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
Enhancing your catering menu may sound simple enough, but it’s an aspect of the business that is often taken for granted. By building, testing, and refining your catering menu, you can help boost your restaurant’s sales and profits. Here are some tips compiled from experts we’ve interviewed, including Chad Miller from Lehigh Valley Restaurant Group, for building and testing your catering menu.
1. Downsize your restaurant menu for catering
Even if your menu is known for variety, consider scaling back your offerings for catering. A small, tight catering menu helps simplify execution so your kitchen can focus on delivering your concept flawlessly. It also cuts down on inventory costs and waste. Try these steps to streamline your catering menu:
- Review your restaurant’s sales to find your top sellers.
- Scrutinize whether those dishes will hold up to delivery. If delivery will cause a dish to arrive cold, soggy, or limp, remove that item from your catering menu—even if it’s a top seller.
- Ask catering customers and prospects what they’d like served at their offices or homes.
2. Test the quality of your catering offerings at each stage
When a food order is prepared in advance and delivered off-site, it can suffer during the process. Knowing this, you should test all items at every step of production, delivery, and service to pinpoint declining food quality.
As you test your catering offerings, ask yourself:
- Can you prepare the ingredients in advance? How long do prepared ingredients hold before they disintegrate?
- Are assembled dishes as good at the event site as they are in the restaurant?
- Are dishes easy to transport? Can they be stacked inside a cooler or a car to prevent spills?
- Are items delivered in insulated hot and cold bags to keep foods at the correct temperatures during transport?
By controlling the quality of your catering offerings, you can improve the customer experience. (To learn more about providing great customer experience, read this article about executing your catering strategy.)
Get more catering orders and grow your business.
3. Give away lots of samples
Customer feedback is vital to the success of your catering business. By listening to your customers, you can improve their experience and build a stronger catering menu. Start by sending food samples to unbiased customers. Then harvest their feedback. Talk to your customers and send out surveys to find out which catering offerings will be popular.
After you determine the popularity of your dishes, consider how they’ll impact your operations. For instance, can the dish be easily executed? How will the catering dishes impact your inventory orders? When you want to add new items to your existing catering menu, test those items on customers first using the process outlined above.
Chad Miller, Executive Director of Food and Beverage of Lehigh Valley Restaurant Group, used this same method to refine Red Robin’s menu while developing its catering program. Chad says, “You can’t give away enough free food to people to determine if the type of food that you want to cater has legs. Because people will tell you everything you want to hear—just by giving them something for free.” Watch this short video for more tips on how Red Robin delivers the total burger experience for its customers.
4. Label catering orders clearly for customer satisfaction
Mix-ups can happen, especially with large catering orders. Your delivery driver could drop off the wrong order. A vegan customer could accidentally eat a vegetable dish with hidden meat products. If you want to please your customers, attention to detail matters. Make it easy for customers to know what they’re receiving by doing the following:
- Label each order by ingredients (“mushroom”), item name (“mushroom burger”), or even the names of individual customers (“Pete W.”).
- Place a card in front of each tray or chafing dish on buffet lines to identify the food by name.
- List the ingredients of each dish, and warn of potential allergens, such as peanuts or shellfish.
5. Make the customer experience memorable with branded packaging
Research shows customers are strongly influenced by branded packaging, so don’t overlook its ability to impress them.
Branded packaging is also important because it:
- Prevents damage to food during delivery and allows for easy transportation (i.e., sturdy caddies for burger toppings, sandwich cases, dessert displays, etc.).
- Distinguishes your brand and lets people know who provided the catering.
- Introduces your brand to new customers—not just those who are eating, but those who see the packaging in passing.
If improving your catering business is one of your resolutions this year, try refining your catering menu to start. Using our tips, examine what works and what doesn’t, and fine-tune your catering-menu offerings. Create a great catering menu and set yourself up for success.
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