How Restaurants Can Join the Catering Comeback

If there’s one thing we learned from a world turned upside down, it’s the importance of integrating different sales channels into our restaurants. Some turn to virtual brands, while others turn to restaurant catering or selling branded merchandise. Then, there are those with unlimited resources and energy that opt for as many multiple streams of income as possible. 

One of the clear benefits of restaurant catering, in addition to extra profits, is cross-pollination marketing opportunities between channels. Catering events are a great way to display your restaurant brand and encourage new customers to dine at your establishment.

Additionally, many restaurant catering businesses are finding increasing demand due to the many postponed events due to pandemic restrictions and workers returning to the office setting.

The New Restaurant Catering Model

Restuarant catering during the pandemic shifted from buffets to boxed, individually packaged meals. These grab-and-go items cater to office workers, medical professionals, and others returning to a workplace environment. This catering style can add to the daily sales without requiring the heavy labor output needed at larger events. 

Ideally, your restaurant’s catering program can be developed to allow local businesses and residents to place large group orders for delivery. Some restaurants partner with event planning groups for larger catering services, such as wedding packages. A few essential considerations are developing a catering menu based on food that travels well and can transform for various occasions. 

Olo, which stands for “Online Ordering,” offers digital solutions for ordering, delivery, and paying, helping restaurants integrate catering and other income streams into their POS system. Their digital interface for catering and takeout calls can be utilized with your call center or in-house phone staff. 

Getting the Word Out

So, how do restaurants let the world know, or at least the local inhabitants, that they now offer a restaurant catering program? Most of your customers live or work within a short drive from your location. Therefore, your marketing should reflect that. Use SEO to attract local traffic to your website, using terms like gourmet catering and office catering along with your region or town. You can also implement a pay-per-click ad to get your restaurant higher up the search ladder.

Take a deep dive into surrounding businesses that could use your services. Promote your catering branch at your restaurant. You never know what contact will start the avalanche of requests. Then, check out the restaurants’ websites highlighted below to see how they integrated these services into their brand. 

Restaurants Joining the Catering Crusade

In 2022, Outback Steakhouse entered the catering arena, announcing the new service at 481 of their almost 700 restaurants, according to Restaurant Business. Their catering services include boxed entrees or buffet-style service for groups of 10 or more. The decision was partly based on workers returning to the office. They also offer catering services for weddings, family gatherings, and other celebrations.

The catering menu offers a burger bar as well as some of the brand’s signature dishes, such as Kookaburra Wings and Victoria’s Filet Mignon. Bloomin’ Brands, the parent company of Outback, has experienced success with the integration of catering at their Carrabba’s Italian Grill. The brand’s catering sales in 2021 increased by about 46%, compared to their 2019 sales. 

Jersey Mike’s offers Subs by the Box. Each box feeds 12 people and includes four varieties of subs. They also provide individual lunch boxes. The company has expanded, conducting a systemwide retrofit that created a second line behind the main counter in their 2,000-plus locations. This line handles the catering and digital orders. 

Applebee’s is another brand that entered the catering segment, with catering options in all of their more than 600 locations. Subway is going one step further and has reportedly tested vending machine purchases at a few airports. These vending machines contain their subs, salads, and housed drinks.  

Google information on catering, and you’ll undoubtedly run into BJ’s Catering website page. The restaurant brewhouse features a boxed meal with a minimum order, combinations, a la carte for group servings, and appetizer platters. Olive Garden also pops up, with a webpage highlighting their business, event, and bridal catering details.  


How can I grow my catering business?

One easy approach is using a food truck as a catering option for corporate events and parties, allowing customers to book it for private events. If you’re offering more conventional services, such as under tents or at traditional venues, make sure to make the presentations Instagram-worthy and picture-perfect for your Facebook page. 

Your restaurant is also a perfect place to host tasting events. Develop your list of potential catering clients, such as business leaders, and invite them over for a special occasion. Make sure to offer them a discount for their first catering service. 

Who are the target markets of catering services?

As with most ventures, selecting your target market is critical to your business’s success. Because this reflects your restaurant’s brand, it’s essential to maintain a consistent image in your many endeavors. 

Your target market will depend, to a large degree, on how much energy you want to put into the catering side of your business. Catering markets may include corporate events, business meetings, weddings, social events, and concessions. Some restaurants like to keep it local, bringing their food truck to farmers’ markets and other local venues as a means of brand recognition and marketing. Others focus on larger events and treat their catering business as a separate entity.   

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