- Panera Bread is joining ezCater’s marketplace, with about half of the company’s 2,100 units offering catering on the platform, the companies said in a press release Wednesday. Hundreds more locations will be added in the coming months.
- The service will offer new catering items, like the company’s toasted baguette assortment.
- Other chains like Subway and Wawa have partnered with ezCater this year while Sweetgreen rolled out catering nationwide, reflecting the industry’s trend toward resuming or adding catering services since 2022.
Panera became a major catering player after launching its first catering service, Via Panera, in 2004. In 2021, Panera trialed a virtual catering service as a way to adapt its business to remote work. But the gradual return of office workers has seen business-to-business catering reach 2019 levels in nominal dollars.
A concurrent increase in restaurant workers could make it easier for companies to implement or expand catering services without overburdening staff. Panera generally hires workers specifically to focus on its catering options in markets that offer the service, a practice reflected by recent job postings in Washington, D.C.
Panera’s decision to list its services on ezCater, which has over 100,000 restaurants and caterers on its platform, shows a confidence both in the channel and in the role played by third-party marketplaces in facilitating corporate catering orders. Earlier this year, catering startup Hungry raised $10 million in funding to support its growth, in a sign of investor confidence in the space.
Panera Brands is likely trying to maximize Panera Bread’s sales levels ahead of a potential IPO. The company has made a number of recent executive changes to support its return to public markets, including the addition of Krispy Kreme’s outgoing CEO to its board. Panera is the largest part of Panera Brands’ restaurant group, which includes Caribou Coffee and Einstein Bros. Bagels.
Operational changes at Panera since its deal to go public via Danny Meyer’s SPAC in 2022 fell through have generally focused on decreasing friction in digital ordering and encouraging customers to use digital channels. A recent change lets customers pre-program meals and order them with a swipe on iOS devices. The chain added drive-thru pickup nationwide in May in an effort to boost speed of service. The chain also recently added $0 delivery and annual membership to its drinks subscription service, and is testing a radically reduced version of its menu in some stores.