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bartaco Debuts Revamped Catering

HT caught up with Lindsay Crasnick, bartaco’s Director of Digital Experience + Product, to discuss the the brand’s revamped catering program.
bartaco catering box
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HT caught up with Lindsay Crasnick, bartaco’s Director of Digital Experience + Product, to discuss the story behind the brand’s revamped catering program. Crasnick shared how bartaco continues to lean into digitization to streamline the guest experience -- this time for catering customers. 

HT: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. We’re fans of bartaco, HT's 2022 MURTEC Breakthrough Award winner, and Kelly McCardle, who helped bartaco stand up its on-demand service model, was one of HT’s Top Women in Restaurant Technology – Innovators in 2022.  Tell us about yourself and how long you've been with bartaco.

Crasnick: Of course. I'm actually newer to bartaco ... I joined in early October and I'm leading our digital experience and product group. I came over from Panera where I was working on the off-premise business, on the catering website and also was a part of launching ezCater at Panera … I was at Panera for 2.5 years or so, but then the bartaco opportunity came along and I couldn’t turn it down. It’s an amazing brand and it is super exciting to be a part of the growth journey. 

HT:  Tell us about bartaco’s history with catering? 

Crasnick:  I think this is the first time we've called it catering and had a formal catering offering. Previously, we took inbound requests [over phone and email], and we had different family packs. We had some offerings that we could provide, but we really weren't going out there and marketing it. It was very much word-of-mouth. We had a following for those family packs, and we saw the demand increasing, which has really led us to formalize the catering program. We took a hard look at what we were offering. We got feedback from customers.  This all started with culinary exploration to figure out if we're going to play in catering, we need to make sure we have the right menu, the right items. For us it is about the ease of ordering, both for the guest and the operators. At bartaco, we hear so much about our food quality, and we wanted to make sure that if we were putting a catering offering out there, that our food was traveling well to the customers, they understood what they were getting, they knew how to build the right combination of their tacos when they're enjoying the food off-premise. That was the early days of our unofficial catering program before we formalized it.

HT:  When did this happen?

Crasnick:  We started to see an increase in it when people started going back to work, to more social gatherings. The post-COVID rebound of people getting back together definitely was an inflection point in seeing some more demand and interest.

HT: Tell us about the catering menu revamp.

Crasnick:  Quality and freshness of our food is a top priority. This goes back to when we expanded delivery back in COVID, when we were starting to play more on DoorDash. We were intentional about how we packaged our food and how it left our four walls. We wanted to make sure people are enjoying bartaco in the same way they would when they dine-in as they do at home. We know that tacos have a reputation of not traveling well, and no one wants to get a soggy taco. When we launched delivery during COVID, we launched deconstructed taco packs; on UberEATS and DoorDash we only sell a full pack gourmet pack of our tacos, and you assemble it together at home. So your Baja fish still shows up warm and shows up crispy, and you're getting that best quality taco.

Some of the learnings we had from delivery, we brought into catering. And we wanted to be intentional about how we launched, how we packaged it to have the highest quality experience possible. Those learnings of the deconstructed taco packs from delivery led us to our build-your-own-taco trays. From the catering standpoint, it allows everybody to assemble their own tacos however they want. We do give a little guidance, so you know what goes what goes with what.  The menu revamp centered around build-your-own-taco trays, and we wanted to make sure we supplemented that with our top-selling favorites that our customers love … our sides and salads. We looked at our top-selling menu items and then put that up against a culinary perspective. There was thorough testing on what would travel well, so we don't offer everything (off the bartaco menu for catering) ...  No one wants soggy ceviche to show up smelling a little too fishy, so we don't carry ceviche. That was intentional from a menu standpoint. And we're intentional when we package it, about when our guacamole goes in the container so our guacamole is not showing up brown. There's a lot of focus put into that freshness.

We first launched with the taco trays, the ‘not tacos’ and sides.  We started to see some competitive research on what others are offering on the ezCater platform. Almost everyone was offering individually packaged items, and we saw the group order functionality on ezCater.  We had some data from group orders that were coming into us from third-party delivery providers. We knew there was an interest and demand, and group order helped us validate investing further in the individual packaging. 

We looked at our menu to see what we could offer that would travel well and be easy for a bunch of people at a business meeting to eat. We landed on our rice bowls. We created an exclusive bundle for ezCater where you can get a rice bowl and beverage. It's a nice corporate lunch. You pick any of the proteins, any of your favorite rice bowls and have that as a bundle. We added that after our first few weeks of learning, and the other item we had a gap initially when we launched was beverages. We introduced our 32-ounce teas. 

HT: Do all locations offer catering?

Crasnick:  Yes, we do. When we open a new store, we wait a few weeks before we launch off-premises (delivery and catering).

bartaco logo

HT: When did you launch on ezCater? 

