The messages started rolling in as soon as the announcement was made that restaurants and bars would close.
“Are you still going to have reviews?”
“What are you going to do now if the restaurants close?”
“Can you do reviews of carryout?”
There will be a couple of reviews coming that were completed before Indiana restaurants were shut down, but, going forward, we will just have to wait and see.
Will I be carrying out more now? Of course.
I don't carry out often. Even when I am not on the clock, I prefer to get out of the house and unwind at a restaurant rather than bringing it home in foam containers.
When I do bring it home, I have a set of guidelines to ensure my carryout meals are the best they can be.
Don't go far
OK, this seems like an obvious rule. If you get your food close to your home or workplace, of course it is going to be better than it will be if you drive 30 minutes to get it.
If you are or become a frequent carryout customer, you will likely build a rapport with the folks at that eatery, too, which is always a good thing. Frequent visits will likely ensure fewer mistakes – which are almost inevitable with carryout – and if your repeat visits are around the same time, the owners will get into the habit of having it ready right when you get there instead of too early or late.
Speaking of too early or too late, in cases where I order ahead and request a time for my pickup, I set the pickup time 10 minutes later (five minutes on lunch breaks) than I think I will arrive.
If it is ready when I get there, I know it hasn't been sitting too long. And though waiting five or 10 minutes may not seem optimal, getting your food as soon as it is ready is worth the wait.
The same rule applies if you call in a live order and are told by the establishment, “It will be about 20 minutes,” (or whatever). And don't get upset, chew somebody out or jilt them on a tip if your food is five minutes late. I don't think a customer should get antsy until a meal is 15 minutes late or 10 at lunchtime.
And, yes, you need to tip on carryout. If it is a place built on carryout business, 10% is the lowest I would go. If it is more of a sit-down restaurant, 15% is my minimum.
What you carry out is as important as where you carry out.
Pizza and Chinese food are slam dunks and there are more take-out versions of these than anything. But there is another great carryout option that usually never disappoints – sushi. Temperature is not as big of a concern and most of us have coolers if needed.
Carryout chicken wings are the only fried food I can rely on being nearly as good as if I dine in. If it has breading or batter and relies on crispness to be at its best, good luck.
If you must have your fish and chips or fried chicken, I suggest immediately opening your bag and popping open the lids on the containers they are in to allow steam to escape as you drive home. Releasing the steam will cause the food to cool faster, but that steam won't help it stay crunchy.
Speaking of chips, good luck with them. I don't think I have ever had good carryout french fries. The growing number of air fryers in homes might be a good fix for these and other fried foods, and throwing them in a toaster oven at super-high heat for a few minutes also helps salvage the texture somewhat.
You also might want to ask for some items bagged separately to avoid overheating. My salad and banana cream pie should not be in the bag with the soup and ribs. Specify this when you order because you cannot count on it happening otherwise.
Check it out
It behooves you to open your containers to make sure your order is correct. If you are all the way home and discover your cup of soup is not there, you will probably not want to leave the table and drive back to get it.
And though most restaurants will give you a credit for your next visit when something is wrong, why would you want to go back to a place that messed it up in the first place?
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.