“The Belly Rules the Mind.”
A growing number of restaurateurs and caterers are focusing on corporate drop-off catering to increase profits and promote their brand according to the National Restaurant Association. Furthermore, industry experts expect the trend in this sector to rise sharply over the next decade. The success of any catering business depends largely on the menu, food, service, pricing, and organization. Creating an effective and successful menu requires attention to several issues, topics, and questions.
This module, “Your Menu”, offers useful information, tips, strategies, How-To-Steps, case studies, and resources to help you frame a successful drop-off catering menu. Our customized Worksheets & Checklists document offers a practical way for you to put pen to paper to start the development process.
This module addresses issues such as:
- How is a catering menu different from a restaurant menu?
- What do you need to consider before creating your catering menu?
- What are the most commonly sold catering items?
- How can you effectively compete with other caterers?
- What are operational policies such as delivery, set-up, and billing?
- Worksheets & Checklists Document
- 10 Ways to Reduce Food Costs
- 10 Ways to Be More Sustainable
- And more. . .
- We offer a full-range of customized drop-off catering consulting services.
- Contact us if you have any questions or would like more information about a topic.
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The following Module section outlines information on several topics that should be considered as you formulate or update your catering menu. Please contact The Corporate Caterer if you would like more information about a particular topic.
Corporate Drop-Off Catering
What is corporate drop-off catering? It is essentially no-service catering. You deliver your food and sometimes set it up at the company or event location. Occasionally, the customer may pick up the food from you. No staff or cleanup service is provided. The food is packaged in disposable service ware, along with plastic serving utensils, and cutlery.
Drop-off catering is cost-effective for restaurants and caterers because no extra staff is required beyond the kitchen and delivery person. It is especially beneficial to restaurants that are able to cater food that is already produced in their restaurant without adding labor.
Restaurant vs. Catering Menu
A corporate drop-off catering menu is set-up differently from a restaurant menu. You are establishing a brand, an identity. You might even consider giving this division its own name.
Most items are offered family or buffet style, with minimum ordering requirements. Prices are customarily listed per person or platter size. Your pricing structure should be higher for your catering menu across the board. If you charge $7.95 for a tuna sandwich in your restaurant, you can charge $8.50 or $8.95 for the same sandwich. Clients are expecting to pay more for the convenience and efficiency you are providing. The catering menu should include your delivery area, delivery charges, required notices, cancellation policy, and payment terms. By offering separate menus, you are creating a more prominent corporate drop-off catering presence.
Your catering menu can be a more focused, scaled back version of your restaurant menu. It is important to keep in mind that some of your in-house items may not travel well, or hold up satisfactorily if they are not served immediately.
Do not assume your customers automatically know you provide catering services. A separate catering menu communicates this service. You are sending a message of expertise, reliability, and experience in catering.
Differentiate Yourself from Your Competitors
Analyze the marketplace. Research and gather menus from the caterers in your area including colleges, delis, and grocery stores. Consider your competitions’ menu style, selections, hours of operation, pricing, minimums, service area, and delivery charges. Identify what, if anything, makes them unique. If you sell similar items, can you differentiate your offerings and services in some way? Can your catering operation stand out and above the competition? You may feature specialty niche items, healthy dietary alternatives, fresh garden-grown herbs, home-roasted meats, home-baked breads, unique packaging, or local sourcing. Perhaps you are known for being very active in the community by donating to local events. You could be recognized for having the best customer service in town. Come up with some realistic ways to set your catering services apart from others.
If you want to create a successful catering brand, you need a consistent product. Be sure your physical catering menu and its content matches the feel of your business. Focus on the things your operation does well and is set-up to produce. For example, if you or your restaurant specializes in pizza then your catering menu should probably not highlight sushi. If traditional comfort food is your trademark, do not switch gears into a complex, sophisticated catering menu. It will confuse your customer base.
