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What will make you go back to the office? Boston catering firm ezCater says free food, not water slides

Boston-based catering marketplace is looking to broaden its brand awareness at a time many of its clients are bringing people back to the office.

EzCater's first-ever TV ads portrayed a water slide as being less effective than free food in bringing workers back to the office.Photo courtesy of ezCater

Will installing a floor-to-ceiling water slide help spur your colleagues to return to the office? Maybe. But ezCater has a simpler, more reliable solution: free food.

The water slide idea features prominently in the Boston-based catering marketplace operator’s first-ever TV ads. EzCater is launching them to build awareness of the company with weeks to go before many big employers are expected to bring people back to the office en masse after 18 months of working remotely.

EzCater was starting to roll out a national marketing campaign in 2020 when COVID-19 hit, forcing the company to take some drastic steps after the pandemic emptied out many of its clients’ workplaces. Chief executive Stefania Mallett laid off more than 400 people, or about half the company’s workforce at the time. The marketing push would have to wait.


Now, ezCater finds itself in growth mode again, even as employers adopt hybrid models that allow for more remote work on a permanent basis. Mallett said that when employees do show up, their bosses are increasingly using food to help unite them.

And that’s where Claire and Anil come in. In ezCater’s first TV ads, these characters, mid-level managers eager to encourage their charges to return to the office, rethink their decision to install a water slide, as they realize this might not be the key to increasing productivity. In one scene, a sopping wet, half-naked underling hands Claire a document. In another, a newly hired chief financial officer shakes Anil’s hand, her arms dripping.

“We should have just gone with ezCater,” Anil sighs, egg sandwich in hand. (The ads were shot on the second floor of an empty restaurant in Mexico City, temporarily retrofitted to look like a real office.)

EzCater’s in-house creative team, led by Pete Shamon, designed the ads; they were directed by Dan Opsal, with the production company Hungry Man. The spots are running in a number of major markets, including Boston. If successful, ezCater will probably run them in more cities, and more frequently. However, Mallett said the primary reason for the ads is to build name recognition for the business-to-business company, not to directly drive sales.


“There’s a point where you get big enough that you really want to be a known brand broadly,” Mallett said. “The return-to-office moment, the return-to-the-workplace moment, this is our moment.”

EzCater currently employs 400 people, with about 270 based in Boston. Mallett hopes to get that total up to 600 by the end of the year. “We’re hiring as fast as we can,” she said.

Just because the venture-backed company is hiring doesn’t mean it’s adding to its real estate footprint. In fact, the opposite is happening, at least in ezCater’s home city of Boston, as the company adopts a hybrid model similar to what’s taking shape at many ezCater clients.

EzCater is essentially cutting its headquarters office at 40 Water St. in half, from four floors down to two, and making provisions for more remote work. Before ezCater executives decided to stay, they checked out other offices in Boston. They even saw a floor-to-ceiling slide — of the dry variety — in one of the spaces they toured.

But don’t expect life to imitate art at the HQ.

“We’ve got food,” Mallett said. “We don’t need a water slide.”


Jon Chesto can be reached at Follow him @jonchesto.