Craving Chinese food? When you just need orange chicken, chances are, you turn to Panda Express. Andrew and Peggy Cherng founded Panda Express back in 1983. It was designed as a casual offshoot of their successful Chinese-American restaurant, Panda Inn, in California. Today, Panda Express is one of the most dependable restaurants for satisfying, flavorful Chinese-American food. And the chain is growing fast, with more than 1,700 locations across the country, as Business Insider notes.
As you might expect, Panda Express catering is just as robust. Lourdes Sanchez, the company’s Florida Catering Sales Manager, talks about how they keep up their high standards of service and quality when it comes to catering.
Originally, we were gourmet Chinese food. Now, we are more family-oriented. The focus is on putting out hot, yummy Asian-American food at a great price point. The orange chicken, however, has been a menu mainstay. It’s still our best-selling dish.
Catering is important to us because it’s a great way to reach our current guests for their in-office luncheons and lunch and learns. And it’s also a great way to reach anyone who hasn’t tried us yet. It’s a way to earn loyal guests. With catering, you also have more of an opportunity for branding and marketing. It’s just a way to expose what we offer outside of the four walls of the restaurant.
The menu items themselves are pretty similar. The difference is how we offer them. In the store, you have the option of getting either a two-entree plate or a three-entree plate. And each comes with a side.
For Panda Express catering, we recently switched to a per-person model. That means that the person placing the order chooses entrees and a side — just like they would in the restaurant — and then specifies how many people in their party. We want guests to be able to just say, “we have 20 people,” instead of figuring out how many trays of food to purchase. Also, it’s a more familiar format to what guests know in the restaurant, where everything is set up buffet-style.
One of the things we are most proud of at Panda Express is that we are very strong in our operations. Everything is cooked according to a recipe with a specific amount of vegetables and sauces. You can go to any Panda Express and find all the same items in the same place. Our chefs are testing constantly to make sure the quality is the same, and that there is consistency.
Orange chicken is our best-selling item nationwide. It’s a secret recipe that people always try to duplicate. But their versions are never the same. Vegetable fried rice and vegetable chow mein are also very popular. We have a lot of guests that are vegetarian, so these are excellent meatless options. We cut our veggies fresh every day. Guests can taste that.
Once the order comes in, we decide which store will be taking care of the catering. Here in Orlando, we have a lot of stores in close proximity. So we determine which store can best handle the order. The orders usually come in within 24 hours, so the day before, we make sure the settings, the drinks, everything is all set and laid out. We don’t cook the food until 30 to 40 minutes before the order goes out. We want it to be fresh.
And then, everything gets packaged up neatly and our team heads out. We don’t deliver to further than 10 miles away. So wherever we deliver to is going to be, tops, 10 to 15 minutes from our store. And then, we set up, and make sure everything is to the guest’s request.
I work very closely with the catering team. I actually verify every single order the morning of to make sure it meets our standards. And then, I follow up on each and every single order after delivery to see if there is anything that we can do better next time.
The biggest struggles have to do with delivery — trying to find addresses. Sometimes guests will provide incomplete addresses. Or, the GPS will take us in the wrong direction.
You should have one central person in charge of overseeing all of the catering. In my experience, when I am not involved in streamlining communication, we run into more inconveniences. Having one person overlooking the process makes sure everything is done on time and the guest is happy.
Also, make sure the food is fresh and hot. Make sure to verify the addresses before the delivery. That will save you a lot of time. And most importantly, follow up with the guest to make sure they are happy. Ask what you can do better. Without the guest, we wouldn’t be here. So whatever you can do to improve is a must. Constant communication is key.
Are you looking for more expert catering tips? Check out this Q&A with Chicago’s popular Yum Dum truck.