8 takeaways to build catering sales
Off-premise catering can generate big bucks for restaurants. Catering racked up $52.3 billion in 2015, and 64% of off-premise catering dollars were spent at restaurants, according to Technomic’s Catering Insights Report.
But how can noncommercial operators get a bigger chunk of those catering dollars? That was the question addressed by six consumer panelists during Technomic’s Restaurant Trends & Directions Conference, held last week in Chicago. The panel included a pharmaceutical rep, a software sales rep, an executive assistant for a manufacturing firm and an administrative coordinator for a staffing company—all of whom purchase catered office meals on a regular basis—plus two consumers who arrange catered social events.
These are eight best practices they shared with the audience.
1. Reliability and accuracy top the list
Getting the order right and delivering it on time are the most important attributes—the characteristics that separate the good from the best, panelists agreed. But they will allow a caterer to make a mistake and rectify it with an immediate replacement or a credit. Service is important too—but more than one mistake, and chances are they will take their business elsewhere.
3. ...but more personal
In contrast, the social catering consumers and the executive assistant prefer to phone in their orders so they can speak with a team member and develop a relationship. At office meetings, the composition of the groups varies, they said, and they like to ask questions and get personal menu recommendations, advice on quantities to order and other details.
5. Presentation and packaging is key
When these catering customers spread out a meal in a conference room or at a party, they want it to look appetizing and convey quality. Clear tops on salad containers send a message of freshness, for example, and trays with attractively arranged sandwiches, displayed so the contents are visible, are a plus.
6. Keep the hassle out of delivery
A couple of the panelists have tried third-party delivery services, like Postmates and DoorDash, for catering orders; but they prefer working directly with the caterer. Sometimes the delivery services drop the whole order in the lobby of an office building and the customer has to go down and carry it up himself, quipped one panelist. Or they charge by distance, which amounts to more than the usual $30 flat fee charged by the caterer. In the end, they preferred a caterer that delivers to the door and helps arrange the food.
7. Think beyond lunch
True, lunch business makes up about 70% of corporate catering orders, but breakfast and snacks are gaining ground, according to the panelists. Breakfast meetings account for 20 to 30% of catering orders these days, and snack occasions are on the rise, especially for the increasing number of afternoon meetings scheduled between 2 and 5 p.m. One panelist calls in appetizer platters, nuts and cookies for this afternoon time slot. The social caterers, on the other hand, are primarily brunch and dinner customers.
8. Get in the game
The panelists said they tend to return to three of four caterers that have proved to be reliable, responsive and well priced. But other operators may win their business if they have a good reputation and can deliver on these same qualities. Caterers should go after the decision makers—the executive assistants, sales reps and office managers. Smart marketing tactics suggested by the panel include free samples or a free catered lunch, discount coupons to try the food, flyers handed out in the office lobby and special promotions.