With restaurant sales in the United States set to grow by 3.6% in 2014, we are excited to imagine the possibilities for restaurant catering growth as well. The realization that restaurant catering can be a successful, positive influence on a brand’s bottom line is driving many fast casual and quick service concepts to adopt a catering and off-premise program or improve an existing one. It quite often doesn’t require any additional expenditure and operators are able to utilize existing assets to get their program off to a great start.
One huge area for sales growth that might not be the first to mind is that of business-to-business (B2B) or corporate catering. Remember that catering isn’t just the full-service, banquet-style dining featured at weddings, funerals and other big or official occasions; many businesses look to restaurants to fulfill their daily, weekly or monthly lunch needs when they want to feed a large group of people. Five areas to consider when you are building or growing your corporate restaurant catering program are:
There are very few brands that have a menu suitable for in-restaurant dining and off-premise catering. This isn’t because they are doing anything wrong, but merely because the in-store menu is designed to be consumed by smaller groups and almost immediately. Your restaurant menu item doesn’t need to take into consideration elements like travel, suitability for platters, or the ability to feed a large group of people. Of course, you want to utilize your existing menu to start creating your catering version – focus on items that travel well, set your services apart from the competition and think about creating platters out of existing dishes, such as sandwiches, wraps or even cookies. For more on menu optimization, check out Erle’s essay – Menu Development in a Multi-Unit Restaurant Catering Program.
As we saw that in-store restaurant menus need to be changed for catering programs, so, too, does pricing. But it’s not a bad thing! In fact, for restaurant catering services, you can charge a slight premium to that on your regular menu, and that’s because customers expect to pay for the convenience of having food delivered right to their meeting spaces, and also for feeding larger numbers of people than usual. Depending on how you structure your menu, you can price things per person (standard for most catering services) or by the platter/share-able dish – not only does this simplify things for your catering team, but it also helps those ordering from you to see how their order fits into a specified budget with no worries about additional, last minute costs. Visit our YouTube channel for Erle’s Catering Tip on how to price your catering menu.
It’s all very well if you have your menu set and your pricing adjusted to allow for service delivery and convenience for your customers, but what happens if your product doesn’t arrive looking the same as it did when it left your kitchen? This is where packaging is so important to help make the catering experience memorable for your clients. If you are transporting items that need to be chilled, are you going to use individual cooler bags to do so, or are you going to use a larger cooling box instead? For hot items, can they be transported to the client ready-made, or are they best laid out in heating pans for customers to assemble themselves? How are you going to make sure structured items, such as wraps and sandwiches, don’t fall apart in the delivery truck on the way to the customer? All of these are elements to consider alongside determining your menu items – perhaps one will determine the other – and you want to make sure that you choose the most efficient, affordable and smart option for your business.
This is the final touch point of your catering order and is also an opportunity to grow sales with driver canvassing in the area of the order delivery. Determine how your orders will be delivered – branded trucks, brand magnets for individual vehicles, bicycles, mopeds? Define the processes your drivers must follow, clarify the standards they are expected to meet each and every shift, and encourage canvassing for new business, either in the general order area or with the client they just delivered to. Your delivery drivers are your brand ambassadors and the delivery itself is a further testament to the customer service experience you strive for in your program. Here is an example of two brands that have built a World Class Delivery Program.
We often talk about 4-Walls marketing, and how important it is to generate awareness of your catering program with your existing, in-restaurant customers. You never know who they work for, whether they have a need for catering outside of the office, and whether you can develop them from a daily customer into a regular catering client. Simple things such as tent cards on tables, a mention by a cashier or service staff member, social media development, or sign that says “We Cater!” with menus nearby, can all help to market your restaurant catering plan. As they say, people don’t know what they don’t know – so be sure to inform those that already love your brand that you have even more to offer! Want more ideas? Check out 45 Rockstar Marketing Tactics for Restaurant Caterers.
Setting goals around these five areas of consideration will help direct you for your restaurant catering program. And if you need more help, the MMS Catering Institute™ Team is always available for advice and direction at 1-877-6-MONKEY.