Author: Christie Nichols, Content and CX Strategist
It’s a few minutes past noon on a Thursday. A few dozen corporate employees are seated in a large conference room, where a long-winded executive is finishing her presentation on operational risk management frameworks (or some equally thrilling topic.)
Most of them can’t focus anymore. They’re starting to get hungry (some of them are borderline “hangry.”) At this point, the only thing getting them through this all-day workshop is the hour-long lunch break. Research has even suggested that employees perform better after breaking for lunch; this employee engagement study from Tork found that nearly 90% of North American employees said that lunch breaks helped them feel recharged and ready to tackle the rest of the work day.
Smart employers understand this and offer catered meals when work meetings stretch into the lunch break (and for special events.) When HR professionals were asked to name the most effective benefits and perks in a recent article by Bamboo HR, free food made the shortlist. Some companies even offer recurring catered lunches or breakfasts (think “Bagel Mondays” or monthly lunch-and-learn sessions.)
As one professional in the Bamboo HR article put it: “Because people loved being recognized and people love food, ordering catered lunches can be a great way to bring employees together at the office. This will not only help establish a more sociable and welcoming environment, it also provides a much-needed midday break.”
But, it’s not just lunch. Business catering can take many different forms. Consider the following scenarios:
- A law office, in the middle of a huge case, orders dinner in multiple times per week for employees working late hours.
- An accounting firm hosts a recurring “Donut Friday” for its employees to improve morale during their busiest times of the year.
- An advertising agency surprises its employees with a frozen yogurt bar in the break room, hoping to boost employee happiness in the midst of a big pitch.
- While working through a budget for the upcoming year, a digital marketing team realizes they are running through lunch time and decide to quickly order a sandwich platter online.
You can see how office catering is a huge growth opportunities for restaurants. But catering is a whole different ball game, for restaurants. To be successful, experts recommend treating your catering practice like a separate business, and ensuring consistency in food quality and service.
What works in a restaurant won’t necessarily translate to offsite success. And, when you think about it, corporate event planners who choose to order from your restaurant are putting a lot on the line. They have a lot of hungry colleagues and/or clients to please (sometimes hundreds of them.) Since much of your business will come from repeat customers and referrals, there’s a lot at stake during that first transaction.
We’ve rounded up a few tips that all restaurateurs should know, if they’re looking to attract (and retain) corporate catering customers.
Don’t do catering? You may want to reconsider.
If you’re a restaurateur, you already know that restaurant industry growth has been slow since the recession. Restaurant sales were predicted to grow along with the economy but, despite low unemployment, low inflation, and improving wages nationwide, they just haven’t caught up. The reasons are anyone’s guess, but restaurants require creative solutions and changes to their business models all the same.
In a recent blog post, we talked about what the growing business dining economy could mean for restaurants (in short: business dining is a silver lining to sluggish sales.) Catering to businesses is another growth opportunity. Consider this: up to 90% of catering orders are for corporate events. Corporate catering alone is a $3 billion industry.
“There is a lot of revenue up for grabs in the corporate drop-off market—Monday through Friday no nights, no weekends,” said The Corporate Caterer’s Michael Rosman in Catersource’s 2017 State of the Industry report. “If you are looking for that additional 10 to 15% (or more) in business to put your catering operation or restaurant over the top, it is there for the taking.”
It’s even been suggested that fast food chains, like Burger King and McDonalds, should consider adding catering to their mix, or risk holding themselves back.
“Imagine if McDonald’s decided strategically to get into the catering business and it wasn’t about hamburgers. That’s an opportunity worth billions,” said Erle Dardick, CEO of The Catering Institute.
Keep it professional
Treating corporate catering transactions differently
Corporate catering customers expect to be, well, catered to. After all, they’re likely spending a fair amount of money with you. They also expect a higher level of professionalism. Make sure your employees know how to effectively communicate to catering customers on the phone.
They won’t just be taking orders. They’ll take on the role of the salesperson, helping to inspire the catering menus and upsell items to catering customers. Properly trained staff can also identify potential hiccups, make sure the food quality is up-to-par, and even identify and engage potential catering customers. If you don’t have a dedicated employee to manage your catering business, ensure that your other employees are properly trained to handle the task.
“Training is key to get employees to engage in active selling, and compensation programs can help you,” said Dardick.
Boston Market is a great example of a restaurant that approaches catering as a separate operation in each of its restaurants. With a special training devoted to catering, it’s no wonder that Boston Market is the go-to for many companies’ potlucks during the holiday season.
Their first impression: your driver
They’re not just your delivery driver. In this case, they’re the face of your business (and often the first impression clients will get.) Be sure that you can trust them to be polite and professional. They should also be dressed professionally, in neat clothing.
Optimize your ordering system
Consider a separate system for catering orders
A person planning a corporate event (who is spending much more than the average restaurant patron) shouldn’t have to wait in the regular line to place a large catering order. Whether it’s a corporate event planner or multi-tasking administrative placing the order, these folks are very busy. Having a separate system in place ensures that lucrative catering customers get prompt attention, without taking attention away from other customers in your restaurant.
Let them order online
In our recent business dining study blog post, we talked about the rise of mobile restaurant technology in business travel. Corporate catering customers also factor in convenience when choosing a vendor. That’s why most of the top catering restaurants offer online ordering. It makes sense; whether the customer is a corporate event planner or a multi-tasking administrative assistant, they’re very busy.
Rethink your menu
When it comes to your menu, what works in-store doesn’t always translate to catering success. At worst, a poorly executed catering menu could leave diners with a bad impression of your brand. That’s why successful restaurants carefully curate their catering menus, and have their logistics down to a T.
