Informal occasions are driving catering orders

Event and catering professionals gathered in Austin, Texas, last week for Catersource + The Special Event to discuss industry challenges, trends and more.
Rich Shank speaking at Catersource + The Special Event
Technomic Senior Principal and VP of Innovation Rich Shank speaking at Catersource + The Special Event. | Photo courtesy of Benita Gingerella

Event and catering professionals gathered in Austin, Texas, last week for Catersource + The Special Event. Throughout the conference, operators discussed challenges, trends and more in the catering industry. Here are four takeaways from the event.

1. Informal catering occasions are growing

Informal catering occasions, such as backyard barbecues and movie nights with friends, have seen a rise in popularity since the pandemic due to consumers spending more time entertaining at home, according to Restaurant Business sister company Technomic.

Restaurants have used this as an opportunity to boost their profits as they find new ways to reach customers at home.

“These at-home entertainment occasions are creating informal catering opportunities that will generate higher frequency, smaller guest counts and so on,” said Technomic Senior Principal and VP of Innovation Rich Shank during a session. “It's changing the way restaurants, in particular, are thinking about catering to large groups because they're not coming into the store as often as they were, but they can find these large groups at home.”

While traditional catering companies have historically not dealt in this realm, informal catering presents an opportunity to grow their business going forward, according to Shank.

2. Catering customers place a high importance on food quality and flavor  

When looking at key decision drivers for catering orders, food quality and flavor come out on top, according to Technomic.

Consumers place a high importance on quality and flavor, Shank said, because they see the food served at their events as a reflection of themselves.  

“One of the things about buyers is they really look at how satisfied their group is when it comes to the order as a reflection on their person,” said Shank. “If they're a business buyer, it's a reflection of their job performance. And so, quality and flavor are extraordinarily important to them.”

3. Online is consumers’ preferred way to place a catering order

Ordering online is the most popular ordering method for catering, according to Technomic, with 66% of business catering orders and 53% of social catering orders being placed via internet.

Placing an order via smartphone has also grown in popularity since the pandemic, with 63% of business catering orders and 37% of social catering orders being placed through smartphones.

4. Catering operators look for ways to go green

Like others in the food industry, traditional catering operators are looking for ways to be more sustainable.

During a session on sustainable practices in event catering, Chefs Paul and Dana Buchanan of Primal Alchemy Catering discussed a wide range of ideas to make catering events more sustainable, including switching to eco-friendly materials and using in-season produce purchased from local suppliers. 

While Dana Buchanan is excited that sustainability is in the spotlight, she warned that operators need to make sure that their sustainability initiatives are geared towards long-term solutions and not just a fleeting trend.

“While we love the fact that [sustainability is] a new trend, we don't like the fact that it might just be a trend,” she said.  

Catersource + The Special Event is presented by Informa Connect, the parent company of Restaurant Business. 


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