Menu Innovations | September 2010 | By Sam Oches

Beyond Your Four Walls

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On top of securing value, Evans says carry-out helps maintain the quality of Papa Murphy’s pies and supports the element of control for the chain’s customers.

“The biggest gripes about delivery overall for the baked guys is complete lack of control over the timing of that process,” he says. “We continue to deliver, so to speak, by virtue of carryout the whole convenience factor, because consumers, once they understand the Papa Murphy’s process and that fact that they can control it from beginning to end … equate that control to convenience.”

Evans says the entire pizza segment would struggle in the catering industry, as portability of the cooking and heating process is a major roadblock.

“The big issue is, ‘How do I come up with a portable pizza oven that can cook enough to satisfy a big, catering-type event, and get it around and have it make sense economically?’” he says. “That would be the issue for not just Papa Murphy’s, but for the pizza category.”

Indeed, Atlanta Bread’s Basil Couvaras echoes the fact that many challenges in the catering industry prevent it from becoming a widespread phenomenon. Costs for transportation, extra labor, and specialized packaging are just a few of the extra burdens. But he agrees that any concept with hot food faces an especially difficult challenge.

“The integrity of the product is the challenge with any hot product,” Basil says. “That’s probably why you see a lot of the quick serves not offering catering, because a lot of their food doesn’t translate or execute well 20 or 30 minutes later, driven across town.”

Technomic’s Wilson says one segment of the quick-service industry in particular faces more of an uphill climb than others in the catering realm: the burger segment.

“I think the burger segment is a little bit trickier because the product isn’t likely to be as portable,” she says. “I would say it depends on the operator and how he has the program structured.”

Back Yard Burgers is one burger operation that seems to think differently. The Nashville, Tennessee–based chain caters events every week, says the company’s chief financial officer, Steve Neuroth, by essentially taking its operations to a customer’s back yard: Trucks haul a grill to the customer’s location.

“We view it as an extension of the brand, an extension of the footprint of the brand, so we’re just trying to be out there in the community and be visible as much as we can.”

Indeed, food trucks provide a means for quick serves to take their catering options on the road and cook their products fresh at the consumer’s doorstep. And with the trend growing all over the U.S., one can only suspect that mobile operations are in the catering industry’s future.

But for now, the players in the catering business are just trying to stay up to date with what their customers are demanding.

“We’re constantly taking a look to say, ‘How can we provide a better product, a better service, that delivers on our brand standard?’” Qdoba’s Thielen says. “So with catering we’re taking a look at different options.”

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