Shifting Your Catering Menu to a Post Covid 19 Format

The impact of Covid 19 on the catering business has been almost as devastating to restaurants as the closure of dining rooms.  There are some small bright spots catering to essential employees but overall, the B2B sector’s need for catering has been reduces to a sliver of prior volumes.  Social catering has been impacted even more as families sequester in their homes and any family gather or celebration has been placed on hold.  We all have friends that have cancelled or postponed weddings, delayed graduation parties and most family events have been postponed indefinitely.

Eventually, we will emerge from our stay at home orders and begin to congregate with friends, family and business associates but the idea of back to normal or business as usual seems far off into the future.  When we do start the process of getting back to the office, or celebrating those happy family occasions we will choose to entertain and feed differently than  before.

In anticipation of restarting your catering efforts, the menu that you offered prior to Covid 19 should see some changes.  The following is a list of recommendations on what changes can help you emerge to meet the changing demands and needs of your clients.

Box lunches have always been a somewhat divisive area on many catering menus.  Many brands offer them, and many feel they are non essential.  Box lunches have always been a less profitable area in the catering menu as they are really an individual meal, and costs for additional packaging and labor to produce and assemble shrink the margins compared to buffets and other bulk formats.

Safety will be a new concern and highlighted within offices, and the idea of people congregating around open food in a buffet format will be unattractive to many.  Where buffets may have made up a significant portion of the pmix in the past, the preference for large gathering will be significantly reduced.

Single meals will be the new buffet format for corporate meetings, this is my prediction.  The need to expand single meal options and placing them front and center on the catering menu should be the first critical step in changing your catering menu for a post Covid 19 world.  If buffet style food was the highlight of your menu, turning these menu items into individual meals must be a priority.  Creating the packaging that can accommodate this format must also include a safety component, or seal to provide security that the meal was safely handled and packaged. 

Smaller groups will prevail, and the catering menu should take this into consideration.  We saw Family Meals make a comeback during the closure, as brands focused on providing small meals for families at attractive price points.  These family meals should be continued and placed on the catering menu.  The average size order in the past may have been 15-20 or even 20-25 but the new normal will be smaller groups and the meal sizes you offer should accommodate these new circumstances.  Not only by offering Family Meals but also making smaller version of current menu packages available for 5 -10 servings.

Customer preferences are going to change, and B2B catering sales will be impacted negatively for the remainder of 2020 and probably even into 2021.  Off-premises sales will continue to grow but I believe that we will see a shift from catering sales to more group order style feeding.  Review your current technology and menu offerings in this area as this will be a strong opportunity to translate lost catering sales to other off-premises channels.  Also, if you are not doing group ordering through third party vendors then look further into this and get signed up, this will be an area where we will see strong growth.

If there was ever a time to experiment and get input and feedback form your customers, this is the perfect time to make changes and see what sticks.  It will be a learning process but eventually we will find the menu items that resonate with our customers.