by Bora Kang
Catering has grown significantly over the last few years thanks to the widespread demand for this one word: convenience. Whether they be for office parties, conferences, birthdays or weddings, catering profits from the promise of efficiency, safety and most importantly—safe of mind.
But as consumer spending on catering grows, so does the competition. And while a little competition never hurts, continuing investments in your catering program will be paramount to your business’s success. Here are four strategies you can use in your existing catering business to gain a competitive edge in the crowded catering landscape.
EXPLORE NEW CATERING VERTICALS
Exploring new catering verticals is key to expanding your catering business. You may be used to catering for corporate meetings, office parties, weddings or cocktail parties, but what about outdoor festivals, picnics and movie sets? You may even get client requests you’re not used to, like having to add a food truck or using non-traditional type venues you would have never thought of using (1). But that’s what makes it a perfect opportunity. Take some time to explore what you can achieve as a business. Stepping out of your comfort zone is never easy, but challenging yourself to take on new catering opportunities will set you apart from the competition and increase your business exposure. It will also provide a marketing platform where you can meet new people and gain new leads.
INVEST IN TECH
It can be stressful to manage a growing catering business without relying on technology. From venue information, menus, pack lists, hiring, timelines, etc., there will be logistical challenges in trying to keep track of every detail without a business management software. According to Daniel Smith, writer for QSR Magazine, “technology is playing a prominent and escalating role in catering. Those who can harness technological tools like online ordering and loyalty programs are better positioned to succeed ,,, minimizing friction for the end user” (2).
If organization is important to you, you may want to invest in a management/ catering software that can automate a large portion of your business. A good management software should be able to track your sales, managing your staff scheduling and most importantly, boost the overall efficiency of your business so that you can dedicate more time and energy into helping more clients, as explained in detail in this CaterEase article (3).
We also recommend that you start utilizing some of these catering/lunch service apps (if they are available in your area) to increase exposure and volume:
Fooda (4, 5)
• A workplace food program that brings in a different pop-up restaurant to serve as the office lunch vendor each day
• Works in dense urban areas and suburban surroundings
• Primarily geared toward employers that have more than 400 or 500 people in a location.
• Roughly 75 to 80 percent of the restaurants Fooda works with are local, independent restaurants and about 20 percent are chains.
• Serves in 15 cities, see reference:
• Connects employees in office buildings with local restaurants.
• Requires restaurants handle deliveries
• These employees can pre-order a meal from a restaurant in the Foodsby network, which Foodsby then aggregates and sends the collected orders to the restaurants. Your restaurant would deliver these pre-ordered meals in one single delivery. It’s basically delivering mass meals to one location.
• Advantage: restaurants can plan their labor and production days in advance.
• Because Foodsby acts as a marketplace, with the restaurants handling their own deliveries, the fee is much less than traditional third-party delivery services.
Foodee (7, 8)
• Works exclusively with corporate clients. Orders are typically a minimum of $200, restaurants are given 24-hour advance notice, and orders are prepared during non-peak hours.
• Orders are placed by clients either online or through staff. Foodee confirms and passes the order to the restaurant, and the restaurant prepares the food by the indicated pickup time, where Foodee drivers will take, package and present to the clients, including catering set up and quality assurance. They also offer all serving utensils with compostable options.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF TRENDS
We expect the Coronavirus pandemic to have changed catering trends significantly. In an interview with Mike O’Hanlon, head of catering partner business at ezCater, with FSR Magazine, orders on ezCater containing individually packaged menu items have more than doubled as the result of the Coronavirus pandemic (9). Likewise, home delivery of family meals and to-go orders have been added to the catering software company CaterZen so that operators could diversify their services and meet this new demand (10). This trend of individual servings and lunchbox type meals is expected to continue for the remainder of 2020, and catering businesses will surely benefit from taking advantage of this trend as catering orders are expected to recover slowly, at least as social distancing and small gatherings remain in effect.
INVEST IN SOCIAL MEDIA
It’s never been more important to market yourself online. According to Nation’s Restaurant News, strategic social media marketing ideas for restaurants can drive sales and increase foot traffic (11). Especially now because of the pandemic, “Consumers are afraid to go out, so they are likely canvassing their social media much more than usual,” said New York City-based Four Corners Communications President Drew Kerr in QSR Web (12). Izea, a social media content provider, even found that about 63% of consumers expected their usage of YouTube and Facebook to increase during the quarantine (12).
Managing your online presence will be key, so make sure you have the basics: a Google listing of your business, an updated website with an online menu and a Facebook page are musts. Get your business on Instagram and even Twitter and share with your audience regular updates on the catering business, testimonials, expert tips on event planning and more. (More ideas can be found in our earlier blog, “5 Steps To Do Social Media Right.”) Be sure to take advantage of trending hashtags, especially ones involving food-specific holidays such as these upcoming ones #nationalhamburgerday (May 28), #nationaldoughnutday (June 5), #nationalsushiday (June 18), etc.
Lastly, consider utilizing these media outlets to send out a compelling brand message. Now that the pandemic has upturned our daily routines, many are creating new habits and behaviors, even the kind of food they eat. A compelling message and awareness of your audiences’ needs and trends will help establish yourself and to draw in new customers for your business. Kate Finley, CEO of Belle Communication, a restaurant digital marketing company in Columbus, Ohio, recommends that you “humanize your brand” (12). Businesses should form local, community ties and build bonds; offer foods that give people a sense of comfort, safety and nostalgia (12). Your business can also address current concerns by posting updated sanitation policies online and communicating these messages to your audience to show that your business prioritizes guest safety above all else. As Finley stated, “Now, is the time for social listening and proactive engagement. Devote time to proactively connecting with consumers. Pay attention to what’s important to your audience right now.”
We hope this brief guideline helps you build a framework for your catering program to move forward. Are you interested in managing your catering program?
Goliath Consulting Group, headquartered in Norcross, Georgia offers a dynamic array of business development solutions, tailored to meet the needs of each individual client – in addition to a full suite of knowledge and tools that help make restaurants more profitable, including strategic planning, menu development, project management, new restaurant development, branding, marketing, franchising, equipment, technology, evaluations, outsourcing, and more. The company also has a management division that manages full-service restaurants. Goliath Consulting enjoys a ten-year track record of creating client success among local, regional and multi-unit national restaurant chains.
Goliath Consulting Group is actively involved in the Foodservice Consultants Society International and is an allied partner of the Georgia Restaurant Association.