While many segments of the restaurant industry are sluggish, catering continues to grow.
Fueled by tech-enabled ordering and greater consumer willingness to look beyond sandwiches and deli plates, catering is now a $60 billion (and growing) industry, according to data from Restaurant Business’ sister company, Technomic.
What’s more, catering is growing 6% year over year—more than 50% faster than the rest of the restaurant industry’s growth rate.
But a whopping 41% of restaurant brands have made zero investment in catering, and just 44% of operators of the country’s 1,500 largest restaurants have posted a dedicated catering menu on their websites, Technomic found.
Here are some easy (and a few more complex) ways to jump-start your catering revenue, presented at an ezCater-sponsored conference in New Orleans last week.
1. Figure out delivery
Whether you opt to partner with a third-party delivery service or decide to offer your own delivery, getting catering orders to your customers’ door is a must-have. “Eighty percent of catering decision-makers on the business side are not likely to order from a restaurant that doesn’t offer delivery,” Technomic Principal Melissa Wilson said at the conference. “But the supply is not meeting the demand. Those who are growing faster are delivering more. Catering growth is fueled by delivery ability.”
2. Get nimble
The on-demand economy is changing consumers’ expectations around catering. Lead times are shrinking, moving from days of advance notice to mere hours. It’s important to craft a menu that is both appealing and easy for the back of house to execute. Scott Davis, president and chief concept officer of CoreLife Eatery, recalls launching a catering program at Au Bon Pain in the 1980s—before the operation had the right systems and structures in place to execute it. Not only were catering orders getting messed up, but the store’s regular customers were also getting poor service, Davis said. “We were killing a $2 million business with a $50,000 account,” he said.
3. Put catering on your website
Consumers are now well-acquainted with online ordering. So it’s likely they’ll come to your restaurant’s website looking for catering options. “A year ago, you couldn’t find catering on our website,” said Lindsay Holl, senior manager of marketing technology and digital sales for Tropical Smoothie Cafe. “You could download an order form.” Since then, the chain has optimized its website for search engines, created a robust catering page and moved a catering callout to the site’s header. Now, consumers are finding the page and are ordering through it, Holl said. “That’s been our biggest success,” she said.
5. Get to know pharmaceutical reps
More than 60% of all catering orders are business-to-business, according to Technomic. So make an effort to meet prime catering customers in your area. Hire a dedicating catering sales person, if possible, and urge that person to visit large office buildings, salespeople, pharmaceutical reps and others near your restaurant to spread the word.
6. Think breakfast and beverages
Many businesses host breakfast meetings. But only 6% of operators offer breakfast catering, according to Technomic. Catering experts agreed there’s a huge area of opportunity for smart operators to offer catered breakfast items. Another area of interest? Beverages. Some 46% of all catering orders include beverages, Technomic found. Creative and on-brand bulk beverage offerings (such as flavored lemonades or iced teas) are likely more profitable than bottled options for catering packages.