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Office-based breakfast and dinner catering growing

Technomic study finds that shifting meeting times, late hours affect daypart

Restaurants are finding more opportunities to cater breakfast and dinner at offices, new research from Technomic Inc. finds.

The Chicago-based market research firm reported in an update to its “Large Orders Off-Premise,” or LOOP, study, that 19 percent of the 1,200 business and medical office managers surveyed ordered breakfast catering at least once a week, compared with 13 percent in 2007. Dinnertime catering orders have increased more during that period, rising from 18 percent in 2007 to 26 percent this year.

Melissa Wilson, a principal at Technomic, said while current orders of catered lunches are lower than 2007 levels, that daypart has shown improvement in the past two years, based on anecdotal evidence. The 2011 LOOP study found that 39 percent of respondents reported spending more on catering during the past one to two years, and only 18 percent of those surveyed said their catering spending decreased in that time.

“We learned that breakfast occasions are growing due to meeting [times] shifting and lower costs,” Wilson said. “Dinner occasions, on the other hand, are growing because employees are being asked to work late, and some employers provide dinner to help ease the pain of longer days.”

Office and medical catering, in which pharmaceutical company representatives buy food for doctors and their staffs in order to pitch the benefits of their drugs and equipment, used to drive off-premise orders primarily at lunch. But increases in catering orders in the morning and at night create opportunities, just as several restaurant chains are refocusing on their off-premise businesses.

Panera Bread reported a 26-percent increase in catering sales in fiscal 2010, attributing a 1-percent increase to that tactic.

Bob Evans Farms has grown sales of its carryout business from 4 percent of sales a few years ago to now nearly 11 percent. Its current initiative aims to boost the average check of its catered and carryout meals. The Family Meals to Go menu, featuring 10 meals for four people under $20, now will offer add-ons and sides for $3, $4 and $5.

The company is looking to deploy a similar strategy, with 10 meals under $25, at its Mimi’s Café casual-dining chain, in the hopes of building from its current catering and takeout business, which comprises 4 percent of sales.

Some chains are making an off-premise sales push for football season, such as Togo’s Sandwiches, which is promoting Party Footers, three- to eight-foot-long sub sandwiches. The chain also is advertising its party trays and boxed lunches for football fans tailgating or hosting parties at home.

The LOOP study also found that the average group size for business and catering orders has remained steady, at about 20 people. However, per-person expenditures have decreased compared with 2007.

Catering decision-makers noted the growing importance of incentives in order to stretch their catering budgets, Technomic found, and coupons gained the most influence.

The firm also noted more competition for off-premise sales from wholesale clubs, like Sam’s Club. One in five survey respondents reporting using a warehouse club in the past 60 days for a business catering occasion.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN

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