Bartaco parlays learnings from delivery into new catering program

The 32-unit Mexican-themed chain formalized catering by focusing on the culinary and digital experience.
bar taco box
Bartaco switched from trays to compartmentalized boxes for a branded presentation and to assure "no soggy tacos." | Photo courtesy of Bartaco.

Until late 2023, customers had to call or email their local Bartaco to place a group order for a catered office lunch or social gathering.

“It was more informal and cumbersome,” said Lindsay Crasnick, director of digital experience + product for the Arlington, Virginia-based chain.

Last November, Bartaco formalized the program, revamping the menu, partnering with the ezCater catering platform and digitizing the ordering process. By December, the 32-unit Mexican-themed concept had more than doubled catering sales, hitting both B2B and B2C markets.

“We started with culinary,” said Crasnick, “taking learnings from delivery, which accelerated during the pandemic, and offering deconstructed packages of tacos to assemble on site.”

With “no soggy tacos” its mantra, Bartaco created a menu of build-your-own taco trays, with tortillas, fillings, guacamole, salsa and salads all separated into compartments. In January, the chain also launched digital exclusive items, such as a rice bowl-and-beverage bundle to provide an option for individually packaged meals and group orders. It’s priced from $14.50-$15.50, depending on the market.

“We did non-competitive audits and discovered that individually packaged items were big sellers,” said Crasnick. “The bowls use all existing SKUs and are more efficient than building your own tacos.” Soon after launch, Bartaco had sold 150 rice bowls as office lunches. Ready-to-drink Mexican sodas filled the beverage slot.

“But we were missing out on beverage sales with the trays, so we now offer 32-ounce iced teas in different flavors, like ginger mint, and sell them for $4 each,” she added.

While Bartaco had packaging in-house for the bowls—the same used for takeout and delivery orders—the build-your-own tacos presented a packaging challenge. Initially, the kitchen used metal trays, but customers often couldn’t figure out which sauces and sides went with which tacos.

In January, the chain launched branded boxes. Each comes with directions for building specific tacos, explaining the sauces and slaws to put on a fish taco, for instance, and exactly how to put together a pork belly taco.

box with instructions

Catering boxes come with instructions for assembling the tacos. | Photo courtesy of Bartaco.

“The presentation of the boxes is very impressive and the food stays fresh,” said Crasnick. While pricing varies by market, a small, 20-taco tray goes for $58 and a large tray for $116. Some protein choices are a little more expensive, including ahi tuna and pork belly. There are also new vegetarian choices, such as falafel, mushroom and pistachio cauliflower. Bartaco suggests three to five tacos per person as an average serving.

To market its new and improved catering program, Bartaco partnered with ezCater, the online marketplace, and redesigned its website to showcase the program. “We offer the ezCater portal right on our web page for easy access,” said Crasnick.

The catering program gives customers the chance to replicate the Bartaco experience and vibe at home or in the office, and feedback has been very positive in just a few short months. “Our theme is ‘how do you Bartaco,’ and catering is another way to make it happen,” said Crasnick.

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