It's here: the season of peak demand for a restaurant's catering services. Manage the crush more efficiently with these tips.

A successful drop-off catering day requires serious planning. By Wednesday afternoon at 5:00, for example, you and your staff should know how you are going to handle Thursday’s business. Whatever systems you have in place should be working to ensure that Thursday’s orders are produced to your specifications and delivered on time.

But what do you do on Thursday when two customers request food at the last minute? Your kitchen staff should easily be able to produce two more orders, but how do you get them delivered on time?

Following are six creative methods my clients at The Corporate Caterer have successfully utilized to solve the last-minute order delivery dilemma:

  1. Give yourself some time flexibility to double-up on deliveries. Your telephone answerer should be trained to determine the last-minute customer's actual eating time. Even if the customer requests an 11:30 delivery, he may not really need the food on the premises until 11:50 in order for it to be served at noon. This way, a driver with an 11:30 delivery could also take the new 11:50 order. Going further, you could call the original 11:30 delivery and ask them if it would be OK to arrive just 10 minutes earlier. This gives your driver even more time. Most existing customers will agree to this if you don't request this accommodation too often.
  2. Carefully analyze the day's orders. If you have a simple box lunch order for 10 scheduled to be delivered at 11:30 to a large office, make a call to see if the office has a refrigerator large enough to keep their lunches cold. Be honest and explain that you are extremely busy and ask for the accommodation. If your customer gives the OK, deliver that order ASAP, even if it's only 9:30. We both know that it doesn't make much difference if the already prepared box lunches sit in your refrigerator or your customer's. Now you have a driver available for the new order. Again, don't use this trick too often with the same customer.

  1. Every employee is a potential driver. Team them up to get the job done! If your dishwasher does not speak English, for example, and your office manager is not able to lift heavy boxes, you may have a match made in catering heaven. Have the office manager drive the dishwasher to the location. The manager can properly communicate with the customer, while the dishwasher can haul in and set up the order.

  1. Call Aunt Ruth and Uncle Billy. Obviously, not all drop-off orders are suitable for what I call "amateur delivery." But many are, and if your relatives are available, they may be happy to help you out on a busy day. If you've really planned ahead, you will have previously "trained" Ruth and Billy in the rudimentary skills of drop-off delivery, and they'll be set to go.

  1. Call those who make money from your business. Accountants, attorneys, insurance agents, and especially Sysco reps all have cars, and therefore they are all potential drivers. All they need is a 45-minute window to put an order in their car and deliver it. Never say never. Several of my clients have gotten through a difficult delivery day because they took a chance and made a phone call.

  1. Train a local courier service to take your orders. One Midwest client often used Quicksilver Messenger Service to deliver catering orders on time. They started with simple box lunch orders, but after six months, Quicksilver was setting up hot buffets! If you've trained your staff to deliver properly, you can train the staff at a courier service to do the same thing. If the courier company senses a load of repeat business, you will find a willing delivery partner who will be willing and able to respond quickly to your needs.

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.

Expert Takes, Feature