On the rebound, ezCater touts power of food to entice workers back

The catering startup ezCater had a rough start to the pandemic, laying off hundreds of employees. Now amid a quicker rebound than expected, the Boston company has launched its first TV advertisement hoping to capitalize on the momentum.

With cases still low relative to months ago, and vaccination rates high in many large metro areas, ezCater sees office workers returning to work as a potential boon.

Chief Marketing Officer David Meiselman said that free food can be a particularly strong selling point for getting people back to the workplace. According to the company’s own research, about eight in 10 workers said free meals were the best way to lure them back to the office, and 93% of managers said more workers showed up when free food was offered.

Those results shaped ezCater’s new ads, which compare the draw of free food to having a waterslide in the office. The dry humor of the ad was thought of by the company’s in-house marketing team, with the shoot taking place at a vacant restaurant in Mexico City.

The ads just hit major markets across the country.

That’s a far cry from 15 months ago, when the pandemic blindsided the 14-year-old company that had been flying high less than a year earlier.

In April 2019, ezCater raised enough new funding to become a unicorn — a startup valued at $1 billion or more. Three months later, it moved into a Post Office Square office with enough space for 750 people.

That progress came to a halt as soon as the pandemic hit and ezCater had to lay off 400 employees at offices in Boston, Denver, Paris and Vancouver, with the Paris office closed for good. For a company tailored to helping to feed people during corporate meetings, the pandemic was about the worst thing that could happen to ezCater.

Company leaders chose not to chase individual food orders for those working from home, a realm already dominated by the likes of GrubHub, Uber Eats and Doordash. Instead, ezCater focused on its strength of delivering meals exactly when they’re needed — and not, say, a half-hour into a lunch presentation. It also kept meal deliveries going where workers never worked from home, like hospitals, retail, construction sites and warehouses.

“We’re really focused on ‘food for work at work,’” Meiselman said.

After the major layoffs more than a year ago, ezCater is back in hiring mode, with 40 open positions and plans for hiring about 200 people before the end of the year.

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