Keep It Simple
If you’re just starting to cater, keep the menu simple. Start with items that you produce daily such as sandwiches, salads, dessert platters, sliced fruit, continental breakfast spreads, and seasonal hot entrées. Your primary focus should be delivering a quality experience (both in food and service) on time. Concentrate on successful execution at the beginning and add to your menu later, once you have a good rhythm and an established system. The last thing you want to do is try to overcome a bad reputation caused by a poor launch.
Every item you serve should be measurable by weight or portion size. You should have a recipe book for everything the kitchen produces. This will ensure consistency and maximize profitability. Along with impacting your bottom line, consistent portion control affects your brand.
When you produce food in bulk quantities it must be tested, standardized, and documented. All bulk recipes need to betested for accuracy prior to adding new items to your catering menu. Making one serving of pasta salad is not the same as producing twenty servings. In addition, it is important to establish the edible cost-per-portion (total cost of ingredients divided by the number of portions the recipe yields.)
In The Corporate Caterer “Get Organized” module (February), we discuss why it is important to write everything down, including precise recipes and portion sizes.
When pricing your menu, factor in all the fixed and variable costs including food, labor, transportation, paper products, and other operating expenses. As a rule of thumb, your overall food cost for corporate drop-off catering should be approximately one-third what you charge. For example, if you charge $7.50 for a turkey sandwich, it should cost you $2.50 to produce.
Evaluate Your Resources
Your available resources such as your physical working space, equipment, the skills of your culinary staff, and the responsiveness of your vendors all need to be considered. Serving 250 covers in your restaurant and coordinating 250 covers separated into ten different corporate deliveries are two very different things. It is important to ensure that you and your team will be ready to handle a sizeable catering order with short notice (usually within 24 hours), as well as same day orders.
Leaving too much work until the last minute is not a recipe for success. Create your menu with dishes that can be prepared anywhere from a few hours to a day in advance. You may have to experience the growing pains through trial and error to get this right. If you produce hors d’oeuvres that don’t hold up well for the next day – you will have to re-make them. Next time you will know to prepare them on the day of delivery.
Your catered food must transport well. It needs to hold up from the time it is prepared in your kitchen until your clients eat it; sometimes this could be multiple hours. The logistical issues of delivering the food after it has been produced should be transparent to your clients. Their concern is how it looks and tastes. Mastering the delicate art of successful food transportation is an important part of a prosperous catering operation. Therefore, as you create your menu, consider food selections that will travel well, withstand time delays, and be enjoyed by customers at the optimal temperatures.
Whether your menu is positioned in the lower, middle, or upper pricing echelon, always try to feature some lower-cost, higher profit items. Pasta dishes, homemade cookies and brownies, continental breakfast platters, bottled spring water, and coffee are examples of good money-makers. While high priced items such as seafood, beef, specialty cheeses, and fresh berries will contribute to lower returns.
The food you serve is more than the items on your menu. What goes into the creation of those items is significant too. While you can cut your costs by choosing generic bread vs. bread from the artisan bakery down the street, be sure to weigh these choices carefully. If the artisan baker down the street gets ingredients from the organic farm up the road, then their bread may be fresher, healthier, and at a lower environmental cost than the alternatives. Advertising the local aspects of your menu may yield real benefits as well.
On the other hand, if no one is going to buy your $14 artisan, all-local sandwiches, you won’t be serving them very long. The point is, factor in more than just the cost of goods when considering your bottom line, and make sure that you stay proud of the quality of food you are providing. See our document “10 Ways to Reduce Food Costs”.
Quality vs. Quantity
Quality should always trump quantity. When it comes to menu options, less can sometimes be more. This principle is exemplified in most high-end restaurants. Instead of focusing on how many items you can put on your menu, strategize on how good you can make every item.
