Master Creating a Successful Catering Concept and Brand with Scott Davis [Video]
- 3 Min Read
At ezCater, we’re dedicated to helping restaurants grow a successful catering business. That’s why we’re excited to share this video series featuring insights and lessons from industry experts behind thriving catering programs.
In the rush to start a catering business, did branding slip from your mind? Don’t let it. Unless you create a winning concept, and bring it to life through branding, your catering business might not stand out in the mind of consumers. Because branding is so vital to growing your restaurant’s catering business, we asked brand-building expert Scott Davis, President of CoreLife Eatery, to share his advice on developing a concept and building a strong brand. Watch our video with Scott Davis and discover how to sync your catering business with your brand, strengthen your menu, and enhance the customer experience to grow your catering business.
Scott Davis is President of CoreLife Eatery and has spent nearly forty years in the restaurant industry. He formerly served as Chief Concept Officer and Executive Vice President for Panera Bread and also worked at Au Bon Pain and Carrols Corporation, which owns and operates over 800 restaurants under the Burger King brand.
Learn how ezCater can help you grow your catering business.
Scott Davis: I’m Scott Davis. I’m here with ezCater today. We’re going to talk about building your catering program. Well I started my career making whoppers at Burger King when I was 17 years old and my goal in life was to learn enough to open my own cheesesteak place. So 35 plus years later, that cheesesteak place has actually turned into a healthy bowl concept oddly enough. But here we are and it’s been a wild journey through the growth of Au Bon Pain, Panera, and I couldn’t have asked for a better journey and a better set of folks to work with in my life.
ezCater: What are the principles to building a strong brand?
Scott Davis: So in developing a concept and a brand, the first thing you’ve got to think about is why does it need to exist and who are the customers? What’s your reason to be? And once you start to understand that, you can then build your platform off of that. So for instance, at CoreLife our reason to be was we realized there was an unmet need out in the marketplace. There are a lot of folks out there who are looking to improve the way they eat – eat healthier, cleaner but do it in a limited time, a lot of times when they’re at work.
We realized there was an opportunity to put a concept out there in the world that could really deliver on that unmet need, which is: I want to eat something healthy and I know what I want to eat but it’s so hard to find it in today’s fast world where it’s all fast food. I think when you look at the ability to take a concept from its need and its unmet need and then translate it into catering, the same unmet need exists in all different forms. Whether it’s an individual lunch hour or if you’re feeding 200 people for a catering event, that same need still exists. And you know, finding the way to solve for that and solve that customer need is ultimately where you want to be.
ezCater: Does your brand and catering business have to be in sync?
Scott Davis: So CoreLife by its nature is a little bit of a niche concept and it’s about clean eating and healthy eating and it’s not for everybody. But as we go and we started to think about how do we create a catering program, we realized we needed to be far beyond just a niche because the nature of catering is you’ve got to serve everybody.
The very first time we ever did any kind of a group order – way before we had an actual catering program – we were actually serving a group that was our IT supplier. I remember we were all proud. It was our first big order. We had it all set up in the cafeteria. The first few people came in and they were excited to see it. And then a couple of big guys came in from the back room and I could hear them just out of the corner of my ear saying, “Oh I guess I’m not gonna eat today,” and my heart just sank and realized this is exactly why you’ve got to be thinking about everybody when you think about catering. It’s such an important part of the puzzle. You can’t be a niche unless that’s all you want are niche customers, but that’s not what catering is really about.
So one of the things that we did to solve for was we created a program that gives you all this flexibility and we also created a whole new series of entrees built around warm rice bowls. They’re heavier in protein, heavier with some of the different starches and carbohydrates, like purple rice that we use, and just more filling options that didn’t just seem like green salads. So for us it was really about expanding the menu a little bit and then broadening out who we talked to and how we get them to understand that you can eat anything, you can get full, and you can feel great coming here.
ezCater: How do you create a perfect catering menu?
Scott Davis: First of all, you’ve got to think about what are the different functions that people are going to be having. Is it a training event? Is it a board meeting? There are all different sorts of ways you need to eat. So in some cases, your menu needs to be more expansive and more customizable. Other cases, it needs to be very specific, like a box lunch for an executive kind of a thing for a board meeting.
So once you’ve understood the different ways people are going to use the menu or use the catering program, you’ve got to test it. You got to try it out. So you got to make it up, give it to your friends, sample it out. I can’t tell you enough how important sampling and putting and getting real life experiences. Cater to your friends, cater to your associates, cater to people in your marketplace, cater to your potential customers, and you’ll learn so much about how your catering program needs to work – not just the brand positioning but the functionality of it. I can’t say that enough. It’s so important.
So starting with the basic building blocks of a catering program, you got to think about again those usage occasions. How are people going to use this? For us, that drove us to really three models: one model which is an individual box lunch, a model that’s for a larger group, and a model that’s for a group that wants a very specific and customized at large scale. So that was sort of our premise and then we started building the building blocks of what our catering program was based on those usage occasions and then from there, it was again just about testing, trying things out, getting responses, and also looking at the marketplace and seeing what are other folks doing? What are people familiar with?
