Off-premise orders are driving growth for restaurants, so how can you get your share? Adding catering to your business is one way to go. Sound intimidating? It doesn’t have to be. To help you take the leap, we’ve outlined the options so you can decide which type of catering would work best for your restaurant. Yes, there’s more than one way to cater!
The two main types of catering are full-service catering and drop-off catering. Opting for the traditional full-service catering route would mean investing in all the equipment needed to serve at functions, along with uniforms and training white-glove staff (yes, white gloves are still a thing when it comes to weddings and other formal events). Or you could go with drop-off catering—a great way to tap into the $21 billion (Technomic) that businesses spend bringing food in for meetings and office lunches. In the business world, customers are typically looking for drop-off, family-style meals. Both options will have different benefits for your business, so let’s take a deeper dive into each.
Full-service means exactly that: You’re responsible for the full catering experience. Delivery, dedicated staff to serve on site, serving equipment, and tableware and linens. It’s up to you to manage every detail, from taking the order, cooking and serving the food, to cleaning up at the end of the event and providing customer service throughout the experience. It can be a big undertaking so it’s important to assess everything it would take to duplicate your full restaurant experience off-site. On the plus side, white-glove service would let you charge a premium.
To get a full-service catering operation off the ground, you’ll need to invest significant time and money up front. Finding and training the right people, purchasing equipment, and technology, putting together the logistics for each function or event are all par for the course. These can be milestone events for customers—from weddings, galas and bar mitzvahs to annual sales meetings and awards functions, so it’s no surprise that customers can be demanding, emotional, and have high expectations.
What would be the impact on your day-to-day operations and overhead?
Some things to consider: what changes would you need to make to your current operations? What’s an appropriate menu with broad appeal? What’s easy to serve and travels well? Will you need to add new items? Be sure to budget for equipment, which can go from inexpensive utensils and chafing dishes to pricey items like a refrigerated truck or new kitchen equipment to meet order volume.
Taking and managing orders would also be your restaurant’s responsibility. And there’s no room for error. If you write down spam instead of ham, your customer will not be happy! Time is also of the essence. Your customers are likely sourcing multiple bids, so your staff would need to be on top of responding quickly and professionally. You’ll need to handle complaints and fix problems, too. It all takes time, effort, and money, but if you do full-service catering right, it can seriously increase revenue.
If full-service catering seems daunting, drop-off business catering could be a great alternative for your restaurant. Starting up a drop-off catering operation doesn’t typically require hiring more staff or buying expensive equipment. It can fit nicely into your regular restaurant operations and get you into the catering game quickly and easily.
Drop-off catering can also help you boost revenue by capitalizing on higher margins for larger order sizes and make better use of off-hour kitchen capacity by serving corporate customers. To start, you need to craft a group-friendly menu that focuses on family-style meals. Think beyond an individual serving to sandwich platters, large salad bowls, and entrée trays. Likewise, you’ll need to stock up on disposable half and full pans, platters, and disposable serving utensils.
What would it take for you to launch drop-off service?
Your kitchen would take on added responsibility, managing larger orders and preparing food, but you have easy options to outsource marketing, online ordering technology, and customer service. For example, an online marketplace, like ezCater, has a built-in customer base of businesspeople who are looking for restaurants who can deliver to their next sales pitch or office meal. Listing your restaurant on a marketplace gives your brand nationwide visibility to new customers, adding incremental value to your business. Using an online marketplace would save you the hassle of building the infrastructure to take catering orders online and can reduce the need to hire and train staff to take orders and handle service calls.
To maintain control of the customer experience, you could hire your own delivery people, but that would also mean extra responsibility. If you want to get up and running quickly, delivery is something you could easily outsource to a variety of third-party delivery services.
When it comes to customer service, the stakes are definitely high for business customers. You’re not the pizza delivery guy. As the caterer, you’re a key part of a business interaction helping your business customers pull off flawless meetings, from making a big sale, motivating a sales team, and impressing the board of directors. Every aspect of meetings—including the food— reflects positively or negatively on meeting planners. The last thing they need is for the food to arrive half an hour late—contending with ‘hangry’ executives and a pushed-back agenda. If you go with outsourcing delivery, it pays to research your potential partner’s track record for on-time delivery.
Whether you’re ready to build out a full-service or drop-off catering operation, here are some best practices that apply across the board.
- Keep the customer happy. You need to be rock solid on customer service. Be professional, courteous, and on time, every time. Put yourself in the shoes of the business person who is responsible for the meeting. The last thing your customer needs is to worry about is where the food is or what’s missing.
- Make ordering easy. Whether it’s in-person, on the phone, online, or via mobile app, placing orders should be easy and hassle-free. Make sure your staff is professional, knowledgeable, and friendly at every customer touch point, and that your online ordering portal is easy to navigate.
- Be a customer service ninja. When something goes wrong—which happens to everyone —you need a plan in place to quickly resolve the problem. Be sure your team is ready to help customers troubleshoot any concerns they have, promptly and courteously. Some restaurants choose to go with a catering marketplace that handles the customer service, which takes the burden off your staff and ensures customers always have a consistent, positive experience.
- Keep the conversation going. Show customers that you care about their experience by following up after each catering order. It can be as simple as a short email survey asking for feedback or a special offer to incentivize future orders. Consider implementing a loyalty program to reward frequent customers.
- Seize the marketing opportunity. Catering puts your restaurant in front of potential new customers. Dozens, sometimes even hundreds of people, get the opportunity to try and enjoy your food. Use catering as an opportunity to promote your restaurant and drive people to come eat there. Make sure your logo is prominent on delivery bags and include promotional codes that people can redeem when they visit your restaurant.
Now that you know the important differences between full-service and drop-off catering, you can choose which one is the right fit for you. Whichever option you go with, remember to follow these best practices to serve up a memorable catering experience.
Vice President of Caterer Partnerships at ezCater, Victoria Brady, spent nine years working her way up in the restaurant business. She’s been a server, hostess, trainer, shift manager, marketing manager, and general manager. At the Grafton Group, Victoria was a key player for several of their independent restaurants, as well as for Margarita’s, the highly successful, regional chain that tapped her to manage multiple locations. Most recently, Victoria was shaping up the fitness industry, helping to open a flagship location for Town Sports International – Boston Sports Club, and was general manager at another of their locations.