A signature item or two can sometimes make all the difference to the customer. It is not uncommon to hear, “I order lunch for our staff meetings from ABC Catering because they have the best homemade chocolate chip cookies.” A $500 catered lunch may be placed with a specific company simply because the person ordering craves their (fill in the blank.) It happens all the time.
Whether it is your sandwiches, desserts, salad dressing, or even condiments, by focusing on quality ingredients and/or homemade items you will attract new and repeat customers. Remember, this is a process and you may not get everything right the first time. You can always add or change your menu later.
It is important to offer variety and options that will appeal to a large swath of customers. When contemplating which catering company to order from, the decision maker is often influenced by their personal preferences. By offering a good product mix, you increase the chances of being selected.
Repeat customers, the life-blood of any corporate drop-off catering business, may be particularly interested in a rotating variety of options. You must rise to the challenge of developing creative ways to appeal to your regular customers.
To succeed in the catering business, your food must be consistent. If company X has a standing order for 20 assorted sandwiches every Monday, the assortment should be identical regardless of who is producing them. For example, if employee A, a vegetarian, makes them on Monday #1, and employee B, a meat lover, makes them on Monday #2, then the amount of vegetarian and roast beef sandwiches should be the same both weeks. Left to their own devices, they will defer to personal preferences. The secret to ensuring food consistency is creating an Operations Manual (what we call “Your Playbook”), and training your staff to use it. We discuss Your Playbook in detail in the module “Get Organized”.
Are there any special niches not currently well served by competitors that you could leverage in your menu? According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2013 Restaurant Industry Forecast, the top culinary trend themes include gluten-free cuisine, health /nutrition, local sourcing, lower-sodium items, and lower-calorie items.
Update Your Menu
If you have an existing catering menu, ask yourself and your staff these questions:
- Is my pricing up-to-date, considering rising food costs?
- Are my high-profit and top-selling items highlighted to catch the eye’s attention?
- Does my menu include new dishes or ingredients that reflect my customers’ wants and needs?
- Could my food descriptions be more informative?
- Are we achieving our sales goals?
- Can I easily edit my menu in the future as my restaurant expands and grows?
- Is the overall menu design and look current? Or has it become outdated?
- Do I need to update any policy information?
- Do I want to test out a few new items?
If you are creating your first drop-off catering menu, consider some of these questions:
- Based on my restaurant’s operations, what type of food should I offer?
- What specialty items could I provide?
- How can I translate my restaurant menu into a robust catering menu?
And Will You…
- Cater breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner?
- Offer sandwiches?
- Cook your own meats (ham, turkey, and roast beef) for sandwiches?
- Offer salads?
- Serve hot food?
- Offer any “home-made” items? (cookies, brownies, breakfast pastries, condiments for sandwiches)
- Offer appetizers and/or hors d’oeuvres?
- Deliver catering to private homes or only to companies and organizations?
What is your:
- Delivery area?
- Minimum required order?
- Advance notice policy?
- Substitution policy?
- Special menu request policy?
- Delivery policy?
- Money-back policy?
- Satisfaction guaranteed policy?
- Cancellation policy?
If you own a food venue, your catering menu should have the same look and feel as your restaurant menu. While your corporate drop-off catering division will be perceived as separate from your restaurant, your brand is the umbrella over the entire operation. If you have a website, your catering menu should be on it with a PDF version for downloading. Printed versions should be placed on the checkout counter at your food venue. In the “How-To-Steps” section you will find instructions for putting together your menu.
- Keep your fonts simple, yet reflective of your feel, food, and style. Avoid using funky fonts, which can be fun but tend to look unprofessional. Also, never use more than three different fonts on the menu or it will look too busy.
- Make it easy for people to read all the options and descriptions. Make sure your font size is big enough to read without glasses and is pleasing to the eye.
- It is a better strategy to start with a smaller menu and expand it instead of starting with a large menu and needing to reduce it later. This will allow you to manage the operation more efficiently and give the perception that your business is growing.
