September 22, 2020

How 9 Catering Companies Are Making The Most Of Lost Sales During COVID-19

September 22, 2020

How 9 Catering Companies Are Making The Most Of Lost Sales During COVID-19


The crash of the catering market was fast and severe.

For most, it took less than a week for the coronavirus to wipe clean the calendar for the next 3-4 months.

We grieve with caterers who found this shock too much to bear, who saw no viable alternative to closing up shop for the foreseeable future. You have our deepest sympathies.

We also celebrate with caterers who were able to adapt business models and find a way to keep the lights on, and we’re thrilled to share some of their stories.

We reached out to caterers in our network and Galley customers to see how they did it. Virtual cooking classes, home meal delivery, “quarantine cakes”. Caterers are resilient, and the creativity we’re seeing in the industry is inspiring.

We hope it inspires you, too.

Toben Aims For High-Volume Meal Delivery With A Tiny Crew

When we reached out to Ryan Feldman, CFO at Toben Food by Design, we were stunned to learn how thorough his company’s pivot had been. Not only has Toben started selling prepared meals to customers, but they’re also marinating and vacuum sealing raw proteins for customers to cook on their own at home.

“Some menu items change weekly. Menu items are sold in portions of 4 and can be kept in the fridge and reheated for 2-3 days after delivery. The response from our existing clientele and new clients has been strong so far.”

Rather than putting most of their effort into high-margins, which is the right move for most foodservice businesses, Toben is experimenting with low-margin dishes made with exceptional ingredients—and the results have been so positive that Ryan thinks DTC sales are here to stay for Toben.

“We’re willing to sell lower margin items (because of better ingredients) in order to build out our clientele during this pandemic. We want to stay top of mind plus we think this business might have legs to stay operational whenever the catering events side of the business returns (could be a long time).

Back in the kitchen, Toben has dramatically shifted away from department-specific prep lists. In fact, there are no prep lists at all.

“We have a very small kitchen crew right now (5 people). Each individual has been assigned specific dishes from the delivery menu to prep, and they’re fully responsible for ensuring they have enough par levels to cover the upcoming days’ orders.”

By handing ownership of specific dishes over to kitchen team members, Ryan and the Toben leadership have been able to simplify the planning process and focus on business growth.

Beehive Goes All-In On Kitchen Efficiency

For Chris Otting and his team at Beehive Catering, the transition to direct to consumer sales has been a relatively smooth one, thanks to back-of-house technology that minimizes food waste, excess labor, and planning chaos.

“Galley has been a big help in minimizing waste, as we’re able to adapt production to hit our exact orders easier. We can have vastly different order volumes each day while still being able to communicate clearly to our crew. We’re also now able to produce new products using excess inventory we wouldn’t have used otherwise.”

Kitchen efficiency is one of the core pillars of a successful pivot to DTC sales. We created an actionable guide that walks you through the other six pillars here.

Intertribal Foodways Hosts Virtual Indigenous Cooking Classes

Brian Yazzie, the indigenous chef behind the St. Paul catering company Intertribal Foodways, doesn’t have the capacity to accelerate DTC meal delivery, but he’s not letting that stop him from investing in his business by focusing on brand building and education.

“I'm providing virtual cooking classes and presentations on indigenous foods to help bring in some income during this time. I also have a YouTube channel where I make recipes focused on indigenous ingredients of North America.”

Creating educational content may seem like a low-ROI activity when the primary goal is survival, but the attention economy is booming, and content creators who build audiences—including established food brands—are likely to see it pay off down the road.

Fresh Creations Offers “Be Well Kits” And Weekly Deliveries

San Diego-based personal chef and caterer, Nicole Estrada, has a diverse set of revenue streams within her business, Fresh Creations, ranging from cooking classes to event catering to home meal delivery.

When in-person events dried up, Nicole focused heavily on home meal delivery, but she realized she had the bandwidth to get creative for local partnerships and digital offerings.

“We are collaborating and partnering with other local businesses to offer "Be Well Kits" that include our food and other local products delivered to customers' houses. We’re also offering (virtual) cooking classes and events, and platforms like zoom and FB/IG Live have been extremely helpful in offering that online."  

Aside from new revenue streams, Nicole is also being extra-conscious about her food and packaging waste.

“We’re utilizing more eco-friendly packaging to minimize waste. For higher margins, we’re using products that would normally be thrown away (i.e. vegetable scraps) to make stocks, soups, smoothies.”

Increasing order volumes is necessary, and with fewer orders overall, it’s imperative you make the most of each one.

Abbey Road Catering Get Amped With “Party In A Bag” Menu

Why offer home meal delivery when you could give your customers a party in a bag? Norman, Oklahoma-based Abbey Road Catering is creatively marketing their new rotating weekly menu as a point of excitement for people who are stuck at home, eager for a reason to have some fun.

