Catering companies used to be the first port of call for corporate events and parties.
Not anymore. Restaurants are gunning for a slice of the catering pie with an all-encompassing suite of services, from cooking intimate kaiseki dinners at clients' homes to packing bento boxes for corporate lunches to setting up buffet spreads complete with live stations and butler service.
New eateries that have branched out into catering include French bakery chain Paul Singapore, which launched its catering service last week; and Meatsmith, an American smokehouse in Telok Ayer Street, which started a catering arm in the middle of last year.
These restaurants went into the lucrative catering business after requests from their regulars, which are hard to turn down in the sluggish economic climate. With diners getting more prudent with their spending, catering helps to diversify revenue sources and make up for a dip in dine-in sales.
Paul Singapore has boosted its catering menu to offer live crepes stations and more than 40 sweet and savoury canapes, on top of cakes and pastries, since it soft-launched its catering service in late 2015.
Mr Laurent Perez, 51, chief operating officer of Paul Singapore, has observed more companies holding events and seminars in-house instead of in hotels to cut costs. He declines to say how much catering contributes to its business.
Paul Singapore, which has eight outlets here, taps on its central kitchen. It can cater for large-scale events attended by 750 people and comes up with canapes based on customers' preferences. It caters for four to 10 private events a month.
At Meatsmith, meats such as beef brisket and suckling pig are smoked in-house before being taken to the catering venue in portable ovens and barbecued on-site.
Over the past year, the restaurant has bought more barbecue equipment, such as charcoal grill pits and outdoor tables, for catering and pop-up events.
Ms Sofie Di Donato, 30, Meatsmith's business development and marketing manager, says offering catering service and organising pop-up events have "become a priority for the restaurant in these challenging times".
Noting that catering makes up 10 to 15 per cent of Meatsmith's business, she says: "As the restaurant is already open seven days a week, doing catering services allows us to maximise our revenue outside the service period. Our chefs can do the preparation work for catered food during off-peak periods."
Catering is another way for eateries to reach out to customers who have not heard of them.
For Om Nom - Taste of Thai in The Central, which has been providing Thai-style bento boxes and buffet spreads since November, catering makes up one-fifth of its sales. Owner Fion Lee, 27, says: "My business has fallen by 10 to 15 per cent due to the poor economy and the restaurant's Clarke Quay location does not receive a regular flow of walk-in customers, so catering helps to maintain profits."
She also taps on food-delivery platforms such as The Foodist.
The Foodist, which works with about 20 restaurants to curate and deliver bento boxes, has seen a surge in business in the past year.
Co-founder Ng Dirong, 35, says: "With the popularity of online food delivery services, there is more trust among diners in ordering food from restaurants."
Besides large-scale events, some restaurants can also whip up private dinners at customers' homes.
Upmarket Japanese restaurant Kaiseki Yoshiyuki in Forum The Shopping Mall has been catering kaiseki, or haute Japanese fine-dining, meals since 2015. The 22-seat restaurant does it three to four times a year and this makes up 10 per cent of its business.
A spokesman says the main aim is to get more diners acquainted with the concept of kaiseki. "Boosting sales is not a top priority. We hope that through catering, more people can understand what kaiseki is," she says.
Those who have used catering services from restaurants like the high quality of food offered.
Ms Lin Pei Hua, 49, senior marketing manager of airport retailer DFS Changi, engages Paul Singapore's catering services for its spiritspairing events. "They are more flexible in customising menus to pair with the various spirits," she says.
"As it is a reputable brand, I can be assured of the quality of the ingredients used in the canapes."
Mr Andrew O'Brien, 47, regional general manager at Treasury Wine Estates, engaged Meatsmith for a Napa Valley-themed wine event last year. He says: "Meatsmith understands our wines and how best to showcase them with its menu as we have hosted wine dinners at the restaurant."
