Trends in catering to the office crowd

Operators are retooling off-premise programs to draw new revenue.
taco catering

As operators continue to look for new revenue streams, many are expanding or retooling their catering programs—and differentiating what they offer to the office crowd. Although companies providing meals at work still need options that are easy to serve and clean to eat, they are increasingly seeking catered restaurants meals that offer creative, customizable and healthier food options without losing the simplicity. To meet those needs, some trends have emerged on office-catering menus. 

Diet-specific

About a quarter of consumers would order more catering if the menu was more customizable, finds Technomic’s Takeout & Off-Premise Dining Report. PhoNatic, an Austin, Texas-based Vietnamese fast-casual chain, began offering catering last year. It’s since found a way to build in that customization, specifically with dietary needs for group orders.

“One thing we have learned is that we have to be flexible and simplistic,” says co-owner and chef Pat Lee. “We want to be able to accommodate any and all dietary requests, and at the same time, we want the ordering process to be painless.” PhoNatic’s catering menu centers on build-your-own vermicelli, rice or salad bowls. Lee says the options allow PhoNatic to serve gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian diners, and to take on requests such as a build-your-own pho bar.

“We are able to customize not only the menu, but also the setup of the meals,” says Lee. “They choose what options they want and we make it happen.”

Beyond lunchtime

Another way to boost catering, finds Technomic: Offer it for a wider range of occasions. To boost revenue, Nekter Juice Bar recently expanded its service for the morning-meeting office crowd. But its menu strays away from the traditional pastries and coffee—it’s made up of healthy items such as bottled cold-pressed juices, a made-to-order fresh juice kit and a pop-up bowl bar.

“Companies are incorporating corporate wellness initiatives, which includes substituting unhealthy catering options with programs like ours,” says Nekter co-founder and CEO Steve Schulze. “They are replacing the bagel or muffin bar with more wholesome, nutrient-dense options that support a healthier workforce.”

The chain also added a layer of customization in its program to reflect its brick-and-mortar locations. Diners can dictate which ingredients to send for their made-to-order juice kit and the pop-up bowl bar, and they can choose what goes into the bowl on-site, from the fruit base to the toppings.

Ease of function

“People are now looking for more of an experience with catering,” says Jason Scott, CEO of The Taco Truck, a fast-casual chain in New York City. “They are tired of the traditional sandwich.” Catering options at The Taco Truck include ready-to-eat meals such as burritos and tortas as well as build-your-own on-site tacos and nachos served via pop-up or taco truck, depending on the size.

The program offers three levels of service: basic drop-off and setup; the addition of breakdown with bowls, baskets and tablecloths; and the option to have Taco Truck staff making tacos on-site, giving customers the chance to have everything from delivery to cleanup taken care of. To accommodate the extra costs of hosting staff on-site, The Taco Truck tacks on a travel and staff fee. 

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