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Is Your Catering Menu Ready for the “New Normal?”


ABC Company: “Hi, I’d like to place a catering order for tomorrow. We need a hot breakfast and lunch for 35 people. We’d also like some light hors d’oeuvres in the afternoon. Maybe some cheese and crackers and vegetable crudité. I was hoping to get everything individually-packaged, as opposed to buffet style.”

XYZ Catering: “Um, we’d be happy to cater hot breakfast and lunch and some afternoon hors d’oeuvres. We don’t do individually packaged hot meals or hors d’oeuvres, however. If you want to order individual box lunches with a sandwich, we can accommodate that. But the hot breakfast and lunch would be delivered in disposable foil pans. We could set them up in wire-rimmed chafing dishes at an additional charge. The cheese and crackers and vegetable crudite would be presented on black plastic platters. 

ABC Company: “Hmm…my boss said our client has requested everything be individually packaged. You can’t do that?”

XYZ Catering: “I’m really sorry. It’s just not how catering is done.”


ABC Company: “Hi, I’d like to place a catering order for tomorrow. We need a hot breakfast and lunch for 35 people. We’d also like some light hors d’oeurves in the afternoon. Maybe some cheese and crackers and vegetable crudité. I was hoping to get everything individually-packaged, as opposed to buffet style.”

XYZ Catering: “We’d be happy to accommodate that. Have you had a chance to look at our Individually-packaged menu?”

COVID-19 has clearly changed the way people order food. Individually packaged meals are more work, expense, and hassle. They present new delivery and logistical challenges. The pandemic has changed the model of corporate drop-off catering and even home delivery. It has spawned new vernaculars such as “curbside pickup” and “contactless delivery.” One third-party delivery portal reports that demand for individually packaged menus has doubled since the pandemic disrupted our industry.

As business owners, you have a choice. You can say, “this certainly sucks” (and it does) and stay the course of buffet-style service only. Or you can pivot (another COVID-induced catchphrase), which is what successful entrepreneurs do. When the direction of the wind changes, they adjust their sales. This is not to say that “buffet-style” needs to be scrubbed from your menus. For some corporate clients, it is still the preferred way of having their group meals delivered. Over time, it will probably return to the norm. For the foreseeable future, however, if you choose not to embrace the market demand of individually packaged meals being part of the “new normal,” you could be jeopardizing the survival and future success of your business. 

Here are four tips for creating an individually packaged menu:

1. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
You do not need to blow up your existing menu and start from scratch. We talk to dozens of caterers across the country every week. Customers are still ordering from the traditional buffet menus, and this trend should continue to increase during the fall.

2. Start small by adding a separate individually packaged menu.
Create a scaled-down version of your current offerings into a separate individual-packaged menu. Offer a continental bagged breakfast. If a customer wants to order 20 individual continental breakfasts, consider:

  • (10) Bagels, sliced in half and cling wrapped, with PCs of butter, jelly, and cream cheese. Bag labeled “Bagel”
  • (10) Muffins, cling wrapped, with PCs of butter. Bag labeled “Muffin."
  • All 20 include an individual fruit salad and 10oz. bottle of Tropicana orange juice.
  • Coffee service on the side, per usual
  • For the once un-thinkable individual hot breakfast, offer a breakfast burrito, bacon or sausage, and home-fries in a microwavable take-out container.

For lunch, if you don’t already offer individually boxed or bag lunches, now is the time to add them. They usually consist of a sandwich or salad and additional (in the box or bag) items such as pasta salad, potato chips, fruit salad or whole fruit, and an individually wrapped cookie or brownie. For beverages, you could bring a variety on the side or include a bottle of spring water in the box or bag, which will always yield the highest profit margin of any single item on your menu.

If your menu includes hot entrees, offer a few of your most popular choices that travel well such as lasagna, chicken parmesan, and steak tips in three-compartment individual take-out microwaveable packaging with a snap-on lid. Include a starch and vegetable or salad in the two smaller compartments. To boost that check average, offer a side green salad with individual dressing.

Individual take-out containers could also fit the bill for room-temperature entrees such as grilled chicken, beef, and salmon, and for certain hors d’oeuvres, such as cheese and crackers, vegetable crudite, and nacho chips with salsa and guacamole.

3. Adjust your pricing. 
Remember, we never announce price increases. Occasionally, we will institute price adjustments based on market conditions. (No doubt you’ve noticed the price of food has spiked over the last year). Adjusting pricing on your individually packaged meals will help offset some of the additional labor and packaging costs.

Tip: Consider the pre-wrapped fork, knife, napkin, salt, and pepper packet packaging.

4. Let them know.
Once your individually packaged menu is complete, get it on your website. Consider a new navigation link for this menu. Get it in print for tastings. If you have a retail establishment, put the new menus next to your registers, blast it out through social media, and shout it from the rooftops. Let the world know that you are ready, willing, and able to cater in the age of The New Normal. 

Michael Rosman

Michael Rosman

Owner/Founder, The Corporate Caterer, Boston, MA

Michael Rosman is the founder of, a consulting, coaching and lead generation company for businesses that aspire to take their corporate catering business to the next level or start a new division. He is also a Senior Consultant with He can be reached at [email protected].