There are few—if any—fast-casual burger concepts that have a dedicated catering program. Smashburger intends to fill that void with a new menu and platform launched earlier month.
Burgers are not known to be very travel-friendly—a catering hurdle Smashburger surmounted through a combination of technology, packaging innovation and improved production management. The pandemic accelerated the process.
“At the start of the pandemic, we packaged individual entrees and sides to donate to hospital workers and partnered with some of the big box retailers, like Target, to feed their essential workers,” said Ty Goerke, Smashburger’s head chef and senior manager of operations and brand performance.
That gave the chain the experience to forge ahead with a catering program.
Designed expressly for the program are a Build-Your-Own Smashburger Bar for 10, which includes individually wrapped burgers in beef, crispy chicken, grilled chicken and black bean varieties. American or Cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, mayo, ketchup and Smash Sauce are packed separately.
Goerke discovered that burgers are better travelers when the lettuce, tomato, sauce and other toppings are packaged separately so the bun doesn’t get soggy. That separation not only promotes the quality of the food in transit, it’s an extra safety and sanitation measure—a bigger concern now after two pandemic years.
In place of burgers, customers can order a Crispy Chicken Tender Bar for 10 with a choice of dipping sauces. Additionally, each of the “bars” is available in increments of 10 to feed larger crowds.
The new catering menu also includes individual boxed meals similar to what the chain sent out during COVID. Customers can order a Breakfast Smashburger, Classic Smashburger, chicken tenders, Cobb salad or Vegetarian Smashburger as an entrée, with chips, tots, salad or bacon on the side. Orders come with cookies for dessert.
The fast casual’s signature SmashTots are a hit both on- and off-premise. “I recommend these instead of fries for catering because they better retain quality, texture and heat in transit,” said Goerke.
Perfecting packaging and production
The “superwrap” Smashburger uses for regular to-go orders does a good job of wicking off some moisture and holds the temperature of the bun and burger, he added.
But the team then places the wrapped burgers in a heavier cardboard box—the only new SKU added for the catering program. “The cardboard retains heat for 30 minutes, which was our target,” said Goerke.
Every one of Smashburger’s 250 restaurants is set up to do catering now, with the managers at each location supervising the program. Everything is done exactly as it would be if dining in.
“For every catering order, we still smash and cook every burger to order and cut the produce right before using,” said Goerke. “The managers set the schedule so everything is prepared right before it goes out the door, with the burgers the last item to be cooked.”
Catering orders typically come in 24 hours ahead, so if extra labor is needed—particularly during the rush from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.—it isn’t last minute. And no extra make lines have been added; catering is done from the same store footprint and kitchen.
Smashburger partners with EZ Cater’s platform for the technology component of the program. “EZ Cater does a lot of the organization, finalizing orders and integrating with our POS system,” said Scott Johnson, head of marketing North America Division at Jollibee Food Corp., Smashburger’s parent company. “Ty and his team worked really hard on timing the production, how to deliver the product, the packaging and other details.”
Although the catering program is geared to businesses with workers returning to offices, consumers are ordering the burger bars, too, said Johnson. Smashburger expects to see social catering pick up even more as group get-togethers and entertaining ramp up.
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