Developing A Catering Program


QUESTION From online F&B group:

“For those of you that have a restaurant that also caters:
How do you promote the catering side besides going to venues and getting on the "preferred list", or just going to businesses and handing out cards?”

Mark - St. Louis


First of all... if you have a restaurant, why WOULDN’T you do catering?

The operating model for most restaurants in many markets today has evolved to meet the demands of the modern guest. If you haven't already... you’ll soon see more and more new concepts adopting a hybrid structure of: dining – take out – delivery & catering - from new approaches to build-outs to menu development & pricing. 

While it's important to consider all 3 of the major off-premise sales categories; catering offers the best margins due to minimizing waste, maximizing labor and effectively increasing the size of your dining room.

Whether you’re a QSR or a fine dining establishment; catering can be anything from wedding receptions to boxed lunches and everything in between - e.g., continental breakfast delivery, taco tables, cold line or hot line buffets, mobile cocktail bars, etc...

If you don’t have a program in place, designate a Catering Mgr for all off-premise sales and have them create a simple, limited, one page menu/order form (and corresponding POS keys) with the dash or box after each item so that the customer can indicate the number of orders for each item.
Take a look at what some multi-unit nationals are doing by visiting their websites.

While one may consider the numerous third party services out there from Ubereats to Zeroocater & EZCater; my favorite methods of driving those catering sales (once you do have a program in place) are the following old-school, often imitated, never duplicated keep-it-wicked-simple methods:

#1. The Fishbowl Business Card Drop: It doesn’t get any easier than “One lucky winner each month (sometimes two)!”

Build an email list and sample your product to a large local group in one drop (HINT: if they are sampling it all in one place, chances are they will be ordering it from one place in the future which makes for a pretty easy way to delivery 25 paid orders next time.)

Throw in freebees, business cards with hand-written coupons on the back, plenty of menus - and for parties of over 50- sn employee to answer questions, restock and clean-up.

#2. Free Samples: Walk 5-10mins in every possible direction from your front door, take note of the names and addresses of every: store, business or organization then stop in to introduce yourself (bring samples) or hand write them a letter (include a hand written coupon for a free lunch) telling them that you’re rolling out (or trying to build) a catering component to your business. Tell them that you’re looking to evaluate your delivery of an exceptional service and that you’d like to offer them a complimentary bfast - lunch - or dinner in exchange for some honest feedback / reviews.

There are a lot of options out there (and talk right now) about the popularity of outsourcing off-premise catering and delivery production for restaurants.

While I disagree entirely with third party centralized production and I am categorically opposed to third-party involvement for independent operators; there are other schools of thought that advocate for operational centralization as a tool for efficiency with regard to off-premise sales.

I think some form of centralization is worth exploring only AFTER you have demonstrated an ability to build that segment of your business and only IF you are willing to invest significantly into the resources (material and human) that dedicated commissaries / production & distribution centers demand.

For now - keep it simple and let me know how it goes,

Josh Sapienza