52 billion reasons fast casuals are upgrading catering programs

| by Cherryh Cansler
52 billion reasons fast casuals are upgrading catering programs

Catering at Burrito Beach has doubled over the past three years and now makes up 11 percent of the business.

Off-premise catering in 2015 hit $52.3 billion, a 20 percent increase over 2011, according to Technomic. And if that's not enough to catch the attention of restaurants of all sizes, the research firm reported 64 percent of all catering dollars last year were spent at restaurants. While grocers and catering-only businesses once filled the majority of catering orders, restaurants are winning more market share each year. 

"Think about when you were growing up," said Melissa Wilson, Technomic catering expert. "Where did Mom buy party platters from if she did not make everything herself? Now, restaurants are totally ingrained in our lives and a convenient option."

Even small restaurants can substantially increase profits if they get catering right.

Burrito Beach, for example, is a four-unit chain acting more like a larger chain when it comes to managing its catering program. The Chicago-based brand relies on a custom software program to manage the catering side of the business. It not only integrates with all the restaurant units and the corporate office, but also generates client history, menus and new orders, said owner Greg Schulson.

"We have very aggressive internal goals for our entire business, including catering," he said, explaining why he invested in the platform.

Although the 20-year-old chain has offered catering since it opened, it is focused on it more than ever. Catering at Burrito Beach has doubled over the past three years and now makes up 11 percent of the business. The brand's fresh food and innovative approach to catering has contributed to the increased sales.

"Our menu focuses on quality, creative, made-from-scratch ingredients," said Schulson, who describes the brand's catering presentation as an "interactive bar." The bar allows customers to choose from a variety of options, including Beach Platters, which feature burritos and quesadillas individually wrapped for easy transport, and Beach Boxes, a boxed lunch with a choice of burrito, beach bowl salad or quesadilla. 

Collecting the low-hanging fruit

A low-hanging fruit opportunity for brands trying to win with catering is to ensure they are actively promoting occasions for which the brand and menu offerings are a good fit, Wilson said. For example, many chains promoted catering deals for March Madness but missed other important opportunities during the same time period, including Administrative Professionals Day.

"Similarly, Cinco de Mayo was sparsely promoted," she said. "And St. Patrick’s Day — although many associate it with going out to a bar, in many cities, parties are held at home."

Burrito Beach is always looking for those opportunities, said Schulson.

"Our catering program is affordable and approachable, so a wide range of people can take advantage of it from office buildings and corporate meetings to private parties," he said.

Topics: Catering, Trends / Statistics

Cherryh Cansler

Before joining Networld Media Group as director of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group's nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she's written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness. Her byline has appeared in a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for FastCasual.com.

wwwView Cherryh Cansler's profile on LinkedIn

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