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How to distribute Takeaway Menus?

Your full colour takeaway menu is one of the most important weapons in your business arsenal. Good takeaway menu design – well printed and presented - is an investment, because sometimes the takeaway menu dropped on the doormat is the only evidence a customer will have of your takeaway business until they order and the food arrives. So although we won’t say that your takeaway menu is your greatest asset, your greatest asset – the quality of your food – will stay a well-kept secret without those enticing takeaway menus sliding through letterboxes.

So you’ve got your great takeaway food and you’ve got your professional, attractive full colour takeaway menus designed and printed. In fact you’ve got thousands of them, waiting to go out into the world and go to work for your takeaway restaurant business. In short, they need delivering. To maximise the orders your takeaway menus are going to generate for you, you’re going to need a distribution strategy.


Imagine one new customer for each one of those takeaway menus. Now imagine every one of those customers lining up at your shop counter to place an order. Or every one of those customers picking up the phone and dialling your number or ordering from your takeaway’s website…

It’s an ideal image, I know, but that image is the vast potential business a skilful distribution strategy can provide to your takeaway. It seems obvious when you think about it for a moment, but unfortunately there are many businesses who don’t think about it, or who cut corners or don’t put the effort in. Those takeaways aren’t around any longer, or if they are then the writing is already on the wall for them.

Our most successful takeaway clients are distributing 1000 to 2000 menus every single week. From this outlay it is reasonable to expect about a 10% return i.e. 100 to 200 orders as a direct result of the menu distribution.

The first thing you need to do is identify your catchment area, the area surrounding your takeaway that contains your potential customers. Next you need to find out how many homes are contained within this catchment area. This figure will give you a good idea of how many takeaway menus you need and how many weeks these menus will last if you’re distributing the average amount per week. It will also give you an idea of how many segments in the strategies below.

Your distribution strategy needs to be smart and it needs to be consistent. Remember you want to be in it for the long game, so be patient and examine any results you can gather about your strategy’s success. That way you can tweak and improve with every fresh drop.


You can approach menu delivery in one of two ways: you can employ the services of a distribution company, local publications or you can choose to do it yourself.

Employing a distribution company

There are a number of different approaches here. The one you choose may depend on your budget or your target locations.

Solus Distribution

This essentially means that your menu will not be delivered alongside any other menus or leaflets. I’m sure we all know from experience that we are more likely to look at a single item which comes through our door than we are three or four. Even if your item does get looked at it is competing for attention with others. Solus distribution allows the quality of your menu to stand out and increases the time the recipient looks at it. It has been noted that anything over two seconds’ attention stays longer in the mind.

Distribution companies which deliver by this method will often offer targeted deliveries down to street level, allowing you to maximise your order potential and minimise your costs.

This method of distribution can be expensive but you get what you pay for – a guaranteed single delivery to a targeted household. You may also want to ask about activity reporting and location monitoring. After all this is a double investment you are making here – the menu production and the money to have them delivered. Check out the company as much as possible, the more professional the better. Beware of solus distribution deals which seem too good to be true, because the chances are that is exactly the case. If you do a quick calculation and it seems like the hourly rate being charged is ludicrously low, there’s an increased probability a large number of your high quality takeaway menus are not being delivered at all. This is the biggest single complaint made by takeaway owners regarding delivery of their menus.


Shared Distribution

Shared distribution, hinted at above, is the delivery of your menu alongside three or four other items. Avoid being one of many takeaway menus in a shared drop, the chances of your menu being used drops dramatically! If possible ask them for an exclusive shared deal, where your takeaway menu is the only takeaway menu in the shared drop – there may be other leaflets and flyers but at least yours will be the only takeaway menu. These other leaflets may not be directly competing with your takeaway business but they will be dividing your audience’s attention, so if at all possible, see if you can get your menu on the top of the pile.

If you plump for this option you may well save money, but research has estimated that with shared distribution a saving of about 50% compared to solus distribution is somewhat coloured by the close to 90% reduction in potential take-up of your product. Also you are less likely to get a precisely targeted service.

This is not to say that this method does not work (if it didn’t it wouldn’t still be around) but it does tend to be favoured by large companies with money to burn, or smaller businesses who haven’t done their research and are opting for a hit-and-hope strategy. Hope doesn’t really play a part in small business strategy.

News share

Ever had a free newspaper and opened it up only to have half a dozen leaflets drop on the floor at your feet? That is if you actually open up the paper in the first place!