One of the trickiest things you have to be careful about catering menus is you really got to keep them simple, so people can hold them in their mind. If you can’t think about someone’s catering menu order from it, it’s probably too complicated or not well structured. Trust me, I’ve done this before in other places. We’ve tested catering menus that we thought were smart because we thought we were smart about them and they totally didn’t work because the consumer didn’t understand how to think about it when they’re driving down the car at 50 miles an hour, trying to get a catering placed in a short time. So, think about the user all the way through your process. It really makes a big difference.
ezCater: What role does menu design play?
Scott Davis: I think the way you lay out your brochure and your selling materials, your web site – all that’s going to lead people to a specific type of purchase. The key thing is to make sure you understand what you’re driving people towards most and also, how that works profitability wise. Is that gonna help your profitability or work against you?
So how you position your menu, how you position all your different collateral will drive people towards specific items or ways of purchasing. So you want to be very thoughtful about what that is. You don’t want to have your most complicated, least profitable thing is the billboard on your catering menu because you’ll sell the most of it and that will create problems. Right? So what’s a fan favorite that your customers are gonna love? Something that you’re gonna really be able to do and that’s profitable. Those are the things you want to be promoting in your different collateral materials. In the end, the way you organize your collaterals is the way people are gonna buy your menu.
ezCater: How do you create a standout menu?
Scott Davis: What separates different brands from each other in the catering world first of all is the brand. Some brands come in and you don’t even know what brand it is. It’s like the sandwiches on a platter kind of thing and it’s sort of anonymous. Other brands, like my old brand Panera, we were very big about bringing the Panera brand into the meeting.
Standing out from the competition is gonna be about how well you can execute your food and food that represents your brand. So you know in the Panera world, we did that through packaging, through individually wrapped sandwiches – things we heard that consumers were looking for when we were doing that almost 20 years ago. In today’s world, we’re hearing from wellness coordinators that are out there.
So the end user wants to the healthy too. So every time they go to a meeting, they want to have a different choice, a better choice. And for us, standing out is about clean, healthy, and customizable foods that people enjoy every day.
ezCater: How do you create a competitive advantage for your brand?
Scott Davis: Maintaining customer advantage is really tricky. You know, I’ve been doing this for a long time. I can tell you it’s always about change. If you think you’re good, you’re probably thinking wrong. Keep going, keep pushing, keep looking for the next thing, and keep getting better at what you do every day. Ultimately, your people are your competitive advantage more than you realize, more than any fancy packaging, more than anything else you’re going to do. The people you have working for you, delivering on your brand – that’s your competitive advantage.
ezCater: How do brands “future-proof” their menus against changing trends?
Scott Davis: So for us, evolution is an everyday experience. Right? So we have the ability of seasonality to help us out. So you know, we’re always changing our menu around based on the seasons. And I think ultimately, you’ve got to find a way to keep yourself fresh, keep it in there, and keep moving forward. Otherwise, customers get bored. There’s a lot of choices out there.
ezCater: How do limited-time offers drive business?
Scott Davis: You know, it’s funny. A lot of people don’t think about new news when it comes to catering but I know I’ve heard over the years, people talking about fatigue through different brands because they get the same sandwiches from the same place all the time. They get the same pizza, the same Mexican. So ultimately, I think you’ve got to continue to think about what kind of burnout are your end users going through and how can you provide something new, a little something different?
Limited time offers can be really powerful because they bring new news to your concept, whether it’s your store or your catering program. It keeps people engaged, keeps people kind of trying to figure out what’s new, what’s coming back, what’s not, what’s not there now, what’s gonna come in. So ultimately, it’s about a little surprise and delight. People want to stay surprised and when you have catering, you get the same thing week after week after week. Isn’t it nice to get something a little different? Something that surprises you?
So you know catering is not the first place I usually think of when I think of LTOs or special offers or promos – that sort of thing. But I know that’s becoming more and more of an offer out there. I know there are companies doing a lot of crazy ideas with crazy food products just to get people engaged.
You know, it’s interesting. We actually do our own version of that, which is we hold yoga classes in our stores a lot of the time. So you come out on a weekend in the morning, there may be a yoga class going on. We’ve actually had yoga classes at catering events where we’ve had people actually have a few minutes of mindfulness. We think it’s actually potentially a trend in the catering world where you start to bring in wellness opportunities. Think about bringing a little bit of the Facebook or Google office into your office through catering. We think that that’s a potential possibility down the road and we think you’ll see more stuff like that. How do you continue to create a social occasion, not just an eating occasion? It’s one of the challenges.
ezCater: What advice do you have for an operator starting out in catering?
Scott Davis: So my recommendation if you’re a young brand starting out and you’re trying to figure out how to really get your catering program together: Start with your core concept and your core brand and really think about what it is your brand’s doing and what it’s all about and what is its why and its essence. Take those elements, look for the need out in the marketplace that fit with your concept and potential consumers, and know that you’re going to have to expand on what the concept is a little bit because catering is all about feeding everybody. It’s really important that you understand you’ve got to be a little bit broader in your approach and maybe even in your menu to get this broader core program you need to really succeed. Thanks for joining me today to talk about building your catering concept.