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The Changing Face of Catering


Jan 2, 2020

Delivery attracts a lot of operator focus, but catering is also an appealing avenue. It’s a $60 billion industry that’s growing 50% faster than every other area of growth within the business. Plus, this service works as a long-term strategy that Top-500 chains and even schools are adopting to boost sales. As with most areas within foodservice, catering is quickly evolving.

While catering was once associated only with lunch, breakfast catering is increasing in popularity. Business meetings often occur in the morning, yet only 6% of operators take advantage of this daypart. More top chains are testing out breakfast catering and expanding their morning offerings. In Orlando, Florida, McDonald’s is experimenting with breakfast packages that feed up to 18 people. At Einstein Bros. Bagels, patrons can order Bagel Breakers, a bundle of two dozen half-sized bagels in various flavors, including Apple Cinnamon and Cheesy Hash Brown. Another major opportunity is beverages, which nearly half of catering orders feature. Cracker Barrel is updating its catering menu to include a wider selection of drinks in addition to heat-and-serve meals and new handheld additions, such as biscuit sandwiches.

Next, it’s become increasingly important for operators to be flexible in catering. Customers used to place orders multiple days in advance, but now this is shifting to mere hours of notice. This means that menu items need simple preparation for chefs to meet tight turnarounds. Flexibility has also extended to how guests place these orders. Tropical Smoothie Café switched from a hard-to-find, downloadable order form to a fully functional web page—with successful results. McDonald’s customers can make their catering purchases through Uber Eats, the McDonald’s delivery app and by phone.

Operators also need to accommodate dietary concerns from allergies to special diets. The National Health Service reported an increase in gluten, nut, dairy and shellfish allergies over the past two decades. More operators are including labels and menu cards with catering orders to increase transparency. Others are tapping into buffet-style options to allow for customization. The Middle Eastern fast-casual chain Naf Naf Grill offers a build-your-own service that lets guests personalize their own pita sandwich or bowl. Plus, the restaurant provides a “road map” that advises customers how to setup and serve. Each dish comes with a small description card, which is particularly useful for those with dietary constraints.

Customers are concerned about the environmental impact of catering too. They’re worried about food waste and unsustainable packaging, an issue that has prompted state bans. To be eco-friendlier, some operators are switching to biodegradable cups, supplies made from recycled or plant-based materials, and even using energy-efficient cooking methods, such as high-speed grills. During ordering, operators can also give the option of carryout containers. This assures customers that they’re not letting good food go to waste, especially when food insecurity is still prevalent.

Catering is a great growth strategy for operators. It’s a smart way to tap into large audiences and for restaurants to potentially become the go-to order spot for business meetings, banquets, school events and more. Consumers are raising their expectations for what this service delivers, and it’s an excellent way to capture their off-premise business.

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SOURCES

50 Great Ideas, Restaurant Business, August 2019.

Cobe, Patricia. Optimize for Off-Premise, Technomic, September 2019.

Deutsch, Jonathan. Should to-go boxes be included in catering orders? Restaurant Business, September 2019.

Dyer, Lynn. How Foodservice Packaging Contributes to Successful Catering, Catering Magazine, June 2019.

Kealy-Roberts, Delilah. How Have Catering Supplies Transformed in 2019? Modern Restaurant

Management, October 2019.

Noone, Patrick. Top 500 Chains Capitalize on Catering, Technomic Inc. Foodservice Digest, June 2018.