Catering is booming! Are you ready?

Lunchbox Editorial

The State of the Industry Report shows a growth rate of 3.6% YOY for the restaurant industry, which means in 2019, it will reach a record of $863b in sales. Within this growing, there’s one particular sector that’s mostly untapped and proliferating. With a growth rate of nearly double the industry, catering is expected to grow by 6% from 2018 to 2019. The industry has taken notice too. 90% of restaurant decision-makers say that catering is a crucial component to their restaurant’s future. But there is a difference between saying and doing, and only 23% of restaurant brands have taken action to invest and grow their catering business. It makes sense, though, catering isn’t the same across all levels of ordering, from operations, labors to food cost. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth investing. After all, with only 23% of restaurants actively investing in the $61.5 billion market, there’s plenty of room of more players, we’ve pulled together some thoughts on how to make executing your catering plans a little more seamless.

Don’t treat the operations the same as a regular order

At first, it may make sense that catering doesn’t need to take up its place in your kitchen; that it can live symbiotically with the day-to-day operations of your restaurant. As the kitchen heats up and the orders start to flow, you will quickly realize that shoving catering into the corner of an already maxed out kitchen layout will undoubtedly create traffic jams. The efficiency of your day-to-day operations, your catering gets slashed, and your teams are starting to break down with frustration and confusion. Tip number one, spend the money and time to invest your catering production. In an interview with Nation’s Restaurant News, Jackie Swift-Kukjian, VP of Off-Premise Consumption for Fiesta Restaurant Group, suggests restaurants should build-out “where you want your business to be in three to five years. Project your sales volume first, then look at the equipment you need.” Creating a specific space that can adequately house your catering team will increase the efficiency of your team and fulfillment.

In 2019, caterings sales will reach

a record $835B

Understand who your customer is

You’ve now got the perfect space built out for your catering team. They’re running on full efficiency, and the kitchen traffic jams are all ironed out. But the orders aren’t coming in. Let’s take a look at the menu for a second and who’s ordering in this catering marketing. 90% of catering orders are corporate events. Those events can cover a lot of scenarios, anywhere from board meetings, training sessions, team meetings, team lunches, the list only grows longer. So how do you create a menu that’s equally adaptable but doesn’t turn the kitchen into a nightmare of execution?

Take time to test and research what catering menus work best for you you. A great example of a flexible catering menu is the one developed by Potbelly Sandwich Shop. When you first enter, the site asks whether this catering is top “Live,” “Work,” or “Play,” each given a small description. They’ve helped the customers establish how they want to order. The menu has broken down various sandwich offerings that are presented in a branded Potbelly package (more on this later). Going back to that “flexible menu” part, they have “individual boxed lunch” for all those picky coworkers. Potbelly’s showcases how taking time to design and build a flexible catering menu that allows customers to order for all possible situations they see themselves ordering for large groups.

Don’t put it on autopilot invest in people.

35% of restaurant leaders site training and hiring staff as their 3rd and 4th top challenges when it comes to executing on catering. Restaurants who are actively investing in catering agree that a sales team dedicated to finding and closing catering deals is essential to launching a successful catering program. These team members are the ones out there talking and building relationships with the accounts consistently. Allowing customers to put a face to the order helping to create an almost 1:1 ordering experience. On average, 41% of business accounts will order at least 1x a week. Having a team to watch over just those business accounts and to give that gentle reminder on next week’s holiday party creates a lasting and strong relationship with all of those high-volume accounts.

Capitalize on the event

When it comes to ordering catering, it’s usually done by one person for a larger group of coworkers/friends. Giving you an incredible chance has brand exposure, you are presenting your food to tens, possibly hundreds, of people that have never interacted with your restaurant. How you package and give your diet is a billboard to what your in-house experience is. Going back to our example of Potbelly Sandwich Shop, they perfectly package their sandwiches is fully branded boxes that easily open to present the food perfect stacked inside. From first glance, you can get a sense of who they are; brand messaging is displayed on the box, allowing customers to get a 30,000-foot view of what Potbelly offers. Every catering event is more than one order; it opens the opportunity to expose your restaurant to a brand new group of customers.

Delivery driving large growth

The restaurants that are winning at catering are doing so due to two things. One we’ve already covered, they are taking this venture seriously and investing time and money. The second one is they are capitalizing on delivery. By offering delivery for your catering team is now able to fulfill more orders and reach a larger group of customers. These restaurants offering delivery are saying that the option is being used 62% of the time, as opposed to the 38% for pickup. Creating a system that allows for delivery can be a complicated, yet familiar question to restaurateurs. Do you go the third-party route (EZ-Cater) or find a way to create your own system (Lunchbox). Having control of how your customer orders enables you to develop a strong relationship with them, turning them into that repeat delivery catering customer. A system that supports delivery is a vital ingredient to a successful catering program.

The catering market isn’t slowing down, and there’s a lot of open space for restaurants to claim. It takes a strong strategy, investment, and the right execution. For the restaurants that are willing to make the jump, customers are waiting and wanting to enjoy it.

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