4 Tips on How to Prepare for the Future of Catering

    Customers are willing to pay $150 or more per plate.

    Food plated on a buffet for catering.
    Unsplash/Katarzyna Pracuch
    Food must resemble the in-house dining experience as much as possible.

    The catering industry is now starting to shape its next chapter after facing challenges from the pandemic. In the fall of 2022, catering bookings surged by 184 percent compared to January 2022, according to recent data from ezCater.

    While office workers are now beginning to trek back to the office and events—outdoors and inside—are ramping back up, catering is sure to follow suit. Today, catering is one of the fastest-growing foodservice areas, with more and more operators listing catering as one of their top three priority channels in 2023. Catering has the potential to boost sales by up to 20 percent or more, so it is becoming an increasingly appealing revenue stream for foodservice operators of all types. 

    Beyond the data, however, there is no question that the catering industry looks wildly different today than it did two years ago and even five years before the pandemic. Whether you are a catering newcomer or looking to enhance your existing catering services, staying updated with the latest trends and future considerations is crucial. Our teams have four decades of experience helping foodservice businesses build, enhance, and grow their catering business. With the difference between success and floundering so slim, we’ve developed a keen insight into what works and what doesn’t. Here are four tips to help any operator take advantage of the fast-growing catering space, no matter what their catering expertise.

    Consider Using More Sustainable Packaging

    The trends are clear—consumers want to go green and are factoring sustainability into their purchasing decisions. In fact, one survey revealed that 86 percent of consumers under 45 years of age are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging. By providing customers with sustainable food packaging options, foodservice operators can improve customer satisfaction and positively impact the environment. Simply by changing the packaging food arrives in, catering companies can stand out from the competition, demonstrate their dedication to sustainability, and provide customers with purchasing peace of mind. And while making the switch may seem daunting, the reality is that packaging providers will work directly with operators to create a customized suite of sustainable catering solutions, including platters, trays, lids, and cutlery to help businesses transition to a more sustainable operation. 

    Elevate the Experience 

    We all remember the days when a catered event was little more than a long table lined with buffet-style foil pans full of somewhat unattractive options. Those days appear to be over. 

    Now food must resemble the in-house dining experience as much as possible. So whether it’s hot foods, cold items, or grab and go snacks, foodservice operators need to be prepared to meet the occasion with packaging and displays that showcase the food in the best light. Doing so could positively impact future catering sales. Thanks to improvements in packaging, operators can add a wider variety of meals to their catering menu without compromising on taste, temperature, or presentation. Always work with a food packaging partner that can create a set of items specifically to fit every menu option you intend to provide. 

    Make a Positive (and Delicious) First Impression

    First impressions are everything, and catering reputations can be made or broken in those first few opportunities. That’s why it’s critical to invest in proper food presentation from the start and design menus specifically for off-premises dining. 

    High-quality food packaging has the power to enhance the perceived value of the product and create a positive impression among customers. 

    Thanks to advancements in packaging—from performance to design to customizability—the in-house experience goes anywhere catering goes, regardless of who is distributing the food at the event. 

    By putting together a stellar catering offering in front of a large group of people (many of whom may not have been familiar with your brand ahead of time), you can introduce a new audience to your cuisine and in-house dining experience. Investing today will yield returns later. 

    Customize with Individually Packaged Items

    Packaging is essential to catering brand identity and can communicate a commitment to quality, flavor and experience. A well-designed, high-quality packaging product can reinforce brand image and help build customer loyalty. One of the growing trends in increased catering profitability is the addition of individually packaged goods to supplement a catering menu that already features large-scale food options. These add-on items can boost the value and profit margin of a catering order without incurring a significant additional expense to the operator. Whether a personally wrapped sweet treat or a grab-and-go snack for later in the day or evening, this added catering touch could significantly upgrade the customer experience.

    Why are more restaurants and quick-serve establishments entering the catering business? It’s a high-margin operation compared to in-house dining, and customers are willing to pay $150 or more per plate. This year, it’s expected that the catering space will see a growth of 3.3 percent yearly, making it an appetizing option for increased revenue. Now is the time for operators to kick their catering business into high gear—whether expanding their offerings or just getting started. 

    Meet with an expert in food packaging who can work with you to ensure your catering offering stands out, is designed for revenue growth, and can also boost current in-house dining and takeout offerings. In this business, putting your best foot forward is critical. Packaging can help you impress your customers and deliver an exceptional food experience.

    Alexus Medina is Director of Product Management at Sabert Corporation, a global leader in innovative and sustainable food packaging solutions. In her role, she works with customers to create a suite of packaging options to suit their foodservice needs. She provides Sabert’s industry-leading product designs that encompass all five areas of innovative packaging: Performance, Presentation, Safety, Sustainability and Economics.