When food is delivered to an off-premises location, a key way to represent the brand of a restaurant is through the packaging.

That was the message shared during a panel focused on branded containers at the Off-Premises Packaging Summit by Food On Demand in Dallas Tuesday. The panel was headlined by leaders of several restaurant concepts, including those that are entirely virtual.

One such company is Nextbite, a completely virtual, delivery-only restaurant company. According to Nextbite VP of Brand Mickey Citarella, labeled packaging is especially important for virtual establishments as they’re often one of the only physical touchpoints.

Because of the importance, Citarella said virtual restaurants must succeed in the areas of “form, function and finish,” or the “three Fs.”

“As we think about the purpose of branded packaging, we want to think through the lens of the three Fs,” Citarella said. “That’s ensuring that when the food does arrive at the house, that the form showcases the food in a beautiful way, and from a functional standpoint it’s helping to augment the experience and make sure the fries are still crispy. Then, you want that nice finish at the end, that creates that Instagram-able moment, that experience that customers will want to share.”

Citarella said maintaining those three Fs is necessary because of how the bar has been raised in delivery.

“As operators, we thought we had an on-premises experience and an off-premises experience,” Citarella said. “Now, we have an omni-premises experience, and the investment now is worth the impact. Originally, it was just brown bags and stickers, but now, it’s making sure we truly do bring forward a better branded experience.”

Packaging can be so effective in representing the brand that it can be worth investing marketing dollars in, too, according to Fuzzy’s Taco Shop COO Scott Shotter.

“There’s marketing dollars that are going toward billboards, digital and all that, but 40 percent of my business is going out the door,” Shotter said. “Branding equals marketing and marketing equals branding, so why aren’t those dollars being allocated to getting the right packaging and making it easier to deliver and execute? We have to challenge what we know and how we do business, and say ‘those dollars need to be put toward the right branding, so those dollars will turn into dollars.”

While greater packaging efforts can improve the experience and represent the brand well outside of the restaurant, Fajita Pete’s Founder and CEO Pedro Mora said it has to be part of other best practices, too.

“You can only go eight minutes away from your store for quality goods,” Mora said. “I think minimizing your radius is key in how your packaging will perform. The packages can only get you so far. They can come up with great things, but it’s important to be intentional about how far you let your food travel, so it represents you right. People are not going to say, ‘the food sucked, but because of the packaging, I’d love to order it again.’ You have to stand on quality at the end of the day.”