Off-premise, anyone?

The recession has caused more people to entertain at home, according to Technomic.

There was good news and bad news for non-commercial foodservice operators in a couple of recent report from restaurant industry analysts. Technomic Inc., the Chicago-based restaurant research company, noted that the recession has caused more people to entertain at home rather than out at restaurants and catering halls.

Technomic's “POP: Parties Off Premise” report stated that 36% of consumers say they are entertaining at home more often than a year ago. According to Technomic, 53% of respondents say they bought platters and other prepared foods for Independence Day celebrations. In addition, 40% say they expect to do more at-home parties in the coming year.

“Catering is one of the strongest segments of the foodservice industry and appears somewhat immune from recessionary spending cuts,” one recent newspaper article quoted a Technomic analyst.

This is potentially great news for foodservice operators. Even as departments within their institutions and companies may have reduced the size and frequency of catered functions, operators can either create or expand upon this aspect of their catering operations.

If you do not already offer take-home platters or other off-premise services to the employees in your hospitals, schools, corporations and colleges, now would seem to be an excellent time to start. If you already do, be prepared to ramp up your marketing efforts.

But I wouldn’t wait too long, if I were an operator. NPD Group Inc. recently reported that current economic conditions forced the closure of 4,000 restaurants between April 1, 2008 and March 31, 2009. No doubt this is fall-out from the fact that people are dining out less frequently than in recent years.

Those restaurants that want to continue to outlast this recession will be looking to go after customers wherever they may be—including taking food to them, and not just a couple of meals at a time. In fact, many of them already are.

Noncommercial operators, particularly in smaller cities where commuting is quicker and less stressful, have the ability to compete with restaurants in terms of off-premise catering. But it will take some strong marketing efforts in order to make your catering departments’ names top of mind.

Still, think of the pride of your foodservice employees when customers can brag to their party guests something like, “It’s not delivery, it’s de hospital’s.”

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