Creating a versatile catering menu that fits your concept and pleases your customers can be a challenge, but it’s extremely rewarding when the client is happy. There are a few steps you can take to understand your client’s needs and create a product that is unique to your brand. Because a creative catering menu stands out among competitors, this is a task that you will want to pay very close attention to.
Developing a Catering Menu
Size Up the Competition
Make note of the dishes your competitors offer as well as their pricing. You want to differentiate yourself from them, so steer clear of the same menu items. Getting a good idea of what other caterers offer will allow you to develop a marketable menu that is unique and competitively priced.
Choose Your Menu Items
After you have done some market research, you will have a good idea of what’s trending in the industry and how to better make your menu stand out. You will also know what kind of feel you want to convey to your customers. Now, let’s get down to the mechanics of choosing your menu items.
What is Your Concept?
If you want to create a successful catering brand, you need a consistent concept. Be sure your food matches the feel of your business. Keep your menu in line with your concept and with what you know how to do. That way your food will be consistently good, and you will send a clearer message of what you are all about. If your concept is catering “Southern Comfort Food” at special events, you probably shouldn’t offer sushi. If you know people are looking for sushi and you want to serve it, you should rethink your concept.
Let’s Talk Resources
The type of food you want to create will be limited to some degree by the resources at hand. Be sure that your kitchen, the skills of your employees, and the availability of ingredients are all on par with your menu concept. Time is also an important resource. This is one area where procrastination is a big no-no. Build your menu from dishes that can be prepared a day in advance, or at least a few hours in advance, like pasta salads, soups and casseroles. Plus, if you run out of an ingredient and need to make a quick run to the store, you’ll want that little extra wiggle room.
Transporting Your Food
You’ll want to serve foods that hold up well during transport and have equipment that ensures the food remains at proper temperature the whole time. If you’re preparing any menu items onsite, make sure you have the proper equipment to make that happen as well. Soups, braised dishes, breads, and chilled foods hold up well in a transport vehicle, so you may want to include these items on your menu.
That Little Thing Known as Food Cost
The cost of food should heavily influence the development of your catering menu. If all of your dishes include expensive ingredients like truffles, caviar and saffron, you will have to charge your clients accordingly to make a profit. Even gourmet caterers offer affordably-priced options for those clients who aren’t looking to break the bank on food for their events. When you provide menu options for an array of budgets, you increase your client-base.
Menu Versatility Goes a Long Way
Offering a variety of food types on your menu will assure that every client has options they can appreciate, whether it’s a company meeting over happy hour or a vegan birthday bash.
• Variety of ingredients. Offer dishes made of a variety of fruits, vegetables, proteins and sweets. That way, if there is something your customers do not like, they will have plenty of other options.
• Multiple preparation methods. You may want to offer grilled, braised, roasted, poached and fried items to please a range of tastes. This will also make it easier to prepare food with limited kitchen equipment.
• Range of mealtime options. Unless you only plan on running part-time, you may be contracted to cater brunches, lunches, dinners or late-night cocktail parties, so make sure you offer a good mix of dishes that are suitable for these different mealtimes.
• Options for those with food limitations. Be sure you have dishes on your menu for vegetarians, vegans, kosher eaters, diabetics and health-conscious diners.
• Variety of styles. While your concept will guide your choice of recipes, you should also make sure to offer dishes in a variety of styles, including both contemporary and classic items. For example, an Asian foods caterer may want to offer Asian fusion dishes like cheese cake egg rolls as well as classic recipes like sweet and sour chicken.
Customize for the Seasons
Stay in the know when it comes to changing seasons. In the summer, offer fresh, cool dishes like salads and fresh fruit. In the winter, offer game meats and winter vegetables like winter squash and yams. During the holiday season you also might want to offer seasonal foods, but make sure they fit with your concept. For example, a Mexican caterer might offer buñuelos, tamales and Mexican hot chocolate while a Southern food caterer might offer stuffed, slow-roasted turkey, pecan pie and eggnog.