COVID-19: Individually Packaged Items

How might we encourage caterers and customers to adhere to social distancing, while ordering catering?

Some Background

On March 3rd in the US, we got word that office managers across the US were beginning to take social distancing measures. Obviously, there would be massive implications for a catering marketplace if all non-essential employees began working-from-home. Customers would stop ordering food for team lunches and sales meetings. Our company has had to quickly shift gears to focus on individually packaged meals as opposed to buffet-style catering, and begin target essential industries, like healthcare and government.


Sales began to plummet over the course of March, but there were still a handful of orders being placed. A COVID-19 task force was spun up, included myself, a PM and engineers, to mitigate revenue loss. Our team encouraged customers to order individually packaged items, and expanded caterer menus to offer these items.

The Goal

Our team’s objective was to release an MVP that promoted individually packaged items in the wake of a pandemic. We knew we needed to allow filtering by packaging and collect learnings along the way. About 11% of orders included menu items labeled as “individually packaged”, and we needed to expand the supply of individually wrapped items.   


Seattle and SF were the first US cities to take social distancing measures, so our team launched a test limited to these metros in early March to help our customers find individually packaged meals. We didn’t want to force our customers to migrate to other food ordering platforms. We decided to launch our solution to customers in SF and Seattle without validating the solution. 

For the ~190 other US metros slower to feel the impact of the pandemic, we ran an A/B/C test to understand how this would affect bookings. The experiments gave varying degrees of prominence to the individually packaged items.  

In a week, we had launched a filter that allowed customers to find food that was “individually packaged”. Caterers would also need to be instructed on how to practice public health safety measures, and we would need to identify the packaging on all menu items. These changes had to be updated across desktop / mobile / iOS, on both the caterer and customer products. 

We had varying degrees of confidence that caterers would package Items individually.  

  1. Items that are already packaged for individuals
  2. Items that could be individually packaged if the caterer was made aware, but were not as of now
  3. Items that could not be individually packaged, and were uniquely created for group catering.

I was not 100% satisfied with the design we landed on, but we prioritized feasibility because of the urgency of the work. 

On the caterer side, we had to create to right level of messaging on our order details pages so they would not miss the message and disappoint our customers. 

At the end of 4 weeks, we launched our solution to 100% of customers. This would include updates on the home page to educate customers on individually packaged items, a hotline number in-case customers had specific requests, and more menu items that qualified as “individually packaged”.  


Orders with individually packaged items went from being included in 13% of all orders in the beginning of March, to ~40% by the beginning of April across all US metros.

Next Steps

I also began exploring how a shift to individually packaged items might change the way people ordered office food post-pandemic. Some additional ideas I began exploring: 

  1. Build out the “Packaging” filter as a well-rounded feature. This would mean expanding the packaging filter to include “Trays” for a group, and “Buffet-style” for larger events. 
  2. Explore how packaging information should be displayed on caterer menus apart from item labels. Should this exist as a filter? Or as read-only? 
  3. Explore how this could play nicely with the “order together” features on our platform


There were a lot of satisfaction that came from quickly releasing a feature that could have so much impact on our revenue loss. Our team was spun up and dispersed after 3 weeks, and the COVID-19 response was distributed to all teams working in their respective product spaces.


Thanks for reading!