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When it comes to selling and marketing your catering products and services, reliability, predictability and scalability are three key elements required to ensure long term success. Until you thoughtfully design your restaurant catering production process, you will not be able to maximize the opportunity for catering out of your restaurants. Catering is a different business.

You must adopt a "manufacturing mentality" for your restaurant catering operation and how you engineer that dynamic into your kitchen directly relates to the successful execution of your catering business. You must appreciate that an adjusted workflow will create new operational dynamics in your restaurants.

This is where planning and flexibility in regard to your restaurant catering production methodology becomes an important part of your overall strategic catering plan. Your team must be prepared to consider batch-based manufacturing and assembling of products, as well as be able to handle last-minute order adjustments. Your catering policies and procedures must be well documented and publicized to deliver a smooth catering experience for both your store-level employees and your guests. You have to follow some sound business logic when managing order dynamics for catering. So, what you do in your kitchen really matters to your restaurant catering customers.

As catering sales grow in your restaurants, so too will the demands and competition for more resources. In my view, this is one of the biggest challenges facing our restaurant community. It is hard to teach people to respond to this kind of dynamic demand while also filling their regular duties related to your daily restaurant operations. To overcome this intellectual challenge, I'd recommend that you take the time to re-engineer the roles and responsibilities of your kitchen production teams to make room for your catering operation. Start by putting a single point of contact in charge of all catering orders when it's time to get product out the door. There is more to consider, but you need leadership at all levels of the catering transaction.

If you design properly, you can use your existing labor at the restaurant level to help facilitate the production and assembly of catering orders. If you look at the order flow, you will see that when you add the element of delivery and order distribution to the workflow, in fact, orders have to be out of the kitchen long before your guests consume your catering products. As such, you need to adjust your human capital to begin producing products long before your regular restaurant day parts begin to impact operations. The beautiful thing about that dynamic is that catering sales will yield higher margins because you are utilizing your labor far more efficiently. Saying that, you will have to look at each step of the order manufacturing and assembly process. I am proposing, that there should be very little incremental cost in human capital as you increase catering sales. Simply re-engineer the workflow of your current team members to take on some catering-related tasks on each shift. In addition, consider that menu engineering can have a serious impact on creating more capacity for catering sales. You don't have to offer every item on your restaurant's menu. Catering can be a subset of products and a very specific experience. Engineer a catering menu that takes pressure of your kitchen.

Depending on which dayparts for catering you are focused on, your production start and stop times will ramp up and down just before your retail business traffic hits your restaurants. For example, if implemented successfully, your lunch catering orders will already be in transit to your customers by the time the in-store lunch rush begins. This synergy will create more overall efficiency in your entire restaurant operation and will make better use of your assets. Ultimately, if you can engineer this dynamic properly, you will fundamentally shift the economics of your restaurants.

In addition to production start and stop times, the preparation process for receiving, inputting and preparing catering orders is something that is critical to appreciate. As an example, your catering captains on each shift at your restaurants should begin preparing for catering orders the night before they are scheduled for delivery or pick up. As such, you will get a jump on tomorrow's orders long before your kitchen closes for the day. This makes the next day's catering orders easier to execute as you prepare tomorrow's raw materials for assembly and cooking.

Meanwhile, shelf-stable items such as chips, beverages and paper service should be gathered and prepared by the closing shift, thereby making better use of downtime during slow nights at the restaurant. If it's a busy night, experience tells me that the work still gets done and the numbers look even better. People tend to work to the speed at which business is coming in the door! You just have to teach them how.

During my time at Tony's Deli, we had a single catering supervisor for each shift at the restaurant whose sole responsibility was to fold boxes, organize labels, prepare beverages and paper service for the next day's catering orders. In addition, they also helped with the store's closing procedures and cleaning that allowed us to operate our entire business far more efficiently. This kind of workflow dynamic makes better use of your existing resources that might otherwise sit idle between day parts, and is another critical part of the efficiency equation!

If you have planned and executed well, on the day of catering production and distribution, your kitchen team's energy should go into the assembly and packaging step to fill orders and not all the tasks that should have been pre-prepped earlier in the process when time was not as critical.

There is more to discuss here. However, I have learned that we can design and implement a more thoughtful workflow in our kitchens when it comes to executing restaurant-catering orders.

Let's talk catering!

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Doug Nassif
    13091513
    Great article Erle. I have been looking for an article or discussion on the benefits or pitfalls of an offsite Catering Production and Sales center model versus the traditional model of trying to maximize the potential profitability of doing everything out of the traditional retail store. To my way of thinking it sounds great in theory to be able to utilize the off-peak hours for catering production but in reality the fact that it really is two different businesses, with different priorities and methodologies makes it quite the trick to pull off consistently. Has there been any discussion on the benefits of pulling it out of the stores into a central commissary/distribution hub? Thanks
  • Erle Dardick
    13052843
    Hi Doug. Thanks for taking time to comment and read on this issue. You touch on a very interesting topic. There are some instances, especially in corporately owned multi-unit restaurant environments, