Online Catering Platforms Help Restaurants Reach Offices


Companies often face a dilemma when it comes to corporate catering: They want to order breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks for their employees, but the process can be complicated. Some companies assign that task to one employee and that job is not easy. Arram Sabeti learned first-hand when he became the fifth hire of a startup.

ZeroCater Founder and CEO Arram Sabeti told in an interview, “I was responsible for everything from recruiting to the QA [quality assurance] to ordering the office lunches and everything in between. And, of the dozen different hats that I was wearing, ordering the office lunches was by far the most painful, time-consuming, thankless task.”

The reason? Each employee has unique needs and tastes. Some employees might be vegetarians, for example, while other employees might have a sensitivity to gluten. And, in general, ordering meals for many employees with different dietary needs takes time away from their other duties. Employees do have other tasks on their plate other than, say, ordering lunch for everyone in the office.

The Platform

By asking for only a few parameters up front, ZeroCater seeks to streamline the corporate catering order process. The company, for instance, asks for an employee head count and any dietary restrictions, then sets a delivery time. In practice, a company may tell ZeroCater that it needs 120 meals, including 10 vegetarian meals, two vegan meals and one gluten-free meal delivered every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at noon. With this information, ZeroCater provides offices with options.

“Given these simple parameters, our service will create a set of menus customized to your company across our curated set of vendors,” Sabeti said, adding that the food then shows up at the ordered times.

Beyond meals, ZeroCater was inspired to add a line of snacks after it discovered that its own snack vendor didn’t meet the company’s needs. That vendor didn’t take into account feedback from employees, which meant that employees weren’t picking up some of the snacks that it offered. To help solve this issue, ZeroCater allows employees to rate snacks.

The company also built a dashboard that provides insights to its clients. Through the dashboard, which ZeroCater also uses for its own office, an office manager noticed that the company was ordering a lot of sparkling water. As a result, he was able to recommend that the company buy a sparkling water machine.

In addition to snacks and meals, ZeroCater has a liquor license, so it’s able to offer its companies alcoholic beverages. That offering is important since some companies seek to celebrate happy hours or company achievements. During these kinds of functions, employees that get together after work for drinks may forge relationships or have conversations that might not have otherwise happened, Sabeti said.

Helping Restaurants

Beyond companies that benefit from the time savings of a food ordering platform designed for catering, restaurants benefit from ZeroCater’s platform as well. It provides them with predictable sales, which is important as one of a restaurant’s primary concerns is covering basic expenses every month, Sabeti said.

Catering orders also allow restaurants to preplan they can sell the food and then buy their ingredients. That is different from a restaurant’s typical process of ordering many ingredients, then selling meals. With that approach, the restaurant is storing ingredients that it might have to throw out before it can use them in a dish. And, beyond reducing waste, restaurants also gain another benefit. In the process of being on platforms, such as ZeroCater, they’re generating brand awareness for their restaurants.

“We’ve had pretty much all our vendors tell us that they’ve had a lot of people come in that discovered their restaurants [by] getting it delivered to their office,” Sabeti said.

To join the ZeroCater platform, however, vendors have to go through a comprehensive testing process. ZeroCater’s employees not only try the food of various vendors, they also talk to the vendors’ owners, too. If vendors do pass the initial level of screening, ZeroCater places a single order with them. If that goes well, ZeroCater brings them on for a limited trial period. During that time, the vendor is available to a small set of customers. This setup allows ZeroCater to collect data on a new vendor’s performance  ZeroCater looks at when a vendor delivers an order, for example. In addition, ZeroCater looks at the number of errors a vendor makes. Restaurants that pass the bar for all these different tests become a full-fledged vendor.

The Road Ahead

In the future, ZeroCater wants to feed all of the Fortune 500 companies. The end goal, however, is to be the No. 1 food company serving the workforce, Sabeti said. To help make this happen, ZeroCater recently notched $12 million in a Series B funding round with Cleveland Avenue as a lead investor, according to Crunchbase.

As it moves forward, the company is also hiring more engineers, sales and product staff. In all, Sabeti said he has about 100 roles that he hopes to fill this year and he hopes to expand into new markets, too.

“We will be serving a lot more customers, and we’ll be operating in more geographies,” Sabeti said.