Take stock of these troubleshooting tips from operators.
Prior to 2014, University of Michigan’s catering program consisted of different menus and staff for various facilities around campus. “We got all the menus together, and came up with one menu for all areas to become more efficient—and we drove down costs,” Shrivastav said. “We got people to work together as a team. Having separate buildings, everyone was competing against each other. Everyone thought their event had to be better than the other people’s events.”
Don’t forget your core customer
“When you’re doing catering, you have to look at what else you have going on that’s already resident-associated,” Ellis says. “You don’t want to displace the residents to take on additional pieces of business.” In the case of a conflict, suggest an alternate event date or location that puts residential or primary diners ahead of additional catering business.
Managing feast or famine
Unlike daily services, catering will ebb and flow. “One day you have nothing; one day you have everything,” Shrivastav says. He manages the high times by recruiting residential staff to work on catering projects. “We have dining halls loaded with chef de cuisines,” he says. “I engage them in catering events, and they enjoy it because it’s something different. They’ve stepped in and done fantastic cheese boards and veggie platters.” When unable to shift in-house staff to cover larger events, Ellis says he will call in temporary workers as needed.