Caterers See Boost As Companies Use Free Lunch to Get Workers Back In Office

Restaurants and grocery stores may be struggling with margin pressures and increasing customer dissatisfaction as food prices skyrocket, but one sector of the food industry, corporate catering, is doing just fine.

In an interview with PYMNTS, Stefania Mallett, CEO and co-founder of ezCater, an online marketplace startup connecting businesses with restaurants and caterers, asserted that, given that providing food is a necessity for many businesses, the company is largely protected from inflationary pressures, as are the restaurants on its platform’s catering businesses.

She cited the example of Major League Baseball (MLB) teams, which, by the nature of their jobs, have to work on-site all across the country.

“Something like 28 of the 30 Major League Baseball teams use us, because when they’re on the road, they need food,” Mallett said. “It’s not their home arenas or stadiums or ballparks that they’re playing at, and they don’t know where the local food options are, but we have all that figured out. We have 96,000 restaurants around the country that will help.”

Certainly, the catering category is picking up. Online grocery giant Instacart, for one, announced Thursday (Aug. 4) that it is integrating catering software subsidiary FoodStorm’s technology into its app to power catering orders and delivery for grocers both through the aggregator’s marketplace and through its white-label fulfillment solutions. Additionally, TechCrunch reported Thursday that erstwhile subscription-based restaurant delivery service Club Feast quietly pivoted from its B2C model to a B2B one, focusing on corporate catering, “within the last few months.”

See also: Instacart’s Catering Feature Helps Grocers Challenge Restaurants for Big Orders

Sweetening the Deal

Research from the February edition of PYMNTS’ ConnectedEconomy study, The ConnectedEconomy™ Monthly Report: Working In The “Whenever, Wherever” Office, which drew from a survey of around 2,500 U.S. consumers, found that 51% were splitting their workdays between working remotely at home and working at the office, and 14% were exclusively working remotely, leaving 35% of consumers going into work on site every day.

Related news: Report: Remote is How Two-Thirds of US Professionals Now Work

For businesses that rely on workers coming back into the office, employees’ familiarity and comfort with their remote routines can have many frustrated with the return to on-site work, which in turn has prompted some businesses to offer perks to soften the blow and boost employee satisfaction.

Similarly, jobs that benefit from on-site work but can allow for hybrid models have been looking for similar measures to incentivize workers to come in — everything from discounts on ride-hailing services to lunch stipends to more out-of-the-box perks such as company-provided recreational vehicles (RVs) that are equipped with mobile internet and fold-out desktops.

Read more: Businesses Offer Creative Perks, Benefits to Meet Employees’ New Expectations

Mouths to Feed

Of all the perks, food can be one of the most powerful. Mallett quoted ezCater data that nearly two-thirds of workers who decide when to come into the office or to stay home would plan the days they work on-site based on which days their employer offered free meals. Additionally, she recalled that ezCater anecdotally noticed the same trend pre-pandemic when employees were coming into the office more days than not. Free food days saw the highest attendance.

“Today, employee lunch in many sectors is getting awfully close to a requirement is a retention tool,” Mallett contended.

She added that, in some industries, catering becomes more of a necessity, citing the example of an architectural glass manufacturing company looking to sell to an architect. Where once the expectation may have been that the company takes that architect out to lunch, she explained, now people expect to have the food brought to them.

“The only way you can have a really effective sales call is to bring in food for the entire architect’s office for all of the support people around a key architect,” Mallett said, “and then you get time with that key architect.”

Bucking the Trend

Even as food prices rise, Mallett asserts that corporate catering is “really a cost of doing business,” likening it to air conditioning in that, however the prices may rise, employers have little choice but to absorb it.

As such, in the face of the looming recession and the challenges it places on food businesses, Mallett sees ezCater as being “in a spectacular place,” and as such may be looking to go public in the near future.

“Of course, that depends on what the market does, but I was just reading that Instacart is going to go public this year, and they’re going to buck the gloom and doom out there — why not us?” Mallett said. “I see no reason why our growth would not continue.”