How many times have you been in an office lunch meeting or social gathering at work and the food is just sub-par? I'm guessing that's a lot, right? Usually the assortment of food is sandwiches, chips and dip, fruit trays and a selection of drinks. It would be incredible to serve some of Houston's local food during your office gatherings or meetings, but unfortunately not every mom-and-pop shop offers a catering service or knows how to establish that sort of an amenity. Fortunately, there's a start-up company, Cater2.me, that will connect local restaurant vendors with clients, such as businesses and companies, to cater large group events anywhere from ten people to over a thousand.
Cater2.me started in San Francisco in 2010 and has expanded throughout the country to Washington D.C., Chicago, New York City, Boston and more recently Austin. Co-founder of Cater2.me Zach Yungst, heard a lot about the diverse cuisine offerings in Houston and decided our grand old city would be the company's next market expansion.
"We have had an office in Austin since the beginning of the year and we just heard a lot about Houston, did a lot of reading," Yungst says. "I'm particularly excited about it given how diverse the food community is and it sounds like a lot of interesting things going on there where people have different backgrounds [and they can] kind of explore things that may not be native to their heritage. [It's] a pretty cool opportunity for us to experience and bring some of those concepts to other markets that we work in."
Essentially, Cater2.me works like this: The company reaches out to vendors (local restaurants, food trucks, farmers markets, etc.) that do not have a catering service and connects them with clients (offices, companies, etc.) that need catered group events (meetings, social gatherings, etc.).
On the client side, Cater2.me reaches out to offices and companies in the city to understand what their goals are for the program, whether that be a monthly lunch meeting, large corporate social gathering or a holiday party at work. The goal is to be the "middle man" and connect these clients with the local food community by introducing them to a variety of cuisines. Rather than requesting a certain restaurant to cater their event, the client tells Cater2.me what type of cuisine or food they are interested in serving and then trust Cater2.me to provide them with a few suggestions from the vendors.
"Part of what we want to do, and what we want to develop in our client-base, is the trust of us to go out and be the curators of the food community, to make sure that our clients are trusting us to go out on their behalf," Yungst says. "A client comes up and says, 'Hey we are doing this kind of event and we would love do a street-food themed event, can you give us some options?' And that's where we can go crazy and work with the vendors and it's also really exciting for them [the vendors]... We really want to showcase the amazing vendors we are working with and trying to source, instead of clients coming in and saying we want vendor X, because they could just go straight to vendor X if that's what they wanted."
On the vendor side, Cater2.me representatives teach the restaurant how to establish catering, i.e. the logistics with portion sizes, what to do in preparation for orders and on the day of delivery. It's a very hands-on interaction to help establish a catering service and make sure the vendor can properly sustain the operation.
"The deliveries are all being done by the vendors themselves," he says. "We will work with them to understand what their capacity is. Maybe one vendor can do one delivery at a time; maybe they can do multiple; maybe they can only deliver on certain days of the week. We can have all of the information in our system and that allows us to maximize their capacity efficiently. We also plan our meals out well in advance. The meals we are doing aren't like 'hey I need lunch today,' they are for companies that have a reoccurring catering need so they have a standard meeting on Mondays, they feed their team dinners or they feed their team lunches every Wednesday."
In order to set up these catered events, clients create profiles on the Cater2.me website, providing information about the number of guests to be fed, if anyone has food allergies or dietary restrictions, the reoccurring meal needs, the client's goals for the program and the cuisine preferences.
"We talk to the client about what their vision is for the program," Yungst says. "Some will want something more elaborate, some will want something really simple. We will build the best program for that client's needs around their budget, profile and we manage all of the delivery logistics. So it's a pretty simple conversation but we definitely want to get to the root of what the client is looking for as they think about feeding their team."
Cater2.me hopes to launch in Houston by the end of the year. Yungst says they are looking for clients come on board with the program to help build the pool of vendors and taste some of the cuisines they will potentially offer to clients.
"It's all about promoting the restaurant," Yungst says. "A big part of what we are trying to do is connect these offices with these local vendors."
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