CHICAGO — Recent research by Technomic, titled POP: Parties Off Premise, discloses an important and largely untapped growth opportunity for the restaurant industry — catering to consumers' at-home social occasions. The size of the consumer catering opportunity, $33.3 billion, is almost double the size of the business-to-business, off-premise catering market previously studied by Technomic.

"We were surprised to learn that the consumer catering opportunity is much larger than we originally expected," said Melissa Wilson, Technomic principal.

Although restaurants have been watching the recession erode dining traffic, Ms. Wilson told the industry, "This is where your customers are. They used to use restaurants as social venues, but now they're entertaining at home. And they’ve told us they plan to continue doing so because they're enjoying socializing with friends at each other’s homes. In fact, 40% of consumers say they expect to entertain at home more often over the coming year."

Numerous ways limited- and full-service restaurants, as well as food retailers, can respond to this fundamental shift in consumer behavior and see meaningful improvements in unit-level performance are identified in the study.

Other key findings include:

  • Consumers are just as likely to source food for these occasions from restaurants as food retailers.
  • In terms of sales, restaurants hold the largest share of the social catering opportunity, with slightly more than $23 billion, or 69%, market share, followed by caterers, supermarkets, warehouse clubs and other retailers. Among restaurants, full-service operators hold a larger share of the social catering market than limited-service restaurants.
  • Although holidays and other special events prompt seasonal spikes in consumer catering purchases, broader shifts in consumer behavior point to a consistent year-round opportunity.