Oct 19 2018
Jim Rand
4 Minutes to read
This article is part of a series called “Getting Off-Premises”, which examines how to build an off-premises business.

Is Catering Right for Your Business: Fit and Philosophy

Jim Rand

By Jim Rand, catering practice leader.

Take a good look at the people you work with. Your servers in the busy dining room. The kitchen manager and line cooks in the back. The top executives and/or owners who make your brand viable. When launching a catering business, these people will impact the success of your venture (Read more about building a catering business and focusing on a customer segment).

After all, any business is only as good as the team that helps run it. If the team isn’t behind you, service could erode. If top-level leadership doesn’t have skin in the game, the momentum of your catering strategy could grind to a halt. Bad management, bad customer service, and ineffective marketing will hurt a fledgling business over time. Increase your odds of success and rally support.

Support from Leadership

A business plan can go off track pretty quickly without the support of your leadership team. Great leadership can draw attention to, and provide resources for, projects, as well as create policies, practices, and actionable plans to support your catering strategy. While it’s easy to dress the part, and “talk the talk,” make sure your leaders assure follow-through and hold people accountable when deadlines arrive—and “walk the walk,” too.

At a minimum, the leadership team should update you with regular progress reports on your catering program. When strategy discussions take place every month, quarter, and year, catering should stay top of mind. By checking in with your leadership team, you ensure that momentum isn’t lost—so your company steadily meets goals.

These goals can’t be abstract. Members of your leadership need to break down your catering strategy into smaller sub-goals—and dole out those projects to the rest of your team.

Top leaders will have to play a hands-on role and:

  • Stay firmly committed to the short- and long-term success of your catering program; commitment—or lack thereof—is contagious
  • Set the right tone to win the team’s unwavering commitment
  • Make a plan with measurable, actionable goals (qualitative and quantitative)
  • Communicate priorities regularly so the entire team internalizes goals
  • Hold check-ins to keep people focused on the right priorities
  • Hold employees accountable for deadlines

Gaining Company-Wide Commitment 

catering business strategy

Once leadership support is in place, you must cultivate employee incentives and drive motivation around your catering program. This entails educating the team on the threats and the benefits of launching a catering program. The team needs to see not just the big picture but the tangibles:

  • What could happen to your restaurant if you don’t pursue this venture?
  • What could everyone stand to gain if you do?
  • Will sales go up, resulting in bonuses?
  • Will new stores be opened, allowing for promotions?
  • Does the catering program allow individuals to advance their career goals?

Once managers and employees understand that the catering strategy is a company-wide priority, they’re more likely to opt in.

Also, leaders should create the expectation that roadblocks—logistical, financial, or labor-related—are not excuses for de-prioritizing the goals of your catering strategy. Faced with challenges, like a worker shortage or service hiccups, the team should be taught to ask for support. Such as asking other team members to pitch in and help with a last-minute catering order. Or requesting additional resources to execute a longer-term project, like creating a dedicated catering area to handle increased order volume.

If the team keeps responding to a challenge with “No, I can’t do it,” turn that statement into a question. Ask them, “What would it take to make your answer a ‘yes’?” Then provide them with the necessary resources to follow through. Find ways to circumvent such obstacles so that your catering program is never put on the back burner.

Even with the best teams, a catering business plan doesn’t come to fruition overnight. If, in six months, you don’t see the results you want, don’t scuttle your catering strategy. Budget for at least a year. This will give you enough time to evaluate the merits of your catering business based on sales and year-over-year profits. While a single person can erode the momentum of your business, a committed team can push it forward.

So you want to start a catering business. Do the math first to figure out whether it’s right for you.

Learn more here

Jim Rand

Written by:

Jim Rand

Jim Rand has over 40 years of restaurant-industry experience. Jim serves as Operating Partner of Off-Premises Sales at Act III Holdings. From 2016 to 2018, he was Vice President of Off-Premises Dining at P.F. Chang's. Prior to that role, he served as Vice President of Catering at Panera Bread for nearly a decade. A respected voice in the restaurant industry, Jim works to provide the very best solutions to help restaurants grow their catering businesses.

Posted in: Food at WorkRestaurant

Tagged with: Budgeting, Finances, Getting Off-Premises, Marketing, Order Experience, Order Prep, Staffing