This article is part of a series called “Getting Off-Premises”, which examines how to build an off-premises business.
Behind every great catering program is a finely tuned team—and hours and hours of work. You can have a terrific catering concept, but without a great team to execute it well, failure is an option. Choose the right people for this new venture and you’ll have a brigade to ensure that your business runs perfectly, even when you’re not there to fuss over the details. A great team is vital not just to smooth service but to your success (learn more about restaurant capabilities).
How you forge a chain of command for your catering program will depend on whether you operate a single- or multi-unit restaurant company. I’ve outlined strategies for both below.
For Single-Unit Operators
- Dedicate one employee as your catering coordinator. This person should be a jack-of-all-trades leader who, in the beginning, will devote part-time hours (at least three a day) to launching the program. As business warrants, dedicate more hours to the cause.
- The catering coordinator will do the following: take orders, package and deliver food, and do some local store marketing (dropping off flyers, samples, and such in office buildings).
- As volume grows, the coordinator should delegate tasks like food deliveries but remain the main contact person and customer relationship builder.
When your catering business hits these sales milestones, here’s what to do:
- When sales reach four transactions during the lunch hour, get a dedicated delivery driver. At eight transactions, get a second driver.
- Cross-utilize drivers as cooks to prepare and assemble orders.
- As sales grow, extend shifts by bringing in one cook an hour or so early to prep catering orders. It’s also smart to keep cooks later to prep for the next day.
* Jim’s Labor Tip: I never wanted to say no to an order, so I overstaffed my restaurants just a little during peak hours. Technomic’s 2018 “Catering Insights Program” report shows why this is wise. The research firm found that about 25 percent of catering orders were placed with less than 12 hours’ notice, and 38 percent of all orders arrive the day they’re needed. Since these orders come in on top of the restaurant’s dine-in business, it was worth absorbing the cost of an hour or two of extra labor to make sure all customers were happy. I believed catering sales would grow later to offset the added labor, and they did.
For Multi-Unit Operators with 10–75 Units
Since operations of this size have already established catering programs, let’s proceed to scale up business by leveraging your chain’s large labor pool.
- Consider appointing a dedicated salesperson to oversee all units. Find a sales veteran to generate new business and grow revenue with existing customers.
- Consider hiring a dedicated catering operations manager to train and supervise catering coordinators at each unit. This person builds duplicable systems, shares best practices, drives execution, and creates repeat business.
- If you can’t afford both positions at once, gauge whether sales or operations needs help first.
“Choose the right people for this new venture and you’ll have a brigade to ensure that your business runs perfectly, even when you’re not there to fuss over the details.”
For Multi-Unit Operators with 200–1,000 Units
A catering business in large chains will thrive with corporate oversight and organization. While each unit still has a dedicated catering coordinator, direction now comes from corporate personnel who support, market, and sell for large groups of restaurants.
A corporate structure would look much like this:
- A business leader (director, vice president, or senior vice president)
- A sales leader (senior manager, director, or vice president)
- An operations leader (senior manager, director, or vice president)
Key responsibilities of corporate personnel would include the following:
- Drive demand through marketing, sales, and partnerships
- Execute by creating standard operating procedures, training, and field support
- Oversee delivery, which could include supervising staff drivers and vehicles or using third-party vendors
- Coordinate with catering and other teams to implement and align systems such as HR and IT
Having been a vice president of corporate catering at two large chains, I have seen firsthand the need to have an advocate for catering. Companies that give their catering arm the TLC it deserves will see it thrive and become a reliable profit center in the ever-competitive restaurant market.
Learn how to build a solid foundation for your catering business.