With workers back in the office and gatherings resumed, catering has returned in a big way.
But before jumping in for the first time, or the umpteenth, it’s an opportunity to hit reset and make catering better than it’s ever been. Start with this seasoned chef checklist.
1. FIND AND KNOW YOUR CLIENT
Chances are you have regular customers who work in the neighborhood. Start with those guests who know and love your cooking. Then identify others in your area. Make sure you understand the operations of each company. A manufacturing outfit will have different menu needs from a social media marketing company.
2. BUILD SMART MENUS
Use current menu items from your production line, along with items that travel well. Keep the menus smaller, allowing for ease of execution. Highlight gluten-free, paleo, vegetarian and vegan offerings. Keep them fresh and up-to-date, not just among the staff who communicate with clients, but also online. New dishes are exciting, but remember to focus on customer favorites. A foundation of menu items that you are known for keeps people ordering.
3. USE THE RIGHT PACKAGING
While you won’t plate the food, the containers that carry it reflect your business. Quality food deserves quality packaging. Consider sturdiness and utility, such as whether the client will need to reheat dishes. Remember to include serving utensils, and give clients the choice to opt in on plates and napkins. Because a growing number of consumers care about sustainability and climate change, it’s worth using earth-friendly packaging, including trays and bowls. If it’s costlier, pass it on to the customer.
4. SCHEDULE SERVICE WISELY
With labor still an issue, be wary of stressing staff. Start by offering service that works best with your current production and cooking schedule. Consider two- or three-day services to start, then add additional days and service times as you find your footing. If you serve lunch and dinner, don’t try to open with a breakfast service out of the gate. Get it right, then add to it. Removing a service time will be detrimental to the growth of your program.
5. OFFER REWARDS
The best catering and carryout programs have rewards built in. Programs can be designed around frequency and abundance of ingredients in the walk-in that need to sell right away. BOGO, one free on 10, complimentary desserts or percentages off on orders over a set amount keep customers loyal. If you have customers who order for their offices or homes and frequent your restaurant, send a free round of drinks or desserts on a regular basis. Take care of those who take care of you.
6. HONE DELIVERY/CUSTOMER SERVICE
Whether using a third-party service or your own, make sure that the orders are bagged and tagged properly, and that every order is checked into the delivery vehicle. Missing items or inaccurate orders are costly and will put your hard work in jeopardy. To stay prompt and timely, offer a time range for delivery that allows for a cushion. Office catering is based on workers’ valuable time. Use your branded stickers to seal bags, along with stapling. Same-day or next-day follow-up quality calls are a must. Maintaining an open and timely communication with your customers shows them you care about their experience.
7. REMEMBER ADD-ONS
Be creative with offering add-ons to your menu ordering platform. Be mindful of choosing items that add value to your concept and make sense across your program. Impulse items like specialty-packaged beverages and healthy snacks like nuts, dried fruits and baked chips can build the check. Individually packed, personal-sized desserts are always an easy sale. Cookies and brownies have low costs and high profit. But again, be mindful of your client. If gluten-free and vegan options are necessary, be sure to include them, too.