Make your move quickly to capitalize on fourth quarter catering sales.

Fourth quarter holiday catering is all about supply and demand. There are only a few weeks before “Holiday Demand 2015” is at its peak. What can your restaurant do in this short period of time to capitalize on these available sales?

You can follow the 3 “do’s:”

  • Know what you can DO

  • Don’t DO it because you see big $$ signs

  • Market that you can DO it

WORDS OF WISDOM: Before, let me repeat, BEFORE, you connect with that catering client by phone or email in late October or November about a holiday event, you MUST have answers to all of their questions and any marketing materials ready to send immediately. Have special holiday menus and pricing already set and ready to send to clients as soon as they contact you. At this point, they are panicking. If you don’t have the answers to their questions and can’t send them information in the five minutes after you end your conversation with them, they are on to the next catering company. They will not wait for you to get them an answer 24 hours later.

So, let’s get you prepared to take advantage of this demanding but profitable season.

Know what you can DO

Decide immediately if you want to cater events that include food and labor, or if you only want to offer “drop-off” catering, including or not including setup.

Drop-off catering is defined as food that is delivered and “dropped off” at the client’s location. If hot, it is usually ready to eat. Don’t make all of your menus hot and ready to eat. You will eliminate potential clients. Why not have the food already prepared and ready to reheat if necessary? Provide the client with DETAILED instructions. And make sure the instructions are simple enough for a fifth-grader to understand and follow. Never assume that any of your clients cook. Most don’t, and most don’t even know how to reheat properly. Instructions for reheating can never be too simple.

If the client would like you to set up their food on a table, have the right staff in place that can do this task. Charge the client not only for delivery of the food, but the setup of the food. My company charges $38 for a delivery Monday through Friday, and $50 on Saturday. If a staff person has to set up the food, we charge anywhere from $75 to $150 for the setup. Why? Because you want to maximize your money earned. The same delivery person could be delivering a lot of drop-offs during the time they are setting up one for a client.

If you want to provide full-service catering, make sure you have a list of qualified waiters, kitchen staff, and bartenders available, especially on Friday and Saturday, December 11 and 12. Those are the two busiest holiday days of the year. Staff is in short supply. If your food is delicious but your staff lacks knowledge of your food, decorum in dealing with clients, and in essence doesn’t know how to be a great waiter, the client will remember the staff, not your food.

Know what food can travel to an event and not lose quality. Also know what food can “hold” for extended periods of time.

Don’t DO it because you see big $$ signs

If the largest event you have ever catered off-site and full-service is 50, don’t take the party for 500, even though it would be a great profit. Jumping from 50 to 500 is too big of a jump without being competent in events for 250-300. Your reputation is on the line. It’s hard to gain back good word of mouth when you totally mess up in front of 500 guests. Someone will definitely “Yelp” it—and, well, you know how that goes.

Box lunches are a great example of this mistake. Box lunches are easy and simple, and I’ve seen companies make the mistake of taking huge box lunch orders of 600 or more without realizing—until they are putting together all of those lunches—that they don't have enough storage room in the walk-in, or an easy way to deliver the order.

Also, you must be confident in your pricing before you take on a large event. Confident does not mean that you are guessing at the recipe costs. Recipe cards must be priced out and updated. You must charge the client for labor and any items that you are providing them, including plates, glasses, utensils, serving equipment, ice, and so on. So many restaurants (and caterers) don’t know their pricing to the penny (yes, I said to the penny) before they send out a proposal. They end up losing money, making the event a big waste of everyone’s time and not worth it.

Market that you can DO it

I’ve been in the catering business for more than 23 years. My catering company, The Festive Kitchen, was just voted “Reader’s Choice Best Caterer in Big D” by D Magazine. My company has two gourmet take-home catering food shops. We offer hors d’oeuvres, desserts, dinner entrees, and other items at these food shops. We have signs and accolades on the walls about our catering service. We have a flat-screen TV that runs constantly with a slideshow of our catered events. On every food shop menu, there is contact info about our catering department, but many of our food shop customers do not know we cater. We are constantly reinforcing to our clients that we cater.

The same is true for a restaurant owner. You must implement marketing tactics to spread the word. Here are some ideas on how to “spread the catering word” about your restaurant.

  • Before the entrée is delivered at your restaurant, provide an amuse-bouche that can only be ordered for a catered event. Or when the check arrives, offer a small bite of a dessert that is catering exclusive. Train your staff well to explain about your catering.

  • Got a wait? Have a waiter pass hors d’oeuvres on a nice garnished platter, just as you would at a catered event. At the same time, hand out a mini catering menu to the customers.

  • If your restaurant has a valet, have the valet place a mini catering menu on the car seat or a petite sweet that is only available from your catering menu.

There are a lot of catering companies that would love to have the opportunity that you do to cater to your existing restaurant database. They would also like to be operating a business where their overhead is already paid like yours is with your restaurant sales. You have a gold mine of catering profits right in your backyard. Act now while demand is high, and explode the bottom line of your company with catering profits.

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


Expert Takes, Feature