Calls at the Eleventh Hour
Let’s face it: your customers are trained to take care of their lives, not your catering operation. That’s why some proceed to place catering orders at the eleventh hour. Sure, you’d love the cushion of two days to fulfill your sprawling lineup of catering orders, but keep in mind that eaters would love their food delivered (from a robotic future?) in minutes. It’s highly unlikely that either of you is going to get what you want.
Even if you don’t like the idea of shrinking your delivery lead times, it’s time to compromise. Nicholas Leonard, catering growth manager at ezCater, says that 48 percent of catering orders are indeed booked on short notice—three hours or less.
“We see a tremendous amount of same-day demand,” Leonard says. “[If you’re] a restaurant operator, setting yourself up to handle that demand enables you to reach more customers and grow your business.” This means that in the fast-paced world of catering, shorter delivery lead times will help you to reach and retain more customers. Lest you start whimpering about the challenges, consider this: give them this small thing—shorten your delivery lead times—and swiftly edge out your competition.
Organization Will Set You Free
There’s no Golden Lead Time that will work magically for every caterer. You’ll need to figure that out for yourself. But to find the perfect delivery lead time for you, you’ll need to consider what conditions will allow you to barrel through your catering orders without sacrificing quality or putting your brand at risk.
Joel Mendlowitz, owner of Hava Java, just outside of Manhattan, had gone back and forth on his delivery lead-time policy until he struck gold. Recently he started accepting same-day orders again and saw a 15 to 20 percent jump in volume. To ensure that his business would not be ruffled by lags in delivery, he devised a system that allowed his staff to quickly arrange for on-demand food couriers. He also improved every step of the production process and installed a new system built on speed and organization. Mendlowitz was kind enough to share his blueprint below.
Speeding Up Your Output
1. Keep your food-prep stations stocked—every hour. Postchecklists and prep sheets in the kitchen.
2. Attitude is everything. If you’re doing what your competition can’t, you have an edge.
3. Test, test, and test. Try out some delivery lead times so razor thin that it makes you a little nervous. Do this for a few weeks. The stress will prepare you for new challenges. Plus, you’ll learn where you’re weak in execution; use this to improve.
4. Constant and never-ending improvement (you CANI!). The acronym CANI, which stands for “constant and never-ending improvement,” is a simple reminder that you should always push yourself. Study your catering operation and find ways to shave a minute here and there to speed up production. Simplify your menu so you can dish out your most popular items in minutes. Outsource solutions to delivery challenges if you need to. Never stop improving.
Struggle, Win Loyalty
There’s no better way to please customers than by solving their problems. Sometimes busy caterers forget this. If customers need orders ASAP, do it, gracefully. Once you earn their trust, you’ll earn more of their business.
Get the Word Out
If you’re reducing your catering lead time, your customers need to know. Use some of these marketing tips to learn how to spread the word. Also make sure you’re integrating technology to simplify the demands of managing your business.