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Your Menu Tips & Strategies
Following are some tips and strategies for your menu.
- Presentation is important. Be creative. Consider your packaging carefully. If you are focusing on the sustainability angle, you will want to use recyclable materials.
- Delivering on time is crucial. This is especially true when you are catering for a new client. If your first five orders are delivered on time and are completely accurate, you will have a new regular client.
- The appearance, knowledge, attitude, and mannerism of your delivery staff is an important part of your brand perception. They should look professional, always in uniform, and understand that positive interactions with their customers are always a top priority. We examine this further in the “Customer Relations” module.
- Establish a minimum order and stick to it. Also, a lot of caterers charge a delivery fee. Find out what you competitors are doing.
- It is important to easily accommodate common food allergies including nuts, shellfish and dairy products. Providing table tent ingredient descriptions is a great feature to offer.
- Stay up-to-date on health and dietary trends including vegetarian, vegan, and heart-healthy. In general, consumers are eating considerably less processed foods and more all-natural organic products. Consider offering alternatives such as gluten-free breads and whole-wheat pasta.
- Charge appropriately for you higher cost items. Clients expect to pay a premium for a top quality product.
- Be prepared. Have checkout systems for all outgoing orders and backup paper products in the delivery vehicles.
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Your Menu How-To-Steps
Following is a “starter” How-To Guide for creating your menu. Once you have reviewed all the information in the “Your Menu” module and the “Worksheets and Checklists” documents, you are ready to begin planning your physical menu.
- Gather catering menus from competitors in your area. Spend some time online and investigate other corporate drop-off catering menus from around the country. Do an image search on Google for visual ideas and concepts.
- Create a checklist of all the information and items that will be on your menu such as:
- Phone Number
- Service area
- Delivery charges
- Advance required notice
- Cancellation policy
- Food items
- Food descriptions
- Prices per person, or by quantity
- Any other important information
- Sketch a mock-up of the basic menu layout.
- Choose a color scheme that matches the style of your food and restaurant. Here are a few guidelines for colors: Gourmet Food – use dark colors to convey luxury, seriousness and higher price points. Casual Foods – use warm, muted colors which look appropriately inviting. Young Clientele – use bright colors. Sustainability Focus – use earth colors such as brown and greens.
- If you own a food venue, your catering menu should have the same look and feel as your restaurant menu. While you want your corporate drop-off catering division to be perceived as a separate entity, your brand is the umbrella for the whole operation.
- Organize your menu logically. Often menus are broken up by food categories such as sandwiches, entrees, desserts, beverages or main sections (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) and subsections (Fish, Poultry, Vegetarian, Pasta, Salads.)
- List the food items and prices.
- Describe each dish.
- Add photos with caution. If you want to include them in your menu, consider hiring a professional.
- Work out the finer details in a second round of mock-ups. This time, focus on fonts, margins, spacing, and overall composition.
- Try to visually balance each page. Draw a square around each area of content, and then look at their overall placement versus the remaining white space. Do the pages look lopsided? Do certain sections look underdeveloped and need more content?
- Select the final layout. Make sure the restaurant owner, manager, and chef sign off on the design and content. Additionally, have someone who isn’t in the business give you their thoughts; what seems obvious to a person in the know may be confusing for the layman. If possible, take the layout to a graphic design professional for any additional design suggestions.
- Proofread and print the final design. The graphic designer will provide you with a proof. Go though the entire proof with a fine-tooth comb. Consider having a professional proofreader read through it before singing off.
- Print, Post, and Share. Your catering menu should be placed on the website with a PDF version for downloading. Printed versions should be placed on the checkout counter at your food venue.
- Update and Revise. Given the changing costs of goods and other issues, it is important to carefully review your menu for any needed updates or changes every six months. During this process, pay close attention to your food costs, customer feedback, and market trends.
- IMPORATANT REMINDER: State this somewhere on the menu: “Prices subject to change due to market conditions”.
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