So You Want to Start Catering?

When it’s done right, catering drastically increases revenue for restaurants. Dining out was becoming a more and more popular option even before COVID-19. Catering is a multibillion dollar industry, and a lot of full service restaurants want in on that profit.

If your restaurant is thinking about doing catering, you might assume that you just have to choose whether to serve food buffet-style or plated and brought out to the guests. In reality, that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to establishing this new venture.

Creating the Perfect Menu

The first thing you need is, of course, a menu of what you can offer at the event. It’s a good idea to use classics and fan favorites from your sit-down restaurant’s menu, because guests are almost guaranteed to love them. You can trade some menu items that wouldn’t work for catering for dishes that sit better or can be more easily made in bulk. Don’t be afraid to add sandwiches: They’re a well-known staple for a reason, and an easy choice for picky eaters who can’t settle on anything else.

With that in mind, you should always include menu options for common dietary restrictions like vegetarianism and veganism, or dairy, nut and gluten allergies to name just a few. You can also ask clients whether they know of any restrictions in their party so you can set aside something special.

The ingredients themselves matter, too. Different customers value different approaches, for example if you choose a rotational menu that changes with the seasons you can use farm-fresh and organic ingredients which taste better and make for fresher dishes. Of course, farm-to-table methods require you to edit and swap out menu options more often, which is a time commitment however it will reflect company values that attract certain customers more than others. It all depends on your existing customer base, target audience, and priorities in this new venture.

Once you decide what goes on it, now you need to price the menu. It should be similar in price and quality to your restaurant menu, since that’s what has come to be associated with your brand. You can factor in more exact prices either by looking at costs per plate (total food cost divided by total guests served) or by calculating the cost per person (gross revenue minus the cost of food, labor and materials).

Adding a little bit of creativity to your menu goes a long way toward standing out from the crowd. Creating themed menus is good if you have unique dishes or a specific cultural or signature theme at your restaurant, as this will help carry your brand identity into each and every event. You’ll stand out more prominently in guests’ memories, maybe enough that they come try out your cuisine at the restaurant for a sit-down dinner. Themed menus can really make an impression.

Building a Client Base

Now that the menu is settled, you need to garner some clientele. First decide when you plan to offer catering services so you know who to advertise to; May to September, also known as wedding season, is very profitable and thus a common choice for caterers who are just starting out. However just because it’s the most popular doesn’t mean that you should limit yourself to these months. Events happen all year round. Of course, catering takes time and resources so it all depends on what you can afford. There isn’t one right answer. Try different clients, events and times of year to find a model that works best for your business.

When you have your menu and calendar set, it’s time to start sourcing some clients. Networking is a major part of the catering industry, which is why you should host tasting events to give potential clients a feel for how it would be to hire you for their party. Curate a list of leads and invite them to a tasting event at your restaurant, as this has the double advantage of drawing attention to your restaurant and your new venture. Then get ready to network. Keep brochures, takeaway menus and business cards on hand to give out to anyone who seems interested. Things like discounts on their first booking or referral bonuses also go a long way toward securing new clients.

People won’t know you’ve started catering unless you tell them. Creative marketing techniques distinguish you from the crowd, so consider using other avenues besides traditional print methods or standard ads. Find your signature slogan, picture or something else unorthodox that identifies you and makes you stand out.

Lastly, your staff should be well-trained to handle any catering requests that walk in the door, no matter what else is going on at the time. They should have the catering menu on hand and know the proper procedure to make that sale.

Start Catering

Now that you have your menu sorted and you’ve done outreach to compile a list of potential clients, your restaurant is ready to launch its new catering venture. It’s an exciting time for everyone, but also a stressful balance between your old duties and this a new branch of food service.

Fortunately, recent developments in restaurant technology have made it easier than ever to keep track of your sales and handle all of your business operations, both in the restaurant and at catered events all localized in one network. At eatOS, our Point of Sale is designed to help with organization, inter-team communication, time tracking, ordering and secure transactions every time. Schedule a demo today to learn how we can help get your new catering venture off the ground and into the hearts and stomachs of your new clientele.

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