This article is part of a series called “Getting Off-Premises”, which examines how to build an off-premises business.
By Jim Rand, catering practice leader
Catering practice leader Jim Rand visits Arthur “Sandy” McElfresh, Vice President of Catering at P.F. Chang’s. Sandy discusses some of the pitfalls of running a catering business. He also shares how to encourage collaboration between your sales and operations teams.
Jim Rand: So, Sandy, in your many years of restaurant and catering experience, what do you think is the one thing that restaurant operators should be aware of in terms of, “I better do this,” or “I better watch out for this,” in terms of a pitfall? What matters the most?
Sandy McElfresh: Yeah, I think the understanding that there’s going to always be a difference between what’s happening in sales and what’s happening in operations. And developing a communication process and system for operations to understand what’s going on in sales, or who the salespeople are and what they do. And for sales to understand what they need to bring to operations for a successful event. [All of this work] is really critical. It’s really about that communication process. The message that I give to salespeople is, “Look, the people in the restaurant have no idea what you’re doing, and it’s not their job to figure it out. It’s your job to communicate that to them and understand what’s going on in their lives, so that we can deliver the right orders.”
Jim Rand: You know, I think you said to me in the past that it’s the salespeople [who] need to treat the restaurant like their No. 1 customer, right?
Sandy McElfresh: If you’re in sales, everyone is your client and you need to treat them that way.
Jim Rand: You’ve got a team of 16 people, and growing, on your sales force. What are some of the things that you do to both generate competition and yet have them collaborate with one another to keep the company moving forward?
Sandy McElfresh: Well, Jim, you know, that’s a really good question. I think, first of all, it starts with hiring. You’ve got to hire people who want to be both competitive and a team member. But then you just have to set an environment. And it starts with me, and with the regional catering sales managers, and the director of operations to understand that there’s a benefit to everyone. If the company continues to grow from a catering standpoint—so, sharing across—and we see emails—I see them every week. Sometimes multiple times a week where one of our catering sales managers will say, “Hey, guys, I just found this account and they’ve got locations here. Here’s the company, here’s the list.” And so forth. I just love it. And so, creating that environment where people understand there’s a benefit to that. Right? The more that people know that P.F. Chang’s caters, the more it’s going to help everyone, right? “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
Jim Rand: Exactly. And it gives them, you know, the opportunity to grow individually, right? Through their compensation and finding new leads and ways of doing things and at the same time ties them all to the company goal. Right? And the bigger the company grows the more opportunities there are for everybody.
Sandy McElfresh: Well said. Exactly. Right.
Now that you know about the pitfalls, learn about the possibilities. Here are four secrets to creating demand for your catering business.