Crasnick: We did a soft launch in early November and then we started marketing it more heavily towards the end of November, early December leading into the holiday season.

HT: How and where do customers place catering orders now? 

Crasnick: The ezCater Marketplace and are our two primary ways. We still take phone-in orders or emails as well and use ezCater’s direct entry. So on the marketplace, we're in all locations. 

We really want to tap into ezCater’s super loyal B2B customer base, and help drive awareness that bartaco has catering, make our offering available to those very loyal ezCater marketplace customers. And then from a standpoint, we love that it's easy to offer easy ordering.  It has allowed us to have a channel for our existing bartaco customers that are used to coming to our website and ordering on our website to order directly through bartaco as well; their ordering platform has allowed us to integrate it directly into our bartaco website. We love that ezCater has a direct entry feature. For anyone who wants to do a traditional call-in or e-mail, we can still accept that order in whichever way the customer wants to place it, and we're still able to track and tap into ezCater for ezDispatch for delivery.  

HT: Delivery is so important for catering orders, right? 

Crasnick: And we didn't have a good solution for delivery prior. When we were taking orders by e-mail or phone, we mostly were doing pickup. Occasionally we could find a manager who could deliver an order. We were limited from a delivery standpoint before we moved over to ezCater… Now, most all of the orders are for delivery.

HT: Tell us a bit about the packaging that you're using for off-prem and for catering specifically, is it the same?  What were some of the challenges with packaging?

Crasnick: It has been a little bit of a learning journey for us too. When we first launched ezCater, we were putting all of our food trays in our bartaco bags. We did a few test orders to observe how people were enjoying our food and we found some friction really quickly. We know what sauces and sides go well with each taco. We know it's intended to mix together. But when you put a bunch of toppings on a table, no one really knows how to make their taco. We got some pretty quick feedback that it was a little bit confusing on how to build your taco. It led us to launch the boxes that we now have. So each taco tray comes in a bartaco branded box. So you'll have your Baja fish with the slaw, with the cilantro and onions all right in the box so you know what goes together and shows you how to build your taco. It also shows allergens, so that's up front for anyone who has allergy concerns and that has been a really big win for us. We've seen some really positive feedback from customers because they know how to get the flavors right and assemble their taco in the same way that they would have it at bartaco… Within our first few weeks we were able to quickly pivot and launch some packaging that makes it super easy for the guests when they're when they're building their own plates. From a delivery driver standpoint, it has also made it really easy to deliver because the drivers now just have a have a stack of a few boxes they can carry rather than multiple bags of trays that might slip out;  it's been a big win from a guest feedback standpoint and from an operational standpoint as well.

HT: Sometimes packaging is an afterthought until you start getting feedback from the customers, right?  

Crasnick: Yes, and we know from someone who is hosting a catering event, whether it's a work meeting or a social gathering, that the host is proud of how they're presenting their food. We also wanted to put an elevated foot forward so that the host is proud of the food that they are displaying. Like the food looks. Professional and beautifully set up in in the bartaco branded boxes, and we want to make sure our hosts are happy with the experience and help our hosts feel proud of what they're serving.

HT: In regards to loyalty, especially in the B2B marketplace, you would want to build good relationships with these office managers who are in charge of ordering lunch. Can you talk a little bit about the kind of efforts that you're doing to get the word out that you're offering catering and also have people keep you on the short list?

Crasnik:  That's an area we are still exploring. Within the ezCater Marketplace we have definitely seen great success with our restaurants that have earned the ezCater Reliability Rock Star badge because we know that that gives us like that badge of approval, that badge of trust and we have found that many of our locations are getting repeat customers.  Also at some locations we have a sales and events manager that manages more of our on-site events. We're working on getting those events managers up to speed with catering as well so they can promote it and talk to the bartaco clientele about it and we're definitely still exploring some other avenues in our other markets. Where we do not have a dedicated sales and events manager, we're looking at different ways to generate leads and build relationships and to augment some of our sales efforts. So still exploring some solutions there, but we expect to test sooner rather than later. Our general managers are really involved in the community, so we are arming our general managers with materials to be able to talk about catering to be able to promote the catering experience and hopefully help introduce our catering program to some of the existing relationships they have with local businesses. The local store marketing community outreach piece for us is something that we do on an ongoing basis.

HT: What's next?  

Crasnick: For us within the catering space, we are just continuing to innovate. Our culinary team is always looking for new things we can get out there for our customers. I talked a little bit about you know some new avenues we are looking at for lead generation. As we as we get into the spring, we know that there are so many different exciting catering occasions coming up both on the B2B side with all of the celebration weeks with Nurses’ Week and Admin Appreciation Day, Mother’s and Father's Day, and graduations. We know bartaco will be such a strong fit for so many of those events. So our marketing efforts will be definitely focusing within that space. We are so excited that catering is now an option.

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