ingredient? A willing staff. Fugere says his operations team’s willingness to embrace this extension of its business model was a must, helping the idea come to fruition and attain maximum success. 

But there are other considerations, such as ensuring freshness while minimizing waste. “Watch your daily inventory closely and adjust periodic automatic replenishment (PAR) levels in the moment,” Fugere advises. “We prepare grab-and-go foods daily, as well as throughout the day, based on demand. We also invest in ingredients that we know hold well and match the level of freshness and quality that our guests expect during a dine-in experience.”

Finally, don’t let your grab-and-go offerings go stale; introduce new additions or limited-time specials so that even regulars can try something different. “People like convenience, fresh foods and the best ingredients, so we strive to achieve that on a daily basis,” Gundy notes. “But our chefs also work hard to introduce new recipes as often as we can!”  

Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.