The COVID pandemic devastated the catering market by shutting down formal events and severely limiting even private gatherings. A major provider of catering services through a series of high-profile brands—Constellation Culinary Group, Abigail Kirsch, Design Cuisine, Corporate Chefs, and Lancer Hospitality—Elior North America’s Dining & Events division felt the impact but moved quickly to make changes and adaptations. One was the development of the Prepped sub-brand, a drop-and-go catering concept that provides tailor-made gourmet menus directly to consumer's doors for small gatherings and virtual events.
When the pandemic paused all catering and event business, Elior Dining & Events pivoted to develop a safe, socially distanced solution to sustain a revenue stream, maintain employment for associates and preserve client connectivity by bringing an elevated and flexible culinary experience directly to consumers and ultimately use quality food to spread joy and connectivity, something needed more than ever amid the global pandemic.
“There was a version of Prepped that one of our sister companies, Design Cuisine, had been using for some basic drop-off programs pre-COVID, but it was underutilized and not fully developed,” explains Morgan Bedore, vice president of marketing & creative for Elior North America Dining & Events. “With the onset of quarantines and the other [pandemic policies], we revisited Prepped—looked at what was working and what wasn’t—and fleshed out the brand and created a more robust kind of drop-off program to fit the needs of our corporate clientele, but more specifically for those virtual event programs that supported us in the early portion of the quarantine.”
Following a soft launch with a few select clients in early fall 2020, Prepped fully debuted last November in Washington DC and Philadelphia in time for Thanksgiving amid the global pandemic and was an instant success by providing consumers easy, stress-free holiday meals delivered directly to their door without sacrificing quality. It soon expanded along the East Coast into the Miami and New York markets as well and is currently being used by the Constellation Culinary Group, Abigail Kirsch and Design Cuisine units with Corporate Chefs is incorporating some of its grab and go offerings in its corporate micro-markets, Bedore says.
Those grab and go items—signature salads, sandwiches, snacks, breakfast items—that are applicable for sale in any corporate café or micro-market are one way Prepped is being positioned for a post-pandemic world, Bedore notes.
“One of our questions was, how can we create a program that can evolve as business returns to whatever business is going to return to,” say says. “We weren’t sure what was going to pop first and obviously, social [catering] did, so that virtual event component of Prepped took off first, but now it’s kind of being backfilled with the grab and go program because we’re seeing people slowly starting to return to their offices, and [clients] are looking to offer amenities to their employee population that are low touch, [and are] not looking for the full-service café but more for that packaged food program.
Throughout the winter and into early 2021, the program achieved its launch goal of getting furloughed team members back to work and developing a new steady revenue stream for the caterer while observing the CDC guidelines for caterers/food service providers.
Now, with the pandemic (hopefully) waning, the Prepped business model is set to continue by providing fresh, safe, ready-to-enjoy meals that combine the quality and experience of a fine restaurant with the ease and simplicity of a drop-and-go catering service. The selections range from bento box-style casual bites and a luxe multi-course meal to a spread of DIY sweet treats.
The event packages feature Continental cuisine with elevated, innovative menu items and packages that fit any occasion from reimagined holidays to intimate special gatherings and hybrid corporate events. It features a diverse range of options extending beyond the traditional breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert categories with special snack packages, cocktail hour entertaining packages, beverage add-ons and seasonal holiday menu packages. Because of the need for flexibility in feeding small groups, often in various virtual locations, the program offers an assortment of packages within each meal category, plus signature add-ons for an additional price. The virtual event menus are distinctly developed by the caterer's award-winning culinary team to incorporate seasonal and local ingredients, while being mindful of an accessible price point.
Designed to serve hybrid events and virtual-only celebrations, Prepped has the capability to deliver meals to multiple addresses, allowing guests to have the same elevated culinary experience both in person and virtually and giving larger corporations the flexibility to engage and connect with widely scattered employees under work from home mandates. It also allows friends and family to share a special meal together, even while temporality apart.
The concept’s branding is designed to convey the ease and playfulness of the drop-and-go menu while maintaining its credibility and experience. Engaging menu items like DIY cookie decorating kits and seasonal cocktail mixers complement the parent catering company brands while also allowing for client-specific customization within the product labeling, printed menu, and carrying cases.
To accommodate reduced resources, manpower and budgets and increased safety regulations, the catering team reimage its pre-pandemic on-site, full-service catering business model by updating and renovating their commercial commissary kitchen—built for larger-scale event catering capabilities—to include conveyor belts and a packaging production line to fulfill the Prepped orders. Staff safety measures such as increased PPE, social distancing regulations, enhanced sanitation and daily temperature checks were implemented and emphasized and, prior to Prepped's launch, the team invested in employee education and training as their job responsibilities shifted to fit the Prepped business model's new demands. Critically, the drop-and-go model prevents catering and delivery staff from directly interacting with clients and maintains the highest food safety regulations.
The solution also required a significant investment in both digital ordering capacities and brand marketing as well as environmentally friendly, individualized food packaging products and solutions. A priority of Prepped is to utilize sustainable paper-based packaging as much as possible. Once the Prepped concept, menus, and operations were finalized, the team developed an integrated digital-focused marketing strategy to reach both current catering clients as well as new prospects looking for an elevated drop-and-go catering experience. Navigating pandemic-mandated safety restrictions, the team conducted a socially distant marketing photoshoot to capture the essence of the brand as well as the unique menu items for both the website and social media platforms.
Despite being developed to deal with the pandemic’s restrictions, Prepped isn’t going away, Bedore emphasizes.
“There’s a band of business out there in normal times that’s looking for drop-off catering—corporations that need a great sandwich lunch dropped off or need a great evening reception dropped off and they don’t have either the budget or the time and space to host a full-service catered event but are looking for something that comes ready to go,” she notes. “I call Prepped the ‘little sister. It doesn’t change what Constellation, Abigail Kirsch or Design Cuisine do for their full-service clients, it just offers another service.”