Restoration restoration bounces back, with lessons learned

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a damper on traditional catering, but operators have quickly adjusted their offerings to meet new demands and serve new customers in the form of relief workers and stay-at-home families.

And now, many of the changes restaurants have implemented during the pandemic — such as individually wrapped meals instead of buffet-style service — should stay in place, operators said. Overall, restaurants are optimistic about their dining programs, citing the effectiveness of their menus and lessons learned from their refined focus on offsite dining.

The pandemic hit at a particularly tough time for Irving, Texas-based Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, which was ramping up its dine-in offering in early 2020, said Kevin Rychel, vice president of operations. The company started working with Boston-based catering platform ezCater in 2019 and saw tremendous growth through mid-March 2020, he said.

After shifting its focus from catering to supporting other sales-boosting initiatives early in the pandemic, Fuzzy’s quickly found catering opportunities among healthcare professionals and other essential workers, Rychel said. Rather than offering its typical “build-it-yourself” restaurant service style, the company instead offered on-the-go items such as burrito boxes and breakfast taco packs. Fuzzy’s also began offering individually wrapped versions of its BYO Taco Bar with two tacos and two sides, as well as individual servings of chips and salsa or queso.

When the pandemic hit, Fuzzy’s found dining opportunities among essential workers.

“We plan to keep these options on the menu in the future to provide options for our customers,” Rychel said.

Restaurant sales increased through 2021 and into 2022, he said, as consumers became more comfortable eating in groups and businesses welcomed back employees. Meanwhile, the company updated its catering menu design, made some improvements to its packaging, and partnered with Olo to launch an online catering ordering platform that is fully integrated with its point-of-sale.

Fuzzy plans to offer restoration across its entire system in the second quarter of this year, including a targeted digital media campaign with connected, social and location-based TV ads.

“Increasing restaurant sales is a priority for us this year,” Rychel said. “We pair members of our corporate team with select franchisees to ensure that our restaurant programs are best-in-class and ready to support the growth we have planned. »

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Postino has partnered with an event planning group to organize micro-wedding packages.

Phoenix-based Postino WineCafe said it continues to focus on building its restaurant program during the pandemic.

“While catering was the first department to go for many companies during COVID, we have instead retained our team and refocused our efforts on changing customer needs,” said Marissa Travis, director of catering at Postino.

The company enabled its online ordering for catering, redesigned its catering menu to include individual box lunches and other offerings, and programs developed to allow local residences, hospitals and medical clinics to place large group delivery orders.

“Adding the boxed lunch option was to accommodate the business need to maximize additional catering opportunities and to customize certain things for the corporate catering clientele,” Travis said.

Additionally, Postino has partnered with an event planning group to host micro-wedding packages at its private indoor-outdoor dining space, Postino B-Side. For now, any changes the company has made to its restoration program will be retained.


Barbara Blackwell, catering manager at Atlanta-based Chicken Salad Chick, said her business has adapted to the pandemic by focusing on its individual catering lunch boxes.

The volume of the catering program has increased, which the company attributed to pent-up demand after many weddings and special events were postponed during the pandemic.

“We’re also seeing people returning to the office, and employers are eager to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for their teams,” Travis said. “We are very happy to partner with them on this.”

Postino plans to continue investing in its restoration program. “Our food travels well and our menu tends to adapt to a wide range of occasions,” she said. “We see it as another exciting way to serve our community and a natural extension of what we do.”

Barbara Blackwell, catering manager at Atlanta-based Chicken Salad Chick, said her business has adapted to the pandemic by focusing on its individual catering lunch boxes, as well as its Quick Chick take-out meals. for other off-site solutions, rather than its traditional sandwich plates and family side dishes. Box lunches include a single scoop of chicken salad or a sandwich, plus a side like fries.

“It was an instant hit with our ever-growing customer base,” Blackwell said. “We certainly see demand for our new lunch boxes in the restaurant business continue for the long term.”

She said individual meals now make up about 75% of the company’s catering product line.

“Overall, we are already seeing double-digit increases in restaurant sales compared to 2020,” she said.


Jersey Mike’s switched to individually wrapped sandwiches for its pandemic dining program, introducing a new dining strategy in August 2020.

Jersey Mike’s also switched to individually wrapped sandwiches for its restaurant program during the pandemic, introducing a new restaurant strategy in August 2020, said Marco Panicali, co-director of operations for Jersey Mike’s Franchise Systems, based in Manasquan, NJ.

“Although planned before the pandemic, our updated dining program met the need for individually packaged meal options requested by so many of our customers,” he said. “We’ve designed the program with simplicity in mind, keeping it simple, secure, and profitable for our customers. »

Before the pandemic, Jersey Mike’s did a lot of catering for corporate events and large parties, Panicali said, but like many restaurants, it soon found itself hosting small family gatherings at home and workers essentials that remained at work.

Jersey Mike’s now offers Subs By The Box, which includes individually wrapped and labeled subs. Each box feeds 12 people and includes four sub-varieties. It also offers individual lunch boxes, which come with a choice of two sub-sizes (regular or mini). Each box includes a bag of chips and a freshly baked cookie, with the option of adding a 20-ounce bottled drink. Plates of cookies and brownies are also available.

Since April 2021, restaurant orders have been on the rise — up 41% from pandemic levels and 20% from pre-pandemic levels, Panicali said.

“We expect restaurant orders to continue to grow,” he said. “After our recent system-wide renovation, all of our more than 2,000 locations nationwide have a second line behind the main counter that can easily handle digital and catering orders.”

Customers can place catering orders in-store, or through the Jersey Mike website or Jersey Mike app for contactless door-to-door pickup.

Like many other restaurant businesses, Applebee’s, based in Glendale, Calif., had ramped up its offsite offerings, including catering, before the pandemic.

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A few months before the onset of the pandemic, the company made several changes to the menu offering, including expanded menu options for boneless and traditional wings, salad portions, and a variety of additional sauces and dressing options. customization for all menu items, said Vicki Hormann. , executive location manager of Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill + Bar.

During the pandemic, Applebee has shifted from catering for large groups to instead focusing on developing meals for a family of four, she said.

Applebee’s dining menu is now available at all restaurants, with more than 600 locations offering dining options through third-party dining platforms such as ezCater, Hormann said.

“We continue to see month-over-month ticket sales and growth,” she said.

Modern Market, based in Denver, accounted for about 10% of its overall restaurant sales before the pandemic, after three years of double-digit increases from 2017 to 2019, said Beth Hardy, vice president of marketing, and Erinn McCully , director of off-premises sales. .

During COVID, Modern Market launched its “Restore with Confidence” initiative to let customers know that it’s still catering, but with increased care. Traditional group buffet-style offerings are now available in individual packages, and the company has also begun to market its lunchbox items more frequently. These remain popular, McCully said. The company has also streamlined its dining menu and replaced group offerings such as cereal bowls with a la carte versions.

“All of these changes will continue,” she said.

Modern Market has slowly recovered its restaurant sales volume and is optimistic that restaurant sales will continue to recover in the future, McCully said.

“When our restaurant sales fully recover, it will add to our overall sales, which are already stronger in our system compared to 2019 without a booming restaurant,” she said. “We will continue to offer individually wrapped options for our group offerings and further streamline our dining menu to help with consumer confidence and ease of operation.”

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