What: The Texas-style barbecue joint started catering six months ago, offering everything on its menu. Its offerings include a whole 2.5kg brisket, 3.5kg pulled pork shoulder and 1.5kg turkey breast. The meats are smoked for up to 15 hours over lychee wood in a wood-fired smoker before being packed in food warmers and delivered to the venue. It also offers items such as pulled pork sandwiches and sides, including cornbread and potato salad.
Where: 01-17 The Quayside, 60 Robertson Quay
Price: From $25 a person, order at least three days in advance
Info: Call 6635-8565 or go to www.deckerbarbecue.com
What: The exquisite art of kaiseki, or haute Japanese cuisine, can be enjoyed at home with this restaurant's private dining service.
A team of four chefs, including head chef Yoshiyuki Kashiwabara, who was a private chef to Japanese diplomats for seven years, can be dispatched to prepare a seven- to nine-course meal on-site. He plans the menu based on in-season ingredients that are imported from Tokyo's Tsukiji market twice a week.
For events attended by up to 20 people, the restaurant can provide the crockery. There are also service staff and a spirits-pairing menu.
For those looking to enjoy kaiseki on the go, the restaurant also packs the food in chic bento boxes.
Besides kaiseki, it also caters canapes, such as steamed chestnuts, lightly salted ginkgo nuts and fried scallop balls.
Where: B1-39 Forum The Shopping Mall, 583 Orchard Road
Price: From $128++ a person, minimum 10 people (for kaiseki catering), order four weeks in advance; from $60++ a person (for canapes), order two weeks in advance
Info: Call 6235-1088 or 8188-0900 or go to kaisekiyoshiyuki.com
What:The entire meat menu from American smokehouse Meatsmith is available for catering.
Popular items include housemade sausages, beef brisket and smoked suckling pig.
The meats are smoked in-house with hickory wood for up to 12 hours before being barbecued on-site.
On the menu, too, are mini sliders and pastries.
No equipment for your barbecue party? Meatsmith provides items such as charcoal grills, tables and crockery.
A sommelier can also be on hand to pair cocktails, Southern iced teas and pickleback (a shot of whisky followed by a shot of pickle juice) with the meats.
Where: 167/9 Telok Ayer Street
Price: From $5 to $10 a head, order at least one week in advance
Info: Call 6221-2262 or go to meatsmith.com.sg
Om Nom– Taste of Thai
What: This seven-month-old restaurant offers Thai bento boxes and buffet spreads. Choose from more than 10 bento boxes, which can be ordered via three food- delivery platforms - Dishdash, The Foodist and CaterSpot.
Lacquered bento boxes curated by The Foodist include the Basil Chicken Set ($16), a rice set with a vegetarian green curry, Thai prawn cake and curry prawn with pepper and egg; and the Cha-om Omelette Vegetarian Rice Set ($20) that comes with Thai mango salad, vegetarian green curry and garlic long beans.
The menu of more than 100 Thai dishes, including signature dishes, such as curry crayfish and pad thai, can be expanded into a buffet spread.
Where: 02-82 The Central, 6 Eu Tong Sen Street
Price: Starts at $12 for a bento box, order one day in advance; from $20 a person for buffet, order at least three days in advance
Info: Call 6221-2420 or go to www.omnomtasteofthai.com
What: This French bakery cafe chain offers more than 40 sweet and savoury canapes.
Some of them are inspired by popular items - such as macaron pops, deconstructed Nicoise salad, smoked duck gratin, vanilla cones filled with mixed berries jelly - and adapted to bite sizes.
New items include fish and chips and chilled tomato soup in mini bowls.
These innovative bites are on top of Paul's classic French pastries and confections, which it also caters.
Other catering services include live crepe stations, butler service and a full party set-up.
Where: Eight outlets including 02-09 Paragon, 290 Orchard Road
Price: From $35 a person (minimum 30 people), order three days in advance
Info: Call 9631-7285 or go to catering.paul-singapore.com