For many restaurants, a catering service is a way to both raise thin profit margins and expand a customer base beyond the existing folks in the dining room. But it requires a lot more than simply making more food. You need proper equipment, along with some serious organizational skills. And these days, you need delivery.
Stefania Mallett and Briscoe Rodgers may not have had delivery in mind when they launched their online catering network, ezCater, 10 years ago, but they’re certainly evolving with the times. With the on-demand delivery economy nearing $57 billion annually, restaurants who offer catering services have to ensure efficient, reliable delivery in greater volumes than ever. The folks at ezCater aim to meet that demand with a new service, ezDispatch.
“We’re taking it upon ourselves to manage that relationship on behalf of the restaurant business so they don’t have to manage it themselves,” the company’s Catering Practice Leader, Jim Rand, told me over the phone.
The ezCater portal is made up of a few different services: the ezCater Marketplace is the backbone, an online network of catering companies that operates as the middleman between businesses placing orders and the restaurants making the food. And just this past April, the company added ezOrdering, a way for restaurants to take catering orders through their own website, and ezManage, which helps restaurants organize, manage, and analyze orders.
The addition of ezDispatch adds the much-needed delivery functionality to the platform. Restaurants who just need a little extra assistance with delivery can request delivery when an order arrives via the ezCater portal. Alternatively, a restaurant with no delivery of its own can automatically make every catering order a delivery through the ezDispatch service. For both options, when an order is placed, ezCater reaches out to its network of delivery services and confirms a driver from a participating third party.
Rand told me the delivery services vary from city to city, and range from local services to national entities like DoorDash.
However, he’s also quick to add that many large, nationwide delivery services aren’t always the best choices when it comes to catering orders. “Very few national delivery players understand the uniqueness of catering delivery,” he says. For one thing, catering orders are much larger than a few employees having lunch sent to the office. Those large orders often need special equipment for transporting. And often the party delivering the food also has to set it up, because no, that artistic-looking pile of sandwiches at the all-hands lunch buffet didn’t arrange itself.
And nowadays, it’s not just office events and VIP breakfasts that need catering: “More and more, companies want to bring in food for their teams as they create a benefit for team members to keep them happy,” says Rand. That includes tech companies, law firms, and universities, although he notes that the range of uses for this service is about as broad as you want it to be.
In fact, one of ezCater’s key markets is the pharmaceutical industry, which helped make the company what it is today. Founders Mallett and Rodgers’ original idea was to sell software that would help pharmaceutical reps schedule their meetings. What they found was that oftentimes the reps or companies asked them to locate food for meetings, since offering some sort of food setup is a key way pharmaceutical reps get their foot in the door.
According to Rand, ezCater hopes to expand to over 100 markets by the end of 2018. That seems highly possible, given his success with evolving the catering side of both Panera and P.F. Chang’s. Meanwhile, the company works with over 60,000 restaurants across the country as of right now, and ezDispatch has already partnered with delivery services in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other major metropolitan areas.