SUBWAY, EAGER TO GROW SALES, TURNS TO CATERING

As customers return to offices, they’ll want something to eat. And Subway is hoping to take full advantage as part of its bid to improve unit volumes.

The Milford, Conn.-based sandwich giant on Tuesday introduced a refreshed catering program, including new packaging, delivery and ordering options.

“Over the last year, we’ve continued to see an increased demand for pickup and delivery orders overall, alongside larger catering orders spurred by a return to in-office operations and increased gatherings,” Trevor Haynes, president of Subway North America, said in a statement.

He called Subway “the ideal choice” as catering demand returns to offices around the country.

The new catering program will include “Easy Order” options that simplify ordering, featuring pre-selected platters and lunch boxes, gallon-size beverages, toppings trays and condiment packets.

The program features upgraded packaging, including single-serve and pre-wrapped food packaging, new cardboard boxes, lunch boxes, trays and tote bags all featuring a refreshed design. Customers can also place catering orders for delivery or pickup.

In addition, Subway says it has joined ezCater, a Boston-based online marketplace that connects companies with catering providers. Subway instantly becomes one of the largest catering providers on the marketplace.

Catering demand plummeted during the pandemic and was slower to recover largely because so many people continued to work from home. But demand has started returning this year as employees return to the office, which has led a growing number of restaurant chains to push either new or upgraded catering services.

One reason companies may want to start ordering more free lunches: They get people back into the office. According to ezCater, 81% of workplace leaders say food is the best way to encourage workplace attendance and more than nine in 10 say more employees show up to the office when the company provides free food.

For Subway, the benefit of an upgraded catering program is obvious—a few orders can quickly bolster a location’s sales. That’s important as the company works to increase unit volumes. Subway’s average unit volumes topped $430,000 last year, its highest level in eight years. But some 1,000 of the chain’s locations still closed during the year and it is down some 6,000 units from its 2014 peak, when it operated 27,000 U.S. locations.

Many of the chain’s weaker units right now are in urban areas and other locations with a heavy population of office workers. Such locations have struggled to recover coming out of the pandemic no matter the concept, and catering could be one way to help those restaurants generate sales.

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