Operational Efficiency to Build Restaurant Catering Sales

Profitality Logo_2Guest Post By Juan Martinez, Principal, Profitality

I would like to offer you the following two top-line recommendations for expanding your multi-unit restaurant business:

  1. Get in the restaurant catering game.
  2. Do it right!

So what does this mean?

The first one is pretty easy to comprehend, but the second recommendation is a bit more complicated. Doing it right means that all aspects of your catering operation need to be properly analyzed and designed in order to drive the best customer experience and drive the most sales. In my view, multi-unit restaurant catering is easy money and, if done in an organized fashion, is simpler to execute than other service modes layered on top of your existing assets. I realize that those of you who don’t do catering well, and perhaps some of you that do, may disagree with me. But catering can increase year-over-year profits if it is driven by predictability and scalability. If done correctly, your catering operation will deliver more sales than other revenue channels, such as in-store dining and take-out, drive-thru, or delivery.Yet, for catering to succeed you have to do many things right. This includes:

  • Marketing
  • Menu offering
  • Packaging
  • POS and order taking
  • Concept/facility design
  • Operational execution

While all of these are important, I want to touch a bit more on the last two points: production line design and operational execution. Take a look at the following chart, meant to explain the relationship between the most critical aspects of your operation. This is because the development of the right ergonomically appropriate make-line will make it easier for your employees to execute a consistent catering experience, a key catalyst to brand growth.

Profitality 1

The most important step in optimizing your catering operation is to define what your employees need to do to deliver your catering service within all of the operating parameters (process, procedures, equipment platforms, place design, people deployment, products and promotions) that facilitate efficient and consistent execution of your catering channel.

To get started, I am going to give you a simple exercise that you can do to understand the efficiency of your current operation. Observe several catering employees operating in the store during a busy period, and plot the path that they follow to execute your catering orders. Graph this flow and see what it tells you. If the plot in your operation looks like the following drawing, “Houston we have a problem!” It is clear to see that the crossover in this example is pretty significant.

Profitality 2

Clearly, work station design and having the right items, in the right place at the right time, is critical to the reduction of wasted motions. By the way, this graph is a representation of a real operation that was staffed by two individuals. Now imagine if you also had to deliver your non-catering menu items at the same time. This graph would look like Grand Central Station during peak hours!

Now that you can see the problem, let’s review possible improvements.

As you begin to develop solutions to improve your catering operation, often the tendency is to look for the “silver bullet” that resolves all problems. I have news for you: such a bullet likely does not exist and if you find it, you may not be able to offer it. So our suggestion is to develop several sets of solutions based on different costs and complexities of implementation. This approach will give you the ability to make decisions designed to drive improvements with minimal investment.

The following graph is a depiction of the solution continuum that I am referring to. On the low end, you can have solutions that involve changes in processes and procedures, while on the high, the solution would contain more expensive changes to the facility.

Profitality 3

Several decades ago,when drive-thrus came to being, concepts that jumped on this mode of service quickly derived great sales benefit. Those that did it right derived even more benefit. Although difficult to believe, some concepts that offer drive-thru are still struggling today with optimum execution. I want to predict that the same is happening with catering, since it provides an additional convenient avenue to deliver your products to your customers. You may consider catering the second coming of the drive-thru.Can you imagine if you could drive 60 percent of sales through your multi-unit restaurant catering operation, as most drive-thru concepts do? Even half (30%) would be a major sales and profit boost.

Consider this. There are some concepts already doing it. You can too!

So if you are not in the catering business, get in it, and if you are already in the game, figure out a way to optimize your operational procedures and design. This means simplifying its execution removing the bottlenecks that may be inhibiting your employees ability to deliver a high level of predictability and scalability in regard to your catering channel. Catering is a great way to give new and existing customers an extension of your brand that can generate significant sales and profit increases to drive brand growth.