How to Add a Catering Program

For those of you who have been in the restaurant industry for any length of time, you understand the very narrow margins that many in the business operate under. By increasing sales, decreasing expenses, and providing an awesome customer experience, you have managed to be in the 40 percentile—those restaurants that survive the first three often tough, mind-boggling intense, and always thrilling years. To stay the course, you know keeping the doors open boils down to just one thing—your profit margin.

How to Produce Multiple Streams of Income

Food and beverage is your revenue generator, but there are multiple ways to bring in more income using these sources. Not only do they bring in more income, they also promote your brand, raise awareness, and can contribute to goodwill in the community. A few of these strategies include branded merchandise – think of your incredible ginger and garlic flower sauce or your creamy blue cheese vinaigrette that your customers rave about—venue hire for events and private dining, as well as establishing a catering program.

Potential Profits

Here are just a few statistics from the National Restaurant Association and Technomic’s 2015 Catering Insights Program that should get you excited.

  • Off-premise catering has steadily increased and in 2015 saw approximate sales of $52.3 billion.
  • While grocers and catering businesses were once the predominant go-to for these types of functions, restaurants are now taking the lion’s share—an estimated 64 percent of off-premise catering functions.

The Added Benefits

Catering offers one of the best marketing strategies around. Every event and venue you cater offers an incredible opportunity to reach out to potential customers who have not yet found your unique and tantalizing brick and mortar location. After tasting your delicious food at the recently catered event, you can bet that you will be on their radar the next time they decide on a night out or a business luncheon.

Offering reduced catering pricing for community charitable events and non-profit organizations will not only warm your heart, and your employee’s hearts as well, it will also develop a sense of goodwill and a strong allegiance in the community. Having spent years in a small town of 6,000, it was apparent that those restaurants that gave back to the community and helped those in need were the ones that reaped the greatest rewards in the form of a steady stream of patronage, even during economical downturns.

Creating a Catering Program

Don’t let the operational aspect of a catering program keep you from taking that first step toward greater abundance and ultimately, enjoyment. If you do, you’ll miss a tremendous opportunity. Mind you, not all restaurants are set up in a manner that can take advantage of this stream of income, but most are. 

So let’s take this step-by-step and head you in the right direction:

  1. Develop a menu specific to your catering operations. Consider different package options and think in terms of trays and platters and items that keep well in chafing dishes such as various types of meatballs, stews and chili, roasted pork loin and other meats, or enchilada-like preparations. Other items that do well are a variety of unique wraps such as chicken Caesar parmesan or spicy sirloin of beef with peppers, onions and garlic. Skewers and mini sliders are also good finger foods and easy to transport. Start with items that you specialize in and stick with what you “do best.”
  2. Operational considerations include transportation such as a van or food truck, and if food will be ready to eat or will require reheating once on site. Holding cabinets and hot boxes will be required for holding and transporting food at the correct temperatures.
  3. Create a large prep area in your kitchen where platters and trays can be created. Food preparation in a restaurant is easy to implement and can be accommodated during slow hours.
  4. Set up an ordering system. Ideally, there is one designated employee who is responsible for the catering including scheduling, booking and even marketing.
  5. Know your numbers and keep these separate from the in-house figures. This includes expenses that are not usually considered such as transportation and insurance.
  6. Be brand and voice-motivated and make sure that your on-site staff represents your restaurant in the manner you would like to be portrayed. This may be extremely friendly and outgoing or professional and proper or somewhere in between the two, depending on your style.
  7. Implement a catering rewards program that will entice businesses to use your services on a regular basis.
  8. Now that you’re ready to take to the streets, you will need to find the members of your community that need your services. Think digital marketing and update your website, and reach out on your social media platforms and through e-mail. Make sure you have in-house notifications in the manner of tasteful flyers or table tents. Involvement in your community is one of the surefire approaches to a successful marketing strategy. Let local businesses know about your endeavor and consider a call-to-action via a certain percentage off for new customers. As you develop and grow, you will ultimately require a software program to meet your needs.

If this list has left you a little breathless, you can always consider teaming up with a full-time catering company. It will reduce your profit margin but you can leave the offsite management in their capable hands. Just make sure that they are capable, as your restaurant’s reputation is on the line.

Restaurants that are Getting it Right

Burrito Beach in Chicago was founded in 1995 and has since grown to four locations. Their catering platform offers taco and nacho bars, beach boxes and platters with burritos, quesadillas and homemade chips and salsas. They have also ventured into the breakfast catering scene, offering both breakfast taco bars and burritos. Their catering program makes up 11 percent of their business and has doubled over the last three years. They contribute this, in part, due to a custom software program that they put in place in order to manage this lucrative aspect of their restaurant.

Scranton’s Restaurant and Catering in Pascagoula, Mississippi believes catering is what has gotten them through the tough times in their 30 years in business. 35 percent of the business is now devoted to catering.

What started out as Tony’s Deli is now Tony’s Deli & Catering Company. This British Columbia based restaurant realized the tremendous marketing opportunities that catering provided them. What started out as a deli is now, very much, a catering service. In fact, over 50 percent of their business is now in their catering corner.



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