Restaurant catering can represent anywhere from 20 to 33 percent of your system-wide sales for those operators that do it well. What’s even more compelling and argues toward investing in catering, is that these sales are incremental by nature. When you do catering out of your restaurants right, you are providing a new and useful consumer solution to your brand fans and your community. This creates deep differentiation between your regular dining, drive-thru, and takeout business, which gives your customers more reasons to spend money with you.
Doing restaurant catering well requires a consistent and concise business strategy. It requires all stakeholders in your organization to appreciate the intention, commitment and investment.
Before any restaurant brand jumps into catering, there are a many thoughts to consider in order to ensure success, but I have picked a few key ones to discuss in this article because of their importance. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list, but just a few ideas to think about. There are a lot of moving parts that you need to consider for a successful program.
- Brand leaders and the board of directors must set a clear strategic intention for catering. Yes, you must include the board of directors because catering is a key strategic decision. Catering out of restaurants is different from takeout, dine-in and drive-thru, so it is important that operators take the time to understand what they need to do to move forward effectively. This includes knowing what the strategic direction is for the brand. Catering out of restaurants is a business within a business and requires a vision for what catering means to the brand and how it is going to reach its own sales goals and operate efficiently. Catering should become part of your core overall brand strategy so everyone within the company understands the opportunity and risks. You have to move forward as a team.
- You must hire a dedicated catering leader or off-premise sales leader. These leaders should understand how to build an effective restaurant catering platform and how to lead and empower your sales and operations teams each and every day. This leader should help your organization to set the off-premise sales strategy and should be able to help quantify the entire effort. They must have effective communication skills and restaurant operations based experience because solving for catering out of restaurants is a complex restaurant operations-based business challenge.
- To grow off-premise catering sales, you must be prepared to invest time and money in the right places. This means making the right investments in people and team development. In addition, you will require new technology investments to handle your catering program and to ensure success by putting the right tools into the hands of your catering team. By putting in the right team structure and procedures, you can use new technology to provide controls for best practices within your catering operation. As catering is a different business than your current day-to-day restaurant operations, so too is the entire workflow and business logic. Invest in the right people and the right systems from the beginning.
- Streamline your catering menu and think about centralized services. Your catering offerings are providing a different consumer solution set than your current products. To this end, you can create a new, streamlined experience that still represents your brand well, but one that removes the risks from the catering transaction. By focusing in on your core product, you will be a 'category killer' and this will allow you to scale and grow your catering sales through a predictable, repeatable and scalable experience. Knowing what you do well allows you to be an "expert" in your category, and all catering customers need "expert catering advice" to satisfy their purchasing decision.
To provide "expert advice" to your catering customers, consider setting up "catering experts" through a centralized phone number in order to mitigate the transaction risks with the customers. Building consumer trust is a key success characteristic for all catering transactions. Remove order entry from your stores where possible.