Restaurant Associates’ catering arm, CxRA (found at many cultural institution accounts and museums, including Lincoln Center and the Guggenheim) has pivoted from big gatherings to boxed-up offerings. The grab-and-go menu had been slowly gathering steam in the months before COVID-19, but the pandemic meant menus everywhere had to quickly get ready to get portable. And now, as offices begin to reopen, CxRA identified a new area of focus.
The new grab-and-go/boxed meal drop-off menu is “something we had been working on anyway, but now it’s taken priority since we’re not foreseeing any regular catering events, buffets in offices or large-scale galas for a while,” says Felix Rice, VP of culinary operations for Catering by Restaurant Associates, CxRA. “We put all of our energy into drop-off boxes for offices. When they reopen, we can offer them this menu.”
The backbone CxRA’s grab-and-go menu is fresh ingredients used in appealing, cool ways.
“We’re trying to create innovative and healthy options…not your everyday deli sandwiches. We want to be innovative with the components and have everything made fresh,” Rice says.
Since CxRA’s main specialty used to be giant, upscale events, they have a leg up on creating menu items with wow factor, says Alexandra Holtzman, catering manager for Catering by Restaurant Associates, CxRA Woodside in Woodside, N.Y.
“We’ve always done the boxed lunches; they weren’t the core, but we need to pivot because events aren’t happening,” Holtzman says. “But we’re keeping in mind and applying the same level of quality and seasonality to our food.”
“It’s like, ‘How do you put restaurant food and make it look good in a container?’” Rice says of the primary challenge with grab-and-go offerings. “We went through many packaging options to find something interesting and inviting, not just basic.”
The flavors aren’t basic, either, with ingredients like za’atar (Middle Eastern seasoning) showing up here and there on the menu, a nod to Rice’s time spent in Israel. “Once you understand [Israeli cuisine] it’s a very diverse, very vegetable-forward, good-carb cuisine with olive oil, very good for lunch items because it’s so nutritious.”
The boxes are running on a rotation—each day is a different chef-designed menu—to prevent menu fatigue.
Breakfast to go is also elevated, with an egg menu series called Cracked. If there’s no kitchen onsite, these egg-centric breakfast entrées come in microwave safe containers. The eggs are fully cooked, and they’re more of a custard base, which travels better, Holtzman says. There’s a tofu scramble available too, and items like overnight oats and a lox platter have been successful sellers.
“Like everyone else, we’re trying to figure out what the future looks like and our goal is to eventually go back to museums and social events; we don’t want to lose that, but in the meantime, we can create something new,” Rice says. “It’s a learning curve—what that’s going to look like—but we want to be creative and serve our clients.”
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