This article is part of a series called “Getting Off-Premises”, which examines how to build an off-premises business.
This is Part 3 of my four-step FEED formula to building a successful catering business. (If you missed a step, start here.)
Now that you’ve spent countless hours fine-tuning a strategy and building a foundation for your catering business, you need to follow through. Execution is a big step, and critical for success. The key to proper execution lies in a few areas: listening to your customers, supporting your strategy, and writing solid operating procedures. Focus on these areas as you execute. With a careful, planned approach, your strategic goals can be attained.
1. Listen to What Your Customers Want
Your customers should be front and center of your business. Through your catering, you’re essentially making their lives easier, so it’s important to tend to the things that matter most to them, such as:
- Easy food ordering: Make ordering simple for customers, whether with technology or staff.
- Order accuracy: Getting the order right makes the person who chose you for catering a hero.
- On-time orders: Have orders ready at the agreed-upon time. Lateness throws off everyone’s schedule. Arriving early risks hot food cooling, and cold food warming.
2. Support Your Strategy with a Strong Team and Strategic Investments
Choose the Right Leaders to Execute Your Vision
Choose employees who love customers and want a challenge. Give them clear responsibilities, goals, and time frames for measurable accomplishments. Pay them relative to the size of your catering organization: a premium hourly rate plus tips for a small operation; a salary plus commission and incentives for larger companies.
Properly Invest in Your Catering Business
A profitable catering business requires investment. If you spend 15 percent of revenue on labor in your restaurant, allot that for catering. Also, buy the catering-specific equipment that your catering operation needs.
3. Create Operating Procedures That Are Repeatable and Executable
Creating standard operating procedures (SOPs) is demanding work (read more here). But the procedures are well worth it because they can help your team to achieve the same great results every time. Once you’ve created your SOPs, organize them in an operating manual that’s accessible to employees.
You’ll need to establish the following SOPs:
Order Taking – Phone
- Standard greetings. Let customers know they’ve reached the catering department.
- Menu training. Order takers who know the menu can answer customers’ questions.
- Etiquette for taking food orders. Capture the names of customers and businesses, delivery or pick-up times, addresses, and phone numbers.
If you’re taking orders on paper forms, develop an order sheet that …
- Matches the items and sequencing of your catering menu
- Allows order takers options for order modifiers
- Is a simple checklist. The more order takers can rely on numbers, check marks, or Xs rather than their handwriting, the fewer potential mistakes.
Order Taking – Website
Ensure your catering menu is up to date and your online platform works. Provide online payment options and send customers order-confirmation emails or texts.
Recipes and Assembly
Produce all items using costed-out recipes that are unalterable. Since your catering menu should be derived from your restaurant menu, you have a base from which to build.
Pre-Staging Catering Orders
Set up your morning catering crew by staging orders the prior afternoon.
- Organize orders placed for the next day, then analyze your sales projections for that day.
- Organize non-perishable and cold items, including drinks. Place items inside bags and store these in the walk-in. Also portion cold salads, meats, and garnishes.
- Organize all bags, platters, utensils, cups, and napkins required for the next day’s orders. Make sure orders are labeled and organized by customers’ names.
Apply the SOPs used for food assembly in the restaurant to your catering orders. Visual aids (pictures on the wall) are a great tool for training assembly and packaging.
Once orders are completed, check and re-check that they’re ready for delivery and loaded properly into the vehicle.
Using the right packaging for the right product is crucial for maintaining food integrity.
- Use correct bowls for each portion. A 10-portion salad requires a 10-portion bowl. Five portions in a 10-portion bowl looks small, and filling it to compensate hurts food cost.
- Right-size bags. Over-loaded bags are top heavy and flop over in transit.
- Layer by weight. Place heavy items on the bottom of bags, light items on top.
- Segregate by temperature. Separate hot food from cold, and strongly flavored foods from mildly flavored foods.
- Secure food inside vehicle. Avoid spills by securing all containers with cargo netting and bungee straps.
- Cart it. Ideally, delivery drivers make one trip from their vehicles to the drop-off point. A folding cart to carry the entire order to the door eliminates second trips.
- Keep “emergency kits” in delivery vehicles. These kits should contain extra napkins, utensils, condiments, and straws.
Good procedures ensure great execution. Nail down your SOPs and deliver an experience that builds your brand.
Want more advice on growing your catering business? We lay the groundwork.