What you need to know before you even start booking functions
By Rob Martin
I often have clients who tell me that they want to add catering to their current business. “Great,” I say. “It can be a good addition to your revenue stream if approached in the proper way. What are your goals, and are you ready?” This is where they typically look at me with a curious stare wondering what I mean by that.
With more than 11 years experience as a caterer, I know you must have a specific goal in mind for your catering, maybe it’s to add revenue or expand your market, market your restaurant or increase productivity of staff during downtime. All good goals.
But are you ready to address this market in such a way as to not harm your current business and to be able to do it well so that it is an asset to your business?
Before you start booking functions, be sure you have a good idea of the number and size of the catering functions you can handle. For instance, if you only have one catering vehicle, then chances are you may be limited to how many caterings you can do at any one time or day.
You must also take into consideration the capacity of your kitchen to prepare catered meals in addition to the demand created by your current restaurant traffic. The number of available staff, cook line capacity and storage space all need to be taken into account.
You also need to set standards for the operation before you take your first catering order. Remember this is an extension of your restaurant, and as such it will market your services to new customers in either a good or bad way.
How will you translate that experience for your in-house guest to your catering guest? This experience will either leave a catering guest wanting to come and try your restaurant or forever remove you as an option for them to experience your full service at the restaurant itself.
Equally important is to set a minimum party size when catering off premise. Depending on the price per person you can command, even with minimal labor food and labor cost there will be a point at which catering too small of a group just isn’t profitable.
Establish a basic menu and price list. Not all of your restaurant offerings are suitable for catering. Consider what items hold well and which items would not. Likewise, the current pricing for your restaurant menu may not work for a catered function either.
Get a minimum guarantee. It’s customary practice in the catering and banquet world for the client to give you a guaranteed guest count. If fewer show up, you still charge based on the
A best practice depending on the event is to carry 5 percent to 10 percent extra, a fact that the guest may or may not be made aware of when booking. This way the client isn’t embarrassed if a few extra guests show up. The caterer will have to keep track of the number of plates served or conduct headcounts, and charge for all additional guests. It is important that you account for the additional 5 to 10 percent of product when pricing the menus; that way your costs are covered.
Get a schedule planner. You’ll need a durable schedule planner to keep track of all your catering events. This can be as simple as purchasing a standard calendar planner from an office supply store or, if you prefer, using a software system designed for catering or an app. Make sure the planner is accessible by anyone who has the authority to book a function. The worst thing you can do is to overbook, causing you to be shorthanded in either your catering or restaurant operation.
And finally, have a point of contact for your catering services. It may be you or it may be an employee, but whoever it is, they must understand the standards of the restaurant and capabilities of the kitchen and have the ability to communicate that while keeping the big picture of everything else discussed above in mind. Taking these steps and defining a plan will help you in a successful launch of your catering service and developing a solid revenue stream with happy catering customers.
Rob Martin has been in foodservice industry for more than 20 years, including more than 11 years spent catering. Today he uses the knowledge gained from those experiences to help others in the industry and more as a consultant with the UGA Small Business Development Center.