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Panera Seizes on B2B Demand With Catering Expansion

Panera

Panera Bread is expanding its catering business to capture sales from workplaces looking to draw employees back to the office.

The fast-casual chain, which has more than 2,100 locations, announced Wednesday (Sept. 27) that it is partnering with corporate catering company ezCater to enable businesses to order from the restaurant from the latter’s marketplace at nearly half of Panera’s locations.

In an interview with PYMNTS, Lisa Hamblet, vice president of off-premise at the fast-casual chain, noted that in recent years, new corporate catering occasions have emerged, with workplaces looking for perks to incentivize hybrid employees to work on site.

“Beyond the conventional catering for meetings and events, we’ve noticed a trend where catering is being used as a means to encourage employees to return to the office following the pandemic,” Hamblet said. “Additionally, we have noticed an uptick in catering orders during the middle of the week. This shift is a reflection of the current working environment, with more employers having their staff present in the office Tuesday through Thursday.”

Many consumers work remotely at least some of the time, especially in cities and other denser areas. PYMNTS Intelligence from the study “ConnectedEconomy™ Monthly Report: The Urban-Rural Health Divide Edition,” revealed that 72% of urban residents said they work remotely from a location other than a physical office or workplace. In contrast, 42% of suburbanites and 26% of those who live in rural areas said the same.

Panera is seizing on the opportunity, expanding its corporate offerings, and it is willing to rely on other businesses to do so.

“We aim to broaden our reach by collaborating with third-party platforms like ezCater,” Hamblet said. “This will give our customers more options for placing their orders.”

Many restaurant brands have been expanding their catering businesses in recent years. Sweetgreen debuted its catering service earlier this year, and Subway relaunched its catering business last year.

Last month, in its first earnings call since going public, Cava touted its catering arm as a key strength of its off-premise business. Also last month, Bloomin’ Brands, owner of Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill and others, noted “strong momentum” in multiple brands’ catering businesses, citing this as a “growing opportunity,” per CEO David Deno’s commentary.

Additionally, tech providers have been racing to meet restaurants’ demand to offer these options. Restaurant point-of-sale (POS) provider Toast launched Toast Catering & Events in August following the debut of a catering and wholesale order management product last year. In the spring, restaurant technology platform Olo announced a partnership with catering delivery firm DeliverThat to provide purpose-built solutions for catering fulfillment.

Across B2B and B2C services, the trend is toward convenience, making the purchasing process as frictionless as possible to drive loyalty.

“One of our primary goals is to enhance the accessibility of Panera Catering and simplifying the ordering process for our customers,” Hamblet said. “We are committed to building relationships with businesses seeking catering solutions for their meetings and events.”