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Jason’s Deli: Corporate Turnover Creates Catering Opportunity for Restaurants

Corporate Turnover Creates Catering Opportunity for Restaurants

As major businesses have laid off staff, added new leadership, and otherwise restructured, Jason’s Deli sees the opportunity to pick up new catering customers when the economy recovers.

In an interview with PYMNTS, Gracie Prasanson, vice president of sales at the fast-casual chain, which has 250 locations across 28 states, said the brand’s catering business started last year strong but declined in the back half of 2023. She attributed this dip to economic challenges and to changes in how people work.

“We saw a lot of layoffs in the tech industry across the board, and I think we just have not seen the return to the office that we had expected,” Prasanson said. “And the other thing that contributed to that [decline] is, I think, a shift in the corporate buying pattern to being more custom meals, utilizing food as an incentive to return to the office. So, I think a lot of the catering is shifting to more customized individual meals versus the old-fashioned catering trays and box lunches.”

Remote work continues to be on the rise. “ConnectedEconomy™ Monthly Report: The Urban-Rural Health Divide Edition,” a PYMNTS Intelligence study that drew from a survey of nearly 2,500 U.S. consumers, found that remote work continues to increase, experiencing 9% year-over-year growth as of last April, with that figure rising to 16% for those earning more than $100,000 per year.

Plus, consumers are coming to expect increasingly personalized options across all their food providers. Grocers are challenged to offer more targeted loyalty programs. Restaurants similarly are being tasked with personalizing their digital platforms, with many also adjusting their menus with more customizable options to suit a wider range of dietary needs and preferences.

Prasanson expressed surprise at the drop-off in the later quarters of 2023, considering the strong start. To keep customers coming during the softer demand in the latter half of the year, Jason’s Deli focused on the community side of things, particularly targeting the education sector, churches and schools.

Looking ahead, Prasanson said she expects that for industries that have been hit hardest, it may take some time to recover those corporate catering sales, but otherwise, she predicted improvement in the catering business later this year — specifically in Q2 and Q3, “as long as the economy continues to stabilize.” Overall, she said she expects catering to be “flat to a little bit of growth” in 2024 relative to 2023.

Part of this growth will come from targeting new meal times. For instance, Jason’s Deli has “made some changes” to its breakfast options, offering the opportunity to create new occasions.

Moreover, with all the turnover across corporations, Prasanson said there are new opportunities to capture new customers and bring back those that have held off in the recent past.

“[We’re] really focusing on new business leads,” she said. “I think there have been shifts in the catering decision-maker roles within organizations, so there’s still a lot of opportunity to pick up new business or recapture accounts that may have lapsed, between COVID and recent cutbacks, etc. … There have been a lot of staffing changes when it comes to catering.”