Customers are buying not just food but experiences. And in the face of stiff competition, restaurants are taking the experiences of catering customers very seriously, from using distinctive packaging and attentive delivery drivers to making Instagram celebrities of their food. Creating better customer experiences isn’t just the right move—it’s the smart move, too. Especially when you consider the potential payoffs: new customers, repeat business, and word-of-mouth exposure and direct referrals at no cost to your business. That’s a pretty sweet deal.
To help you deliver an experience that lives up to your customers’ expectations, we dedicated a panel at CaterUp! to hearing insights from our high-value catering customers on what they want and expect. Our audience had more questions than we had time for. So we’re answering the remaining questions in a four-part follow-up. This is Part 3 of the series, on the customer experience.
Here are our customer panelists:
- Zack Schnyder, Events Coordinator
- Megan Price, Manager of Global Accounts
- Christina Barbaro, U.S. Events Manager
- Tim Mariakakis, Account Executive
Key insights from our customers:
- You can impress catering customers in small ways by labeling food and ingredients. And also by training your delivery drivers to help set up the catering, even if it’s just to lift the lids off cold food items.
- If you make a mistake, customers want you to fix the problem and take responsibility. They don’t always expect a refund or credit, but they definitely want an apology.
- Customers are open to using 15-minute delivery windows, so long as they can set strict “closing times” for the arrival of their orders.
- Most of our customers are confused by the term “delivery fees” and aren’t sure whether this money goes to the drivers. To clear up the confusion and make sure your delivery drivers get their tips, try to make this clear on your website, catering menu, and billing statements. Help customers understand your tipping policy, where delivery fees go to, and how much of the tips and the delivery charges go to drivers.
1. What are small ways to add a wow factor to your customer experience?
- Zack Schnyder: When caterers set up everything, that creates a wow factor. One of my biggest pet peeves is delivery drivers who drop off the catering and leave. I don’t want the extra work of pulling the lids off food containers and setting up the tableware and so on. Go the extra mile for the customer. Also, labels that identify dishes and ingredients are nice details that get my attention!
- Megan Price: Labels, labels, labels—and a printed menu of my order: this level of detail is so amazing. Remember that we customers need to identify dishes, ingredients, and even the brand in the event that we need to look up information about the restaurant or the catering.
- Christina Barbaro: Staff who know your name. If I frequently order catering from a restaurant and the staff take the time to introduce themselves to me, that business will 100 percent make my go-to list of caterers. Even when a restaurant sends a personalized note with my delivery order, that will go a long way for me. I also love when dishes come labeled, especially with attractive printed labels.
- Tim Mariakakis: I love follow-ups after events to make sure everything met our expectations.
2. Do you expect a full setup complete with holding equipment—or simply food in disposable packaging?
- Zack Schnyder: A full setup.
- Megan Price: I can’t say. I’ve never received hot holding cabinets with my catering orders.
- Christina Barbaro: If I order a full catering setup with hot holding cabinets, I’ll expect someone to come in with every piece of equipment needed to keep the food hot, such as chafing dishes, racks, Sterno fuel and hot water for the pans, and serving utensils. I’ll also expect the delivery person to at least offer to set up the catering. As for cold food, I expect it to be ready to go in presentable, easy-to-use platters so I can simply pop off the lids and put the food out.
- Tim Mariakakis: It doesn’t matter as long as the food is executed to the liking of our guests.
3. Do you see value in companies that provide attractive setups at no additional charge? Would this service encourage repeat business from you?
- Zack Schnyder: Nice-looking catering setups earn repeat business from me. But if the setup doesn’t look polished, I’ll rarely order from the caterer again no matter how great the food tasted.
- Megan Price: Yes, and please offer to uncover the chafing dishes or pans of food!
- Christina Barbaro: Yes!
- Tim Mariakakis: That’s a nice touch, but that alone won’t earn my loyalty.
4. If a caterer makes a mistake, do you give second chances?
- Zack Schnyder: Chances are very slim that I’ll give the caterer a second chance.
- Megan Price: It depends on how badly the caterer missed the mark and how the staff managed the issue.
- Christina Barbaro: It’s 100 percent likely that I’ll give the caterer a second chance, so long as the business takes responsibility and recognizes the problems. People make mistakes and things happen. It’s how you recover that’s most important.
- Tim Mariakakis: It’s very likely that I’ll give the caterer a second chance. But no third chances.
5. How should caterers remedy problems you experienced? What’s a reasonable refund or credit?
- Zack Schnyder: I’d expect to get 20 percent off the order, or even more, depending on how badly the caterer messed up.
- Megan Price: I don’t know. It depends on the issue, I suppose.
- Christina Barbaro: I think the process that ezCater has in place is 100 percent fair and works. I don’t always expect monetary compensation. Even an acknowledgment of the mistake is good enough for me. As long as the caterers are learning and growing and perfecting their processes for future orders, I will survive.
- Tim Mariakakis: It depends on the extent of the mistake. A refund or credit is really not that important to me as I’m spending someone else’s money.
6. Are customer follow-ups nice or annoying? What if it’s to thank you?
- Zack Schnyder: I have mixed feelings about this. If we establish a connection when the food is delivered, I love follow-up. But if a caterer just wants something from me, I don’t like it.
- Megan Price: Depends.
- Christina Barbaro: Absolutely, yes.
- Tim Mariakakis: Nice!
7. Do 15-minute delivery windows work for you? Or do you require strict delivery times?
- Zack Schnyder: Delivery windows work for me.
- Megan Price: I’m open to using the 15-minute window as long as I can set a strict “closing time” for the arrival of my order.
- Christina Barbaro: I’m open to that. Some caterers already use that system.
- Tim Mariakakis: As long as you err on the side of early delivery, no problem.
8. Do you assume that delivery fees make up the drivers’ tips? Do you tip on top of a delivery charge?
- Zack Schnyder: I do assume that delivery fees make up the drivers’ tips. And I base my tip on this fee. I always add 20 percent to the bill, no more, no less, regardless of where that money goes.
- Megan Price: I tip on top of the delivery charge. You never know if the delivery folks are getting a fair cut.
- Christina Barbaro: No, I don’t assume that the delivery fees go to the drivers. I always tip for good service.
- Tim Mariakakis: I don’t think of delivery fees as gratuities for the driver. That’s because caterers often list both items on a bill. I’m happy to pay both the delivery fee and the additional tip.
9. Do you normally leave a tip for catering orders? If so, how do you calculate the tip?
- Zack Schnyder: Yes. I tip 20 percent.
- Megan Price: It depends on the delivery fee I was charged and whether the delivery person was friendly and professional.
- Christina Barbaro: Yes. I tip 10 percent of the pre-tax amount, which is standard. But if the service is above and beyond, I tip more. For very large orders, I usually give a flat $100 to $150 tip.
- Tim Mariakakis: Sometimes. It depends on how close the total is to the per-head budget.
Want to deliver a 5-star experience to your customers? Learn how ezCater can help.