Restaurants have long offered take-out service.  And consumers have made that option popular as they have sought ways to keep down their restaurant tabs during the recession. As the economy recovers, more restaurants are looking for new revenue  streams. Many quick-serve and fast-casual operators are exploring catering and tweaking their marketing campaigns to reach a new segment of the population looking for the next level of convenience in food service.

Some restaurant chains, such as GMW Carolina – which operates a couple of Dickey’s Barbecue Pit outlets, – say that catering accounts for between 10-15% of total business.  The key to successful catering, analysts believe, is to connect with consumers who are celebrating social occasions and with businesses. Melissa Wilson, a principal with Technomic, says, “Even though consumers are retrenching on dining out, they’re still entertaining or having social activities on a fairly regular basis.”

Operators like Atlanta Bread, have gone so far as to uniquely brand the catering concept.  The Atlanta Bread catering effort, Pronti, has a similar menu to what the company offers in its restaurants. But catering clients can bundle the offerings in amounts that are suitable for larger gatherings. The catering program has been so successful that about 15% of total business is now linked to that revenue stream across the chain.  Similarly, Panera is promising to increase its catering program this year and plans to roll out an online ordering system. The company’s CEO  William Moreton says of catering, “We really do think this will be a big business opportunity going forward.”

Some chains are arriving at catered events equipped with branded trucks and cooking equipment to ensure the quality of the food is uncompromised. While that strategy is an important marketing angle, it seems that more restaurants will likely be actively promoting their catering services to consumers and businesses to broaden their revenue streams.

[Sources: Oches, Sam. Beyond Your Four Walls. QSR. September 2010. Web. 11 Mar. 2011; Ruggless, Ron. Panera: Catering is big business opportunity. Nation’s Restaurant. News. 11 Feb. 2011. Web. 11 Mar. 2011]