4 Simple Ways to Improve the Customer Experience at Your Catering Business
By Jim Rand, catering practice leader.
This article covers Step 2 of my four-step formula for building a strong catering business. (If you haven’t read Step 1, on building a strong foundation for your business, start here.)
You’ve built a solid foundation for your catering program, but to succeed over the long term, you must create a memorable customer experience. Do this in ways that stay on brand for both your dine-in and catering customers. Keep reading to learn how.
1. Reflect Your Brand Promise in Your Catering Service
To meet customer expectations, your catering service should more or less recreate what you do inside your restaurant. If your restaurant crafts elaborately plated meals, your customers will probably expect your catering to come in silver chafers. Customer expectations are based on the brand promise of your restaurant. When your business and your brand are in sync, this is called brand alignment. When deciding on the level of catering service you’ll offer (see the list below), concentrate on customer expectations. Also think about how equipped and staffed you are to handle each service.
Types of catering services:
- On-site setup
- Attended service
- Full-service catering (weddings, anniversaries, birthday parties)
Here are some examples of brand alignment to show you how to reflect your brand promise in your catering service:
- A sandwich concept is straightforward, generally requiring only pickup or delivery.
- A fast-casual restaurant may require on-site setup for a hot item buffet.
- A build-your-own grain bowl concept—in which customers point to the items they want—creates a challenge to brand alignment. Delivering fully assembled dishes removes the customers’ ability to customize, so catering for that concept may require attended service.
- A fine dining concept likely will provide hot buffet service with stainless or silver chafers, as well as attendants to rotate and replenish pans and break down the buffet when finished.
2. Wrap Up Everything—and Everyone—in Your Brand Logo
Don’t restrict branding to a logo—use it as a central idea for your catering business.
- Brand the catering. An inexpensive way to do that is with paper bags bearing a logoed sticker. Small print shops can make those stickers for you. If your food is on a buffet line, use a branded table card to describe and identify the dish as being from your catering company.
- Brand your content. All content—copy on menus, websites, and marketing collateral—must be consistent with your restaurant brand—and emphasize catering in the name.
- Brand everything and everybody. Employee uniforms, delivery vehicles, and equipment should bear your catering brand.
3. Satisfy Customers at Every Touch Point
Every interaction with a customer—a phone call or the moment a customer sees signage or an online ad—is a touch point. Master these touch points to build a long-term relationship with your customers:
- Menu knowledge: Train order takers to know the menu so they can answer questions and make substitutions and suggestions.
- Train staff as “company representatives”: Employees represent the brand, so when they’re sent to offices or homes to set up food, they must know to respect customers within those unique surroundings.
- Dedicate an order pickup space in your restaurant: Don’t leave guests wandering around your restaurant; post signage directing them to your order pickup spot.
- No space inside? Go curbside: Key to succeeding with curbside delivery is developing procedures for directing customers to those parking spots, and using omni-channel means of letting the restaurant know when they arrive outside.
4. Strengthen Customer Relationships with Great Staff
Customers initially visit restaurants for food, but they often return because of long-time relationships formed with the staff. So, find great team members who have a passion for customer service. These people seek to say “yes.” For catering customers, systematically perform care calls to ask them about their experiences. These calls provide feedback and opportunities to correct mistakes. It shows you’re paying attention.
The proper customer experience produces lifetime, loyal clients. Wow your customers as much with the experience as with your food.