Most people already regard the free newspaper through the door as just passing through on its way to the bin or the recycling bag, so what chance does a takeaway menu tucked inside some random page have?

For takeaways which are just beginning this may be an opportunity to introduce your takeaway business to the community, and it is a blanket approach so may generate a lot of initial business. It could be part of your opening gambit which is fine, but to count on this method for continuing business and indeed business growth may be unwise.

This is probably the cheapest but definitely the least effective door drop method for your takeaway menus, in terms of consistency at least.


The consensus with distribution companies seems to be that you need to find one that suits your needs as closely as possible. Paying a higher price may well seem unattractive, but other options could very well be a false economy. You need to know that your takeaway menus are reaching the people you want them to reach.

Distributing menus yourself

You know what they say to do if you want a job doing well…

Who knows your takeaway business and your market better than you do?

With the input this requires from you and your staff this may seem like the more labour-intensive option but with a bit of thought and research it could pay dividends.

Incentivise your staff to deliver when you are closed. Overtime is going to be much cheaper than paying a third party to deliver for you, and the motivation of more business equalling more work equalling more pay for your team will work in your favour.

So, how to go about it.

Take a leaf out of nature’s book. The army ant is one of the most organised creatures on the planet. A colony instinctively knows how to forage and maintain its food supply. It sends out soldiers in one particular direction every day, never returning anywhere near the same place until it knows the supply has replenished and the opportunity for success has returned. This way it consistently feeds itself and grows. They seem know a little bit about how to successfully distribute their resources. And they’ve been around about a hundred million years longer than even the oldest takeaway.

Work out your catchment area on a map. Now overlay something similar to the diagram below to give you a rough idea of where to concentrate your door drops each day.

Postmen do something similar to this with their door-to-doors, but for them it is to spread out their workload. It is efficient and it works.

The beauty of this plan lies in its precision. You are literally pin point targeting a particular area. If this generates immediate orders from these areas it also concentrates your deliveries to this area. If your orders are plotted out in a straight line moving away from your shop this allows faster turnaround and reduces the waiting time for deliveries… the wider the delivery area the longer it takes to deliver. You might also end up saving a bit of fuel!



It may seem like an overly scientific way of approaching this aspect of your business, but you can’t afford to trust to luck. If you have an attractive product and you want to sell it, it makes sense to put in the effort from beginning to end. The principle behind this method is simple. Over time the effect the menu drop has from a specific area will diminish but you will still be getting orders from week one’s distribution during week 2 and 3. So moving around the segments, like a clock hand, means you are reducing the distance between deliveries. If for example you distribute menus in segment 6 on week 2 your drivers will have to travel in two different directions to make deliveries. So it is best to do everything you can to minimise the distance travelled by the drivers – reducing the waiting time and the chances of cold food being delivered.

Don’t forget that once the full circle of distribution has been completed that week 11, or however many weeks it takes to distribute menus to all your catchment area that you start again and cover the week 1 segment.


Here are a few extra hints designed to get your takeaway menus seen not just by more people, but by more of the right people –

  • Look at previous orders listed by postcodes. Identify the postcodes with the least orders and distribute to these postcodes.
  • Don’t forget to put at least one menu into all the delivery bags…or hand the menu separately with the food as it’s delivered.
  • Ask delivery drivers to drop a menu either side of the delivery address (only on quieter runs or at the end of a delivery run).
  • Hand menus out outside and near to your takeaway shop when it’s not so busy. This can be especially successful if done with taste tester samples. This works well if you have lots of footfall during rush hour, and you can catch customers on their way home when they are tired and starting to think about what is for dinner. Try offering menus to drivers waiting at traffic lights too.
  • Target local institutions like hospitals, university student unions or halls of residence to see if they have a leaflet rack or common room where you could put some menus. Ask a student nicely to take them inside for you (bribe them with a free (small) item from the menu).
  • Ask a local shop to put menus by their till.

So menu distribution has its own rules, its own strengths and weakness. The trick is to try to make it work best for your individual needs. Use your budget wisely, test different approaches and weigh up the results and you’ll find the optimum strategy for your takeaway. And make sure the menus you send off to work for you are eye-catching, full colour and well-designed.

We’ll say it again because we know it’s true. Your printed takeaway menu is one of the most important weapons in your takeaway business arsenal. It represents your takeaway out in the world. Give it the respect it deserves and make sure it goes to a good home.


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About the Author

Kevin Moyse

With over 19 years creative marketing experience Kevin has a wonderful knowledge of takeaway restaurant industry and specialises in creative takeaway menu design and printing.

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