These tips can help restaurants cater their way to success.

Most restaurants know to expect a slump in business during December. According to a study conducted by Blue Sky Local, 61 percent of restaurants will see a decline during that month, mostly due to customers spending time with family and friends or heading out to a company holiday party. With nearly two thirds of human resources professionals reporting they will have an end of year party for their employees, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, incorporating a catering aspect to your restaurant can have a serious impact on your bottom line.

During the holiday season, we see our catering sales increase by 64 percent compared to the rest of the year. It’s a great way to supplement the in-house holiday slump, and it’s perfect way to get in front of the December market that’s taken a break from eating out.

Whether your business is just entering the catering field for the holidays or you could use a little help climbing out of the slow season trenches, here are some tips to get the most out of offering holiday catering:

1. Keep Your Catering Menu Concise

You menu shouldn’t be an exact replica of what you offer in your restaurant. Too many choices can be overwhelming, especially when ordering for large groups. Keep your catering menu to what travels well, what can be prepared off-site and your best sellers.

2. Provide Options for all Dietary Restrictions

The larger the group, the more likely there is someone who is a vegetarian or requires a gluten-free diet. Some HR managers choose their caterer based on whether everyone in their party can be easily accommodated, so offer these accommodations up front by highlighting their availability on your menu.

3. Don’t Forgo Presentation

Just because you’re offering your menu items in bulk doesn’t mean it should look any less appealing than it does inside the restaurant. People eat with their eyes first, and a beautiful presentation is sure to be remembered, possibly leading to more catering business throughout the year.

4. Offer Options for How Food is Served

Clients appreciate the ability to choose between a buffet or a sit-down dinner. Make sure you have the equipment and the staff necessary to offer both options, and make sure to market the choice to potential clients.

5. Network, Network, Network

Catering and event logistics can be extremely stressful. It’s easy to forget to come out between servings to talk to guests, but allowing them to put a face and name to an experience, as well as distributing business cards, can mean the difference between a satisfied diner and a satisfied potential client. If they’re impressed with your work, it could be their next holiday party or even mid-year event that you’ll be catering soon.

6. Secure Positive Reviews

Did your client have an amazing experience with you? Make sure they tell the world. Whether it’s a review on your Yelp page, your Facebook page, your Google business page or elsewhere, people make decisions based on the opinions of their peers.

7. Ensure Quality in the Face of Quantity

Whether it’s the food itself or the people serving it, always put your best foot forward. Your catering staff can come from some of your best servers looking to do a bit more, and your chefs should cook to impress.

My biggest tip of all is to be flexible, but not too flexible. While you can’t be all things to all people in terms of the type of food you serve—a Tex-Mex restaurant wouldn’t serve Thai food just because a potential client thinks it’s a good idea—you can be flexible. Work with your potential clients on dates, times, and bend where you can to make their event as seamless as possible.

People remember the other people who made their life easier. Word-of-mouth is a powerful marketing tool that can land you more business, both for the catering arm of your restaurant and the restaurant itself.


Expert Takes, Feature