“We call it “Party In A Bag” and the menu rotates weekly. Clients are able to pick up two days a week at our office. They pay over the phone and we place the food straight in their backseat or trunk to maintain social distance.”

The Abbey Road team has used this opportunity to get creative with dishes using primarily ingredients they already have.

“We’re cleaning out our freezers and utilizing product we have on our shelves to minimize purchases. We’ve been able to create new dishes that we would never serve at an event that our clients have enjoyed (casseroles have been the most popular).”

The prep schedule is completely different from event catering, which was 100% of Abbey Road’s business just weeks ago. Monday and Wednesdays are prep days, Tuesdays and Thursdays are pickup/delivery days, and the team gets weekends off (a silver lining).

Naturally Delicious Starts Selling $75 Pantry Provision Boxes

Beloved Brooklyn caterer Naturally Delicious went the grocery route and built a simple online marketplace for locally produced produce and pantry staples, largely made up of the company’s existing stock.

The company is also selling three Provisions Boxes that offer customers a way to treat themselves at home.

  • Bubbly Celebration Box — A selection of snacks and bubbly wine to celebrate graduations, birthdays, and anniversaries at home.
  • Essential Provisions Box — Classic ingredients every home cook needs, like eggs, grains, cheese, and spices.
  • Happy Hour Box — Beer, two bottles of wine, nuts, prosciutto, fruit, and beyond. A tasty way to break up the work-from-home monotony.

Since using up their excess stock, Naturally Delicious has given their customers an access line to fresh and local foods they may struggle to find elsewhere.

SuperFD Launches A Consumer Marketplace For Home Delivery

Right as the coronavirus crisis began, Chef Robbie Wood, owner of EcoCaters and SuperFD, saw the coming disruption and created a new food delivery offering under the SuperFD brand: SuperFD Market.

“We collaborate with other amazing local producers from the area and create tasty prepared meals to reheat and Chef's kits for folks that want to cook at home. We have a focused menu that rotates every 2 weeks, enabling better efficiency. We also use a 48-hour lead time for ordering.”

To prep cooked meals, DIY meal kits, and delivery-ready packages for healthcare workers, Robbie knew he had to leverage technology to simplify operations and keep everything running efficiently.

“We turned to Shopify for a platform to sell our wares and we're able to have a site up and running in no time. Galley Solutions provides us the ability to manage inventory and scale recipes from two people for a Chef's Kit to send to someone's home, all the way to 1,000 Adobo Chickens to fuel front liners. Another platform called Bento gives us a fluid CRM tool to manage our partnerships and sponsorships”

Want to contribute to relief efforts for frontline workers? We created a step-by-step Disaster Relief Playbook that walks you through the process.

Savory Goes Low-Margin, High-Volume At Hospitals

Joe Lombardi of NYC-based Savory has taken a methodical approach to minimizing food waste and maximizing output so his team can serve a high volume of DTC meals at a lower cost without significantly slashing margins.

“We had to create a whole manufacturing procedure that’s more like a factory than a kitchen—and we have to know everything. Not just precise food costs, but how long it takes to prep, package, and beyond. So we really, really drilled down on all these components to analyze all our workflows and employee production.”

Savory Kitchen is using Galley to put all those components together in the form of menus that auto-calculate food and labor costs, minimize waste, and help the team batch prep efficiently. And Joe loves how it all works.

“I can just say, ‘I need 2,500 boxes’ and it’ll spit out my food costs. And I don’t have to worry about it anymore. I can put all the boxes we want to offer on one menu, add quantities to them, and it’ll tell me exact food costs for the whole thing.”

Savory has also created a ‘pod’ system where there’s no employee crossover from different areas of production. One person preps and sets the food container on a tray. The next person picks it up and keeps moving it down the line, and that no-contact process continues until it reaches the final customer.

Butter& Facilitates Friends With Quarantine Cakes

In San Francisco, one of the first cities to initiate a stay-at-home order in the United States, one bakery, Butter&, found a way to generate revenue by providing something that people crave and is hard to come by: shared comfort and lighthearted fun.

The bakery launched a line of “Quarantine Cakes” with funny, witty, and loving messages printed on them, like:

  • Don’t Touch Your Face
  • Pretend You’re An Introvert
  • Miss You

Founder Amanda Nguyen told People magazine:

“People can send them to each other, even if they can’t eat them together. In times of social isolation and fear, it’s human connection, acts of love, and comfort food that will get us through it.”

When Butter& launched the cakes in early March, the worst week in the company’s history turned into one of the best.

We’re here to help, during this crisis and beyond.

We created a COVID-19 Resources page to help you access step-by-step guides to pivoting to DTC sales, improving per-dish margins, and beyond. Check it out here.

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