Transportation is key It doesn’t matter if an item is a bestseller on your restaurant menu. If it doesn’t travel well, it shouldn’t be on the catering menu. Examples of food that travels well (that’s also crowd-pleasing) include sandwiches, pasta dishes, barbecue, fried chicken, and “build your own” options like taco bars and salad bars.
Get creative Plenty of notable restaurant chains have adapted their catering menus in creative ways By paying attention to what customers want, they’ve managed to create delicious catering-only options with the same raw ingredients used in their restaurants.
- Red Robin offers boxed lunches and their famous gourmet burger bar on their catering menu as opposed to individual sandwich or burger orders.
- Jersey Mike’s catering only offers cold subs, while its restaurants serve both hot and cold subs.
- Sweet Tomatoes offers their core soups and pastas on the catering menu, while seasonal soups and pastas are only served in-house.
Focus on the logistics
Efficiency is key
The logistics of catering an office event are different from others, mainly due to the added security. Oftentimes, your delivery person will have to check in with security before they can be escorted on to an elevator and to their destination. If multiple trips are involved, it can become quite a headache (both for the deliverer and the customer picking up the order.) A good packaging system will make it easier for both sides, along with helping to keep the food fresh and safe.
Food that’s packaged attractively just leaves a better impression.
“Packaging is vital because it is all about presentation,” said Judy Kadylak, vice president of Marketing at Bruegger’s Bagels. “The packaging is what consumers see on a commuter train, in a business meeting and out in public. It’s got to be eye-catching, well-designed and functional.”
Considering that your packaging is, essentially, a walking billboard, you may want to invest in some that represents your brand well (if you haven’t already.)
Don’t forget about private events
Like corporate catering, hosting private events for organizations is a lucrative opportunity. You’ll be able to plan your food costs ahead of time, and private event groups typically spend more on high margin items like appetizers and alcohol. And, the business will be coming in during typically slow weekdays.
While you obviously won’t have to worry about the logistics of transporting food, there are some special considerations when you’re dealing with corporate customers.
Consider your space
Private rooms are ideal for meetings, but your restaurant doesn’t necessarily have to have private rooms to host corporate groups. You could rent out your bar area for casual corporate celebrations, or host corporate groups on your rooftop or patio when the weather’s nice.
“Most people are fine with semi-private areas unless they’re giving a presentation that has sensitive material,” said restaurant manager Kevin Alsobrook in a Restaurant Hospitality article.
Be prepared to offer diagrams and/or photos of your space, so that corporate event planners can prepare.
Build the perfect menu, together
Given the wide range and nature of business events — from large holiday parties to intimate executive meetings — it’s important to give business customers private event menu options for every occasion and budget.
It’s also an opportunity for you to consider which dishes can be mass-prepared most efficiently, and which are most likely to please a crowd. Be sure to offer options for those with special diets (and call it out on the menu), and be sure to have enough staff on hand as to provide a flawless experience.
Treat each event as a marketing opportunity
Think of it as an extension of your brand
While your catering menu might be a little different, the experience diners receive is still an extension of your overall brand. Al Madonna, VP of Business Development at WNA, put it this way: “With drop-off catering, caterers are leaving more than their food — they’re leaving their brand.”
Catering could be a marketing opportunity — a chance to gain repeat business or new customers — if the experience is enjoyable. Since you won’t always be there to serve the food, make sure it’s fresh and served at the appropriate temperatures.
You can also consider including tableware products with your branding, that complement the menu, or little “extras” that surprise and delight diners. Fresh2Order, for example, includes lollipops with their catering orders (with the restaurant’s logo on their wrappers, of course.)
The growing importance of word-of-mouth.
Good experiences don’t just earn you repeat customers. The most effective marketing tool is word-of-mouth, and businesses are constantly seeking out referrals from other businesses.
In our recent study of business diners and their habits, nearly half of business diners said they relied on restaurant recommendations from friends, colleagues, and clients. A growing number turn to social media for recommendations on where to eat when they’re out-of-town on business. (Read the entire whitepaper here.) It follows that catering customers, with more at stake, would seek word-of-mouth recommendations from their networks before placing large catering orders.
Make sure your catering customers are happy throughout the entire process, and they just may spread the word about your business (as well as call you the next time they’re looking for office party catering ideas.)
Reach corporate catering customers more easily
We get it: you went into business with a passion for great food and service. Marketing isn’t always top-of-mind (and many restaurateurs even admit that marketing is their Achilles heel.) Luckily, there is an easy way to get your restaurant in front of hundreds of lucrative business dining customers, including those who might be researching catering options.
Whether they’re looking for a reliable caterer or just somewhere to grab a bite while traveling for business, many of today’s employees look here first: Dinova’s restaurant marketplace. That’s because we reward companies and their employees each time they do business with one of our partner restaurants. They earn corporate rebates and personal reward points each time they dine within the marketplace. And, with catering, more money spent equals more points and rebates.
Did you know that Dinova is the only program in the world designed specifically to connect restaurants with business customers? Here’s how it works.
- We incentivize the companies and employees in our network to choose in-network restaurants, by offering rebates for the company and reward points for individual employees.
- Business diners in our marketplace use the Dinova app to search for in-network restaurants while traveling, or planning a corporate event to cater.
- They pay as normal, with their corporate cards, and the program works in the background. There’s no new POS technology or loyalty cards required.
Joining Dinova’s marketplace puts you at the top of the list when potential catering customers are seeking ideas and options. All that’s left for you to do is provide great experiences, and watch your catering business grow.
Want to learn more about joining Dinova’s network. Let’s get in touch.
Want more? Go back to The Fork.