Thinking about starting a restaurant catering program can be intimidating, especially with all of the other things you have to worry about within the restaurant.
I promise you though once you get the program started you will not regret. Catering can add a level of sales that can help you restaurant out tremendously. We used catering to see over 10% sales growth for multiple years in a row.
All it takes is one healthy catering order on a slow Monday to start your week off right!
Here are a few thoughts on how to start your restaurant catering program.
Do Some Research on Your Catering Competition
The first thing you should do is research your competition. Look at those companies that just offer catering as well as other local restaurants that offer catering.
Don’t worry about national chain restaurants at this point, your main competition will be other local restaurants. To start you just want to be a step above these guys since you will be grouped in the same category as them.
Browse their websites, get some of their menus. Call them up and ask for a quote!
This will give you a lot of good information. Did they answer the phone? Where they helpful? Friendly? Speaking with your catering competition will possibly give you some ideas on how you can differentiate your services.
For example, we here all the time that some of our competitors take days to send quotes or even just respond to emails. Every time we hear this it reminds us that we always have to answer the phone and get those quotes out as soon as possible.
Fortunately our catering software simplifies the quote and follow up process.
After you feel like you have done a good amount of research on your competition, I would also encourage you to place an order with one of the top 3 competitors.
Maybe get quotes from all three and then place an actual order to see how they operate. Did they arrive on time? Was there plenty of food? Was their staff friendly?
Take notes throughout the entire process so you can get an idea of how you want your restaurant catering program to operate.
The good thing is while there may be hundreds of restaurants in your area competing for the same dollars, there will be a lot less caterers going after those dollars.
OK so you have done your homework and have a pretty good idea of where you want to go with your catering program, now you need to design a menu.
Since you are just starting out, keep it simple!
A one page menu will do just fine, this will give you space to list several options on the front and on the back. If you have a couple popular entrees in the restaurant, those will be perfect for your catering menu.
Since you already know they are hits, this will ensure your first couple catering customers get your most delicious food. After you get going, you can introduce new menu items or specials.
I would also recommend pricing your menu by the person instead of offering packages that serve X amount of people. The reason for this is you might discourage customers from ordering if they have a guest count that is in between packages.
Designing a menu does not have to be a difficult process. There are cheap programs available that make this process easy for anyone to design a menu, even restaurant owners!
Train Your Staff for Catering
Practice, practice, practice! If you are going to launch a new catering program out of your restaurant you better be ready to go right out of the gates.
You know in the hospitality industry we usually only get one chance to impress our guests. Well this concept is even more important with catering customers because the lifetime value is so much higher!
Once you get your menu setup and some equipment do some role playing. Take a fake order but set it up for real for your staff. They will love the free food and you will love the experience!
Do some more research (especially on this siteJ) about how to setup and organize catering orders. However, sometimes experience is the best teacher. You just have to say yes when customers ask for things on catering orders and find a way to get it done.
This is the only way you will grow, by stepping out of your comfort zone. So make sure you train your staff on the basics like taking catering orders, setting up catering orders, etc. but don’t be afraid to take an order for something you have never done before!
Get the Word Out
We have written several other articles on this site about how to increase your catering sales but the quickest and easiest way to start getting catering orders is to get the word out!
Hand out menus in your restaurant. Do you know how many of your dining room customers might order catering lunches for the offices they work for? Of how many might have graduation parties coming up?
There are hundreds of reasons for people to order catering, start with the customers you already have a relationship with.
Next visit all of the local businesses that surround your restaurant. Bring them menus and samples of your catering packs. This might sound expensive but I promise it is the best way to get new customers.
While you are there try to get the contact information for the person who usually places the orders. You can then send follow up emails or postcards with catering specials to that person so they are constantly reminded of you catering services.
There are many ways to get the word out but start here. This should give you enough work to do to get started and get your first couple catering orders under your belt.
Invest in Catering Software
This is a critical component. If you can afford to invest in some catering software as soon as you get you menu developed.
Or you can wait until you start getting some orders but the level of perceived professionalism catering software can provide is well worth the costs.
I’m speaking of the software we use, so at least this one is capable of these features. From the start, you can send professional looking invoices/quotes/order confirmations to your customer that have your logo and all of the order details.
In each customer profile you will have access to previous orders, stored credit card information and all of their delivery addresses. This saves you hours upon hours over the course of a year not having to ask the customer every time they call what they want and their address or payment info.
You can even label customers as prospects that haven’t ordered from you before and send them special offers.
You can see my full review of the catering software we use here. I just wanted to briefly emphasize the importance and value a quality catering software program can bring to your operation.