Catering can be one way for traditional restaurateurs to improve revenue. When you already have a kitchen, dedicated patrons and a successful menu, adding the additional operational strategy can be a significant yet beneficial change.
Benefits of Restaurant Catering
Improved exposure. Catering is another way to bring customers inside your establishment,. It’s also a good way to increase your exposure outside of your four walls. When you cater off-site events, people who have never visited your restaurant get the chance to try your food for the first time, be impressed and become regulars.
Higher Profits. Most restaurants choose to add catering to the mix in order to raise revenue. Independent restaurants and chains alike can see success. Catering gives your customers another way to utilize your services when a customer needs more than traditional dining options.
Enhanced Image. Catering lets customers know that you want to serve them as best as you can, in whatever way you can. When customers have a number of ways to receive the food they love, often your reputation improves automatically. However, it’s important to keep in mind that existing customers will call on your catering services because they love what you already offer. Do not take on more than you can handle or compromise on quality, or you could end up worse off than you began.
Choosing a Catering Style
Catering can mean different things to different restaurants. Assess your own restaurant’s operational style and consider what type of catering service is most feasible. Many of these typical events can be catered either on or off-site, depending on the restaurant’s space and services:
- Graduation parties
- Wedding receptions
- Business lunches
- Corporate events
- Tour groups
- Field trips
- Holiday dinners
- Outdoor picnics
On-site catering requires a space that can be somehow separated from the traditional dining room. Off-site events can take many forms, and you’ll need to determine what level of service your business can offer. In 2011, restaurant chain Dickey’s Barbeque Pit added a catering hotline service to its business model. After only one year, the restaurant’s sales shot up 58 percent, with $2.6 million attributed to this new service. President of Dickey’s BBQ Restaurants, Inc., said “Our national catering hotline… allowed us to better serve our customers so that they have an enhanced catering experience—the result has been extremely positive.” Source
On and Off-site Catering
A restaurant with a banquet hall or a private dining room make perfect opportunities for on-site catering. Many bar-and-grill operations provide on-site catering by designating a section of the dining room for groups or special events. On the other hand, preparing food from your commercial kitchen to be served at another location is also a very common form of catering. Here are some events that restaurants may cater off-site:
Full-service catering. This is perhaps the most time-consuming and challenging. Providing full-service catering options means cooking, transporting, setting up, serving, cleaning up, tearing down, and removing all food, service items and décor.
Drop off/pick up catering. Some restaurants offer options for pick-up, drop-off, or both. This may not include any set-up, and does not involve buffet or waiter service. It’s up to the restaurant to include delivery options (drop-off), as this could involve greater liability issues.
Boxed lunch catering. Boxed catering usually involves a set pre-packaged menu items in single-serving boxes. Box lunches are popular for tour groups and corporate lunches. There is often minimum order rule.
Invest in the Right Equipment
When you already have a commercial kitchen, most of your worries are behind you. But depending on the type of catering you choose, you may need a few key items to maintain food integrity, safety, and presentation:
Serving Dishes. When serving or delivering a large amount of hot food for a reception, party or event, you need a dish to hold the food and keep it warm if needed. Depending on the level of service, this may mean chafing dishes or full-size aluminum food containers.
Food Carriers. Minimize the risk of delivering food by using insulated food carriers. These are most important for restaurants delivering food from long-distances or where the time between preparation and consumption is extensive.
Cutlery. Many restaurants that offer catering services opt for disposable cutlery which is ideal for pick-up, drop-off and casual event catering. For full-service or formal events, consider an extra set of flatware.
Catering Menus are Essential
- Qdoba Mexican Grill provides specially portioned “taco bar” packages to serve a variety of group sizes.
- Mad Greens has similar offers, with boxed lunches, made-to-order group packages, and add-ons like soups, side salads and sweets.
- Macaroni Grill features catering services in select locations, with a separate catering menu visible online.
- Panera Bread caters items like hot breakfasts, box lunches, soups and treats. Their catering-specific website offers details on their different boxed specials, including information on how many people a box will feed, any allergy information, and pricing.
Catering Service Essentials
There are a few things to make sure you have covered as you start a catering business model. This will help provide some foundations for your program and help ensure a profitable venture for you.
Provide a Catering Menu. Whether you run a taco truck or a fine dining restaurant, make sure customers know what items are available for catering services. You may want to develop a completely separate catering menu than your regular restaurant menu. Always communicate any pricing differences between a regular menu and a catering menu. Learn more about developing a catering menu
Secure Number Commitments. When providing catering services, you’ll ensure a profit when you receive firm plans. Make sure you ask for a headcount or a minimum number of guests in advance. This ensures that you can deliver, that you make your anticipated, and your guest walks away satisfied.
Be dependable.Whether you need to arrange a pick-up time or agree on the number of hours required for food service at the event itself, be sure you have a clear idea of timing. Agree on a time with your client, and you will be able to plan, prepare and schedule accordingly.
When you are known for quality, customers will return to your restaurant again and again for good food and good service. If you decide to try adding catering to your concept, be sure these values never slip. Maintaining your strong brand and your high standards is the only way to succeed.