Wedding planning doesn’t always bring out the best in stressed brides. But for Lee Bradley, the director of sales at SF Catering Company, her big day wound up to be more than a celebration. It changed her career path, too.
“I planned my wedding and thoroughly enjoyed it,” said Bradley, who previously worked in sales and found “a perfect meld of both worlds, of sales and events,” at SF Catering Company.
“It was fun taking things like colors and table layouts seriously,” she added. Throughout the planning process, she learned how “to create different kinds of vibes for different spaces,” a skill she now brings with her on the job.
While San Francisco’s reputation for fine dining can be overwhelming for busy office managers trying to navigate corporate catering and stick to a budget, SF Catering Company strives to make the process easy—and fun.
“I think that’s the number one mission,” Bradley said. “Just make it easy on the client and try to remind them that this doesn’t have to be stressful. This is all fun stuff, and we’re here to help them feel confident in their choices.”
This approach led to explosive growth for the company. Based in Pleasanton, California, SF Catering Company has broadened its reach to 12 cities in the past three years. Its service area now extends from the East Bay and along the California coastline in both directions, from Napa to Santa Cruz.
“There seems to be this need for catering” in the Bay Area, said Bradley. “From offices who need lunches and breakfasts, to people who need private events in their home.”
When asked how SF Catering Company’s business model fostered such rapid expansion, Bradley said she thinks it comes down to one thing: communicating clearly with its customers.
“We have a really set model of what we offer, and our prices are really easy to understand,” she said.
And it shows in the caterer’s online materials. Everything on SF Catering Company’s website is designed to reduce barriers. The company has outlined distinct service packages with easy-to-calculate pricing and ditched clunky onboarding processes. The company has made it simple to book everything from drop-off catering to elegant full-service packages.
This means SF Catering Company captures business quickly, said Bradley. But it took her team a year or so to uncover exactly what their customers were looking for.
“I think the number one thing was understanding that everybody has a different vision of what catering means,” Bradley said. “Some people think just using the word ‘catering’ means elegant full service, so when they get the drop-off food and disposable trays, they would be very upset. We’ve gotten much more clear on what to expect, and we have lots more communication with clients than we did in the beginning,” she added.
If you’re going to grow into the most trusted caterer in the Bay Area, you can’t do it without a chef who knows his stuff. Chef Jason Wilder joined SF Catering Company two years ago, said Bradley, and he transformed its menu, even reintroducing steak.
“Catering steak can be challenging,” Bradley said, “because people have specific ways they like it cooked. I don’t know how he does it, but it’s wonderful,” she laughed.
Wilder also added locally sourced fish to the menu, as well as popular appetizers with “an Asian flare,” like beef and broccoli and pot stickers.
“I think he brought us to a higher level of food quality, of food presentation, and presentation can be challenging when you’re doing large amounts of food,” said Bradley. “He’s able to balance quality and aesthetics for off-site catering, which can be challenging.”
Even with all the changes to its menu, SF Catering Company’s dishes are still familiar to customers. In a city beloved for its fancy eats, it turns out simplicity is a major selling point.
“We’re able to keep our prices down, as opposed to some of the more extravagant or trendy dishes,” Bradley said of the company’s place in the San Francisco dining scene. “We added a kale salad [and other new items], so it’s not like we are completely blind to that.”
“When people are ordering for a large group, I think they tend to get nervous to do anything that’s too unique or strange,” she added. “They just want to make sure everyone is happy.”
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