Food has long held its rank in the business setting. Increasingly, however, companies are moving beyond taking a decision maker out for a nice meal and are choosing to bring food into the office for a multitude of reasons.

From pharmaceutical sales reps looking to secure a meeting with a doctor, to corporate trainers needing to feed their sessions, and even companies themselves ordering food to feed their employees, business catering is booming. According to Technomic, business catering is a $21 billion industry annually in the U.S, which presents a huge opportunity for restaurants to increase their historically slower “9 to 5” revenue steam.

Before embarking, there are a few things you should know, like how business catering differs from regular catering and how some of the most successful restaurants are using it. Consider this your beginner’s guide to business catering, which will explore the ins and outs of the industry and how to get started.

Business Catering

Business Catering vs. Traditional Catering

Business catering can be defined as catering exclusively for working professionals. This isn’t just limited to your average corporate office – it spans construction sites, off-site conferences or meetings, and even some surprising places like truck stops for on-duty drivers. While you need a means to deliver the food, business catering doesn’t require all the bells and whistles traditional catering does, like white-glove staff to set up and clean up events. Typically, businesses are looking for drop-off, family-style meals.

A large portion of the people who order business catering are traveling sales professionals who likely don’t know the options in the area. To get in front of these business customers, many restaurants turn to business catering marketplaces like ezCater. By partnering with a business catering marketplace, your brand can easily be found online, and you enable your customers to order online without having to invest in ordering technology. This is also a cost-effective and easy way to market to local businesses that you may not have been able to get in front of before.


Business Catering Best Practices

The needs of business professionals and everyday consumers are quite different. While services like GrubHub or restaurant-specific apps like Domino’s are great when you’re ordering at home, the stakes are higher when you have hungry staff or prospective clients in the boardroom. With business catering, there’s an added emphasis on timing, accuracy and communicating effectively to the consumer throughout the process. When using a business catering marketplace instead of a frantic last-minute phone call or jotting down misinformation in a busy kitchen, restaurants receive itemized orders with specific menu requests, quantities and delivery time, leaving little room for error.

By leaving a regular in-store dining menu with catering orders, restaurants can also experience an up-lift in foot traffic to their restaurant. Through business catering, workers get exposed to a variety of restaurants they may not have even realized are close by. If they like the food, they may pop into your restaurant for a meal.


Success Stories

Thousands of restaurants and caterers across the U.S. are offering some form of catering or carry-out options to their customers and many have seen big results from implementing business catering. Buca di Beppo and Firehouse Subs are just two of these success stories.

In the case of one Firehouse Subs franchisee, its marketing had traditionally focused on the in-restaurant experience, so few people knew about its catering offering. In 2013, the franchisee partnered with ezCater to get the word out about its excellent catering options – and it paid off. Five years ago, less than 1 percent of sales came from catering and now Firehouse Subs is poised to reach its goal of 10 percent. The franchise owner reported strengthened relationships with local businesses, as well as a jump in guest traffic in-restaurant.

Buca di Beppo is another example. Like most fast-casual family restaurants, Buca is busy on evenings and weekends, but crowds are light during the day. In 2013, a strategy was implemented to enhance lunch-hour sales. To fill lulls between the evening and weekend rush Buca and its sister chain, Earl of Sandwich, enlisted in ezCater’s help. Within just hours of being live on the site, Buca had their first order from a company they had been trying to crack for months. Since then, Buca’s catering sales have jumped significantly and continue to grow.

Business Catering

Quick Tips for Getting Started

Now that you know the basics, here are some tips to get started.

• Determine if you have the bandwidth for business catering – Like any new bright and shiny object, it’s critical to ask yourself if business catering makes sense for your business. Maybe lunchtime is your sweet spot and it’s already hard to keep up with the volume of orders. Perhaps you don’t have the necessary staff or the capacity to deliver the food. While the value of business catering is clear, it’s critical to evaluate these factors before diving in head-first.

• Create a separate business catering menu – To minimize complications and ensure consumers aren’t overwhelmed with choices, pare down your regular menu for the catering crowd. A good rule of thumb is to start with your most popular items and use them as a guide to build out the rest of the menu. Then think about what foods travel well. For example, soup served in a bread bowl is probably not the best choice since it can get cold and soggy in transit. Also, think seasonally – experiment with comfort foods in the colder months and refreshing options in the summer and spring. Design options beyond salad for vegetarians and be sure to have some protein in the mix – after all, this should energize and fuel workers through their day. Just as you do in your restaurant, be aware of food allergies and sensitivities and try to offer at least one option for those who may be gluten- or dairy-free.

• Maximize the marketing potential – Beyond the aforementioned searchability and online ordering capabilities a catering marketplace can offer, don’t stop there! Incentivize your customers to come back again by setting yourself apart. Consider investing in nicer packaging, take the time to label your dishes or set up a table with a disposable tablecloth. There are many opportunities to get the word out and yield repeat customers.

To summarize, business catering is a great way to build your brand, get in front of a whole new enterprise audience, and most importantly, drive sales even during “off” hours. Now, consider the three criteria for getting started and start watching the orders roll in.

Author Bio

Vice President of Caterer Partnerships at ezCater, Victoria Brady, has spent nine years in the restaurant industry, working her way up from server and hostess to trainer, shift management, marketing management, and general management roles. Her employers included the Grafton Group, within which Victoria worked at the Group’s independent restaurants, and Margarita’s, a regional chain that repeatedly tapped Victoria to support multiple locations. Most recently, Victoria moved into the fitness industry, where she helped open a flagship location for Town Sports International – Boston Sports Club, and was general manager of another of its locations.