How to Start a Corporate Drop-off Catering Division
From Catering Magazine – by Michael Rosman
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If you are searching for ways to boost your business, industry analysts suggest focusing on the corporate drop-off catering sector. As the economy continues to recover, demand in this market is on the rise and poised for future growth. Starting or growing a corporate drop-off catering division is a savvy strategy for generating a new revenue stream, while incurring minimal additional expenses. Whether you are located in the heart of a financial district or on the outskirts of suburbia, focusing on the following 10 topic areas will help you get started and expand in this still under-tapped segment.
MENU >> Create a separate corporate catering menu. Piggyback off your existing menu, focusing on food that will transport well. Continental breakfasts and sandwiches are two of the most commonly ordered items. Feature a signature specialty that will generate some buzz and differentiate you from competitors. Some examples include great coffee, beautifully arranged fruit platters, home-roasted sandwich meats, freshly baked breads, locally sourced vegetables for salads, or “the best” chocolate-chip cookies in town. TIP: If you are composing a corporate catering menu for the first time, begin with a smaller one. As your business grows, so can your menu.
PRICING >> If you operate a restaurant, the pricing structure for your catering menu should be higher than the restaurant menu, across the board. Clients expect to pay more for the convenience and efficiency of delivery. Prices are customarily listed on a per-person or platter-size basis. Most items should be offered family- or buffet-style. As a rule, your overall food cost for corporate catering should be no more than 33% of your total costs. TIP: Research your competitors’ pricing structure and consider how you want to position yours, comparatively.
POLICIES >> Policies must be established for delivery area, delivery charges, hours of operation, minimum quantities, advance-notice requirements, same-day orders, special requests, substitutions, cancellations and payment terms. Despite your best efforts to have all orders placed a day in advance, you will get calls for same-day and last-minute catering. In fact, as your business grows, so will these requests. While they can throw a wrench into your best-laid plans, the revenue they generate can be significant. Use the policies as a
guideline, but be ?exible when you can, especially for larger clients. People like it when you break policy for them; it makes them feel special.
TIP: Consider offering a more limited, prep-friendly menu when a customer calls at 10:30 a.m., requesting a lunch delivery at noon.
PACKAGING >> Arrange for three companies to present sample lines of their disposable service ware for catering. Options are plentiful for both styles and colors. Consider incorporating recyclable/reusable plastic ware when possible. If you choose to invest resources in green packaging, be sure to include this information on the menu.
TIP: Inform each vendor that you are expanding your catering business, and ask them to present their most aggressive bottom-line pricing. Let them know you are getting multiple bids.
DELIVERY >> Whether it’s by vehicle, on foot, or via a third-party delivery service, efficiently transporting on-time catering orders to your clients is as important as the food itself. Your delivery staff is most often the face of your operation. A responsible, polite representative, who makes a customer feel that their delivery is the most important of the day, will help forge relationships that lead to repeat business.
TIP: In the inevitable event that something is missing from a set-up, all delivery vehicles should have backup paper products and serving utensils. Additionally, all representatives should be well trained in trouble-shooting solutions when a problem arises.
MARKETING >> Successful marketing may consist of a combination of direct, social, in-house, paid and word-of-mouth practices. An effective marketing program is a coordinated, well-planned fusion of sales, service, packaging and promotion, created with the intention of interlinking all components to achieve your overall marketing goals. A well-executed marketing program will keep your business fresh in the minds of your customers. TIP: Tastings, at a potential new client’s office, are one of the most effective means to acquire new business and showcase your food. (Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch?)
CONSISTENCY >> Consistency means giving your customers what they want—every single time. When customers feel a connection to your food and service, they will be loyal to your business. If you have lofty sales goals for your catering division, the most important components are consistency (product), consistency (service) and consistency (customer experience). TIP: Innovation and customization can and should be prevalent, as long as the same consistency principles apply.
PROCEDURAL SYSTEMS >> Systems and processes are the building blocks of a successful business. Every facet of your operation should be part of a system that can be managed and improved by applying the correct principles. Ideally, this approach eliminates employee indiscretion and replaces it with detailed procedures, standards and accountability, as well as a method for measuring results. TIP: Use specs, diagrams and pictures to define “how-to” steps for everything. (Example: turkey sandwich = 4 oz. sliced turkey, 2 tomato slices, 1 oz. sliced Swiss cheese, 1 lettuce leaf)
DOCUMENTATION >> Put everything in writing. Systems documentation is an organized, detailed, thorough strategy for all key routines, daily tasks and back-up plans. It needs to be readily accessible and understandable to all your employees. TIP: Creating a detailed, documented “playbook” for your entire operation will increase the value and possibly the selling price of your business.
INFORMATION RESOURCES >> Educate yourself about the industry. There is a wealth of information available to stay up-to-date on current trends and relevant news. Read trade magazines, research information on the Internet, sign-up for webinars, take classes, and stay connected with colleagues in the field. TIP: Set aside the first 30 minutes of each morning to educate yourself. In the big picture, this practice will do your business a great service. ?
Michael Rosman has been in the catering and restaurant industry for over 30 years in the Boston area, where he built a $1.8 million per year corporate drop-off catering operation. He’s the founder of The Corporate Caterer, a membership website and consulting company. Whether you are just starting out, are a leader in your marketplace, or are somewhere in between, www.thecorporatecaterer.com has an incredible wealth of insight and resources to help you begin or grow this division of your business. To learn more, visit the website, or call Rosman directly at 781.641.3303.
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