The old saw that “the food makes the meeting” puts extra pressure on traveling business professionals who demand quality catering for important meetings in cities nationwide.
For any business travelers – think sales representatives in particular – consistently finding strong catering options is a challenge. For caterers and restaurants, finding out-of-town business is equally challenging. Fortunately, one company exists that helps both sides find each other.
ezCater Inc., headquartered in the “food-tech” hub of Boston, Mass., has facilitated connections between caterers and catering customers since 2007. According to CEO and co-founder Stefania Mallett, this unique service has caught on in a big way: to date, ezCater has sent its caterers orders for food for more than 2 million people.
As a veteran of numerous high-tech companies, Mallett was familiar with how important – and difficult – it is to “feed your meeting.” Mallett saw an opportunity to provide a national, technology-based solution. “We decided to start a business that would make good food appear for meetings anywhere,” she says.
With the help of co-founder Briscoe Rodgers, also a veteran at creating technology that enables business, Mallett established ezCater to help business professionals everywhere connect with local caterers to provide food for sales meetings, office lunches, project or team meetings, and other business events. Along the way, the company has helped caterers nationwide find new customers, including from big-name firms such as Astrazeneca, Microsoft and Wells Fargo. “We’re the only website that is national and is entirely focused on catering,” Mallett says. “We have 37,000 restaurants and caterers today to whom we can send orders, and expect to reach 50,000 by the end of 2014.”
Mallett says ezCater believes in supporting its catering customers and its caterers equally well. Customers simply go to ezCater’s website and enter the address, anywhere in the U.S., to which they need food delivered. They are immediately shown all the caterers and restaurants in ezCater’s network that deliver to that address, with full catering menus, pricing, and fees. The caterers’ on-time performance ratings and customer reviews have a lot to do with how the list is sorted, so the caterers who do the best job pop to the top. Customers select a caterer and place their order.
The selected caterer receives their order via email, fax or direct into their POS system. All the order details come in much more quickly and accurately than on a phone order. And the operational efficiencies don’t end there. ezCater even provides 800-number support for delivery personnel. Store staff can stay focused on the lunch or breakfast rush while ezCater springs into action troubleshooting lost drivers, late drivers, forgotten items, etc.
“We act like AAA for orders,” Mallett says. She adds that ezCater also provides full support to resolve any problems that come up once the order is filled. “We bend over backward to reach fair resolutions,” she says. “Caterers say we are very easy to do business with.”
Best of all, caterers gain customers they could not otherwise reach. Mallett says most caterers naturally don’t have the cash to market outside their local area, but ezCater provides them free national marketing. “In ezCater, caterers are suggested to customers – especially out-of-town customers – at exactly the moment the customer is looking to buy,” Mallett says. “You can’t get more perfect marketing than that.” Caterers pay ezCater absolutely zero until they get a catering order. And ezCater does all the work to set the caterer up inside ezCater.
ezCater’s value is demonstrated through the thousands of successful interactions the company facilitates every week. Mallett points to the example of a large California manufacturer who used ezCater to order food for occasional senior management meetings. While those orders averaged just under $200, the consistently positive experience this customer had with ezCater inspired the firm to use ezCater to source a $6,000 barbecue order as a reward for one of its factories.
ezCater also earned a regular customer in an Ohio school that needed box lunches for a special event. According to Mallett, ezCater found a restaurant franchisee whose stores could provide the 3,500 box lunches the school required. The school was so satisfied that it now uses ezCater to order for that event every semester.
The company’s unique services have been discovered even by visitors from overseas, Mallett says. Boston’s seaport hosted a dozen “tall ships” – huge wooden sailing ships used for training – from around the world. The crew of the Indonesian ship found ezCater’s website and ordered $2,000 of Italian food from a local caterer; the caterer brought it right up the gangplank. ezCater was delighted to have helped create a great event for both the Boston caterer and the international crew.
ezCater is revolutionizing the national catering industry just like Expedia and Uber have done in their markets. ezCater is on track to triple its revenue for the third year in a row. The investment community has taken notice, with investors including Breton Capital Management and Launchpad Venture Group recently providing $4 million in growth capital. Mallett is using this capital to boost marketing to the largest U.S. businesses, and to add more than 20,000 caterers to the company’s network.
As more and more customers discover the effectiveness of buying catering through ezCater, Mallett welcomes caterers to join ezCater. “We’re tripling annually. Caterers who join us will naturally grow right alongside,” Mallett says.