by STU LEVENTHAL
All restaurants that don’t cater, should consider adding catering to their services. It is a great way to increase sales. Parties, business meetings, social gatherings, special events can be a big source of added income. If you don’t cater, all that extra money is going to your competition. That means your competition can afford to pay their crew more than you do, so they eventually grow a better crew. They can afford to refurbish their dining room, purchase that new convention oven you’ve been eyeing and place more adds on the local radio station than you do. Even if their food doesn’t start out being better than yours, in the long run who do you think is going to be the last restaurant left on the block?
The restaurant business is very competitive if you want to play with the big boys and succeed you have to start thinking of ways to grow your business. Especially during tight money times, restaurants can no longer afford to pass up chances to make large sums of money from catering. It’s going to take a little effort to put together a competitive menu and implement a sales strategy plus train, everyone and purchase the necessary equipment and supplies but the effort will be well worth it. Just think of all the publicity your restaurant gains when it supplies a party that has over a hundred guests. All those guests, many who never ate at your establishment, now know how wonderful your food is. People love to talk about parties and the events they’ve been to and eventually the subject of how was the food comes up. Cater just a few events a month and you will be gaining more free word of mouth advertising than any radio spot or newspaper add could ever bring in.
*Here are some ‘getting started with catering’ tips for any restaurant who wishes to start cashing in, by claiming their piece of the catering pie in their neighborhood.
First off, we must recognize that implementing a major facet or as big a change as the decision to add catering into a structured organization like a restaurant, probably will have some impact on everyone in your organizations job responsibilities. Any move of that magnitude, influence or potential will definitely need to have a formal plan with a schedule for implementing each phase of the plan. A number of management meetings should be held before any significant moves are made or decisions locked up. Equipment needs to be priced then purchased. Room needs to me made for added storage. A lot of thought needs to be put into designing a catering menu that is competitive.
Every key player should be consulted when compiling a list of all the adaptations that will be necessary to add a catering service. Every department head and key player from; accounting, marketing, floor managers, Chefs, kitchen crew management, bar management, head waiters, dining-room managers and especially head hosts and hostesses, should be involved in the preliminary discussions. Remember, every staff member will probably be effected somewhat. So, each section’s leader will have to plan to notified, way in advance, their crew of what they as a team will be responsible for, as well as divvying out each individual crew member’s additional catering responsibilities and duties. Special roles will also have to be assigned and explained to certain people who will be playing a part in preparing for the restaurant’s big catering launch. Allowances will have to be made for the necessary time it’s going to take to train each crew member on their new catering responsibilities. Servers, hosts and anyone who answers the phone will need to rehearse scripts as to how to explain the new service.
When it comes to successful catering restaurants, there is always someone, one strong dedicated person, who drives the catering operation. This, ‘go to’ authority knows everything about anything to do with your restaurant’s catering; party scheduling, event planning, portioning, group pricing, discounting, menu variation and precise answers to any catering questions. He or she lives and breathes catering all day long. The goal of restaurant management, if you are just starting to add a catering service, is to at first be the ‘go to’ catering person or to assign someone capable to be the ‘go to’ catering person. The restaurant’s ‘go to’ catering specialist can still have other duties in the restaurant while the catering service is being built up but their first and foremost obligation must now be catering.
Management and ownership must support the catering specialist in every means possible and give them everything they need to succeed in building and executing catering sales and meeting established goals. The entire restaurant crew must be thoroughly sold on catering. Everyone must buy in and be prepared and enthused to do their part to make sure this dynamic, game changing opportunity is a success. Management‘s focus should be to build the volume of the newly implemented catering service up as fast as possible to justify the ‘go to’ catering person’s full salary being allocated completely to the new catering division. Thus, allowing the catering specialist to work solely on catering. It only takes the profit from a few catered events to cover the salary of a full time catering person. Once you’ve reached that amount, don’t hesitate to inform the catering specialist they now can dedicate 100% of their time to the catering business.
A lot of restaurant upper managements get gun shy when it comes to allocating a full time employee to their newly created catering service. They’ll print menus and put up posters, even pay for a few radio and newspaper advertisements but they hold off as long as possible before starting a catering payroll. This is a big mistake and by far the reason many catering divisions fail to grow into their full potentially of being a big, serious part of a restaurant’s revenues. If you make your catering specialist work in another section of the restaurant when there catering is slow or worse whenever there are no catering orders. Then who is going to grow your catering business? Sure, every once in a while you will get an order if everyone keeps talking up the new catering menu and service. But your catering service will never grow like it should and easily can unless you have at least one person dedicated to just pushing catering. So, the moment catering sales start covering your full time catering person’s salary take their name off of the kitchen or dining room’s payroll and inform them you want them to now dedicate themselves to working solely on catering.
As the orders grow, the back of the house crew members will have to be developed further to be able to produce the extra volume of products being sold by the catering person or division. The next biggest goal is to increase the catering volume so it is high enough that specific individuals of the kitchen crew can be designated to only work on catering. Congratulations, at this point you have arrived. Now you are a caterer! And believe me the other caterers in your neighborhood know you are a contender.
Get the right crew in the right jobs and your catering division can grow and grow like any other aspect of your business grows. You ultimately want to be in a position to hire full time catering sales people who work solely on commission which is figured into the sales price of the events. Thus the cost of paying the catering sales force is never an issue because they have to sell to get paid. You can now hire a bunch of them each assigned a separate territory or each specializing in selling to a specific catering client niche. Then, just cut them loose. But, you need to stay on top of the kitchen and make sure they can handle the added business and still complete all the functions you need them to continue doing for the main restaurant! You can’t allow the quality of your main restaurant to falter because of the added catering business. That would defeat the whole purpose of adding catering. Also, remember catering orders tend to come in sporadically so additional crew members may need to be hired, who are on-call and willing to work on an as need basis.