Menu Innovations | September 2010 | By Sam Oches

Beyond Your Four Walls

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The Qdoba catering menu includes a Hot Taco Bar, a Hot Nacho bar, and a Hot Naked Burrito Bar. Each bar is customized by the consumer, who picks the protein, shell, and toppings to be featured. Qdoba supplies chafing stands to keep the products hot, and boxed lunches are also available.

“Catering allows us … a new revenue stream, something that is totally different outside of the restaurant,” says Doug Thielen, manager of nontraditional marketing and public relations for Qdoba. “What it also does, as a significant plus, is it allows us to put our product in front of a lot of different people who may not have had a chance to come into a Qdoba restaurant in the past.”

Neither Bingel nor Thielen say how significant Qdoba catering sales are, but acknowledge it’s an amount the company is “happy with,” Thielen says.

Carryout, meanwhile, remains a major part of Qdoba’s business. Thielen says that while catering remains more of a niche option offered by Qdoba—one that is tailored specifically to the consumer on a sale-by-sale basis—it does not necessarily offer a better to-go option than carryout, especially in certain markets.

“[In] certain markets where we have high urban density—so New York, Chicago—the percent of carryout is much greater than you will see in suburban locations,” Thielen says. “We definitely noticed that the location of the restaurant really determines how much we see as far as to-go business versus in-restaurant dining.”

“We Wanted to Own Our Part of Catering”

Similar to Qdoba, Atlanta Bread Company’s carryout business accounts for a significant chunk of sales—as much as 30–40 percent of each store’s business.

But Basil Couvaras, vice president and chief operations officer for Atlanta Bread, says carryout isn’t something the company uses to push for increased sales. Catering, meanwhile, is a function that the company believes sets it apart.

“Takeout just happens to be part of our business, and we gladly do it, but I don’t know that we’ve ever promoted takeout,” Couvaras says. “Everyone pretty much knows takeout is available, not everyone does catering. To bring awareness to that, you’ve got to get the message out there.”

Atlanta Bread’s way of getting the message out there about its catering program is not simply through traditional advertising methods. Instead, Atlanta Bread decided to give its catering program its own brand identity: In November 2009, the bakery/café concept unveiled Pronti, a specialized catering program that fit in with the company’s attempts to upgrade the entire brand.

“We’ve always been in catering, I think this was just a way of branding the catering so it had a different feel to it … as sort of a fast, different part of our business, and giving it a comfortable name,” says Jerry Couvaras, CEO of Atlanta Bread. “Catering says a lot of things, but we didn’t want it to be generic. We wanted to own our part of what we do in catering.”

The Pronti menu offers everything that Atlanta Bread stores do—including sandwiches, salads, and bakery items—but bundles many items into specialized order options. This includes items like the Passport to Flavor sandwich option, which includes Roast Beef, Roasted Turkey, Honey Maple Ham, and Chicken Salad sandwiches with an assortment of cheeses and breads; the Sweet Soleil breakfast option, with a selection of pastries, muffins, croissants, and danishes; and the Crisps N’ Cheese snack option, with a selection of Parmesan Bread Crisps, sliced cheeses, and a Sourdough Bread Bowl filled with a dipping sauce.

By giving Pronti its own brand name and image, Jerry Couvaras says Atlanta Bread was able to win more support from franchisees and even boost sales. He says catering accounts for about 14–15 percent of sales at most stores, while some stores see catering account for as much as 40 percent of sales.

“The Integrity of the Product is the Challenge”

While several quick-serve brands box up their menu and roll out the delivery vehicles in the name of securing a strong catering program, others are holding firm to the carryout model.

Papa Murphy’s, the fifth-largest pizza chain in the U.S., built its entire system around the idea of a take-and-bake menu option. There are not even seats in a Papa Murphy’s establishment—customers walk in, order their pizza, watch it be assembled, and walk home with it ready to stick in the oven.

As a result, it’s found no need for a catering program—or even delivery.

“[Catering] breaks down three of the most fundamental things we’ve become known for, the first being value,” says Evan Evans, vice president of field marketing and corporate communications for Papa Murphy’s. “We’ve done some analysis on delivery in our system, and right off the bat it’s going to add $3–$4 for the consumer … by the time you hire drivers, reimburse mileage, deal with the insurance issues, and all of those other things.”

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