As we close out 2013, let's focus on how our restaurant community can ramp up catering sales during the holiday season. This is the time of year when your holiday catering-specific marketing materials become crucial to your fourth quarter catering sales performance. There is a direct correlation, but you have to make some noise.
During this time of year especially, as a restaurant operator, you really need to zero in on your customers and why your catering products and services are different from those of your competitors. Remember, catering out of your restaurant(s) is a different business than your in-store operation and not just an "add-on" service. You must be specific and thoughtful. Focus in on your brand promise.
In order to really drive incremental, higher-margin catering sales during the holiday season, you will need to develop marketing materials that are very visible to your in-store guests, as well as your store team members. Use existing real estate, people, and most important, your in-store customers by making it easy for them to make your catering business a success this season. There is a lot of money on the table within your existing customer base. They are all thinking about food options for their upcoming gatherings, and their options are plentiful. Your company should be the clear choice for them.
Focus on feeding your customers where they live, work and play, such as holiday office parties, at-home gatherings or off-site holiday events. Zero in on how your products and services will help your community this season.
Here are 5 ways you can focus your marketing efforts to capture holiday catering sales
1. Tell your catering story. Your catering story can be told using all of your preferred advertising methods, designed to showcase your brand and team as THE catering experts. Share a list of all of the organizations using your catering services each and every day. Make that list visible to your current in-store customers and find an area in your store to post "today's deliveries." Make it a BIG sign.... Digital would be cool... This will drive customer inquiry and increased demand for your holiday catering needs. But don't forget, you'd better have a solid catering expert in-house to help the customer.
2. Develop and showcase your holiday catering menu. Your holiday menu should be different/complementary to your current catering menu. I'd recommend that you simply do "one holiday catering product or package" alongside your regular catering menu. Focus on a category. Just be clear that it is a limited time offer (LTO).
3. Train your people to speak and write the language of restaurant catering. This is true whether you're gearing up for holiday catering sales or looking to build momentum with your current program. The most valuable marketing tool available to you as a restaurant operator is your people. Train your people at the operations level to tell your catering story to the public. Your front-line people should be able to direct your catering customers to the right team of catering people within your organization at the right moment, where that catering team will ensure that your customer's expectations are set properly for guaranteed service execution.
4. Don't discount and tell your customers why. Do not use discounting or couponing to incentivize your customer to use your catering services. There are just to many hidden costs behind the catering transaction to give away money while doing it. Just focus on doing a good job and your customers will always come back for more because catering is a stress driven transaction. If you do have to negotiate something to get the order, use your judgment based on the size of the order. Remind your customers why you don't offer discounts on catering orders.
5. Document holiday policies and procedures for your team and your customers. Assuming that you have a day-to-day catering and off-premise business strategy in place, the holiday season will place increased stress on your catering operations teams. Your catering strategy at holiday time should provide a logical plan for this seasonal spike in sales. Include provisions for additional hired holiday help and support. Align your holiday catering strategy with your existing plan and then be very specific with a separate policy and procedure guideline focused specifically on your holiday catering customer.
The holidays should be remembered as a time of festivity with co-workers, friends and family. Give your catering customers an experience to remember and they'll have even more to celebrate, as well as tell all their friends what a great catering experience you were able to provide.
Erle Dardick is a 15-year catering veteran, business turn-around expert and author, and is best known for helping multi-unit restaurant executives create successful catering revenue channels. Erle founded MonkeyMedia Software to provide catering solutions to multi-unit restaurant operators. He also is the author of “Get Catering and Grow Sales! One Monkey’s Perspective: Catering Defined for the Multi-Unit Restaurant Executive.”