Fast-Casual Restaurants can Capitalize on Social Catering

Social catering opportunities are heating up heading into March. The college basketball championship tournaments are around the corner, and graduation season will get into gear shortly thereafter. The good news for operators is that consumers say they’re upping their game for at-home entertaining in 2013.

More than one-third of consumers in a recent Technomic survey said they expect to entertain at home more often in 2013 than they did in 2012 (versus only 5 percent who said they’ll scale back)—and fast-casual operators are in a good position to capture some of that partying-at-home business.

Fast-casual leads all other market segments in projected social catering growth, according to Technomic’s 2012 Parties Off Premise (POP) study, released in December. The projected three-year compound annual growth rate in social catering is 12 percent for fast-casual restaurants, versus 8 percent for quick-service sandwich restaurants and 7 percent for club stores.

How can fast-casual operators cash in on catering opportunities? Fun and unusual presentations, customized not-widely-available food and beverage offerings and a range of price points can help concepts stand out, as several operators demonstrate.

Barberitos offers catering customers the option of setting up an on-site taco, salad, nacho or fajita bar. This option not only capitalizes on consumers’ interest in customization but also helps party hosts meet the needs of vegetarian and vegan guests and those with other dietary concerns.

Jason’s Deli aims for menu variety—and to be an option at every daypart—by serving up everything from brunch-appropriate breakfast wraps to baked-potato bars and pot-roast dinners. The chain also offers a guide to gluten-sensitive ordering for catering occasions. Several gluten-free soups and salads are available on the catering menu; gluten-free sandwich bread is available for an extra charge; and baked-potato bars can be designed to offer gluten-free options.

D’Angelo Grilled Sandwiches is known for its selection of signature and specialty hot sandwiches, but seasonally, the Dedham, MA-based concept also offers a regional favorite on its catering menu: lobster. The chain’s 100% Real Lobster platter feeds six to nine people.

b.good, a Boston-based burger concept, will send its grills and its grillers to customers’ backyards and other venues. B.good also has its own shake truck for blending assorted milkshakes on-site for parties of 50 or more. The music-playing, flame-decorated truck—named Harvey—serves up shakes made with locally produced ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Shane’s Rib Shack promotes itself on its website as a catering solution for party styles ranging from “tuxedos to overalls.” Stating that “no party is too big or too small,” Shane’s gives catering customers the choice of selecting from among a menu of barbecue party platters or having a custom menu created for their event. Shane’s website also highlights its recent large-scale catering jobs, from a small-business summit to Delta’s employee appreciation day.

Catering is all about convenience, and the fast-casual segment grew from a drive to meet consumers’ dual demands for convenience and better-quality menu offerings. For many fast-casual operators, catering offers a chance to build on the brand trust they have established with consumers during in-store dining occasions. The fast-casual concepts that consumers now know and trust as reliable options for a weekday lunch at work or a weeknight dinner on the go for their family thus may be poised to present themselves as an attractive option for at-home catering.


Christine LaFave Grace

Christine LaFave Grace writes for and produces Technomic's Trends & Directions e-newsletters. She joined Technomic in 2013 as an associate editor. Her previous roles include assistant digital editor for Crain Communications’ Modern Healthcare magazine and associate editor at Reed Business Information’s Restaurants & Institutions magazine.

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  1. avatar Steven Johnson says:

    Social Catering is all part of the ever expanding grocerant niche. Ready-2-eat and heat-N-eat fresh prepared food continues to drive sales in all retail foodservice sectors. Companies the ilk of Threep elevate “social” leveraging the universal commonality mobile phones or tables for take-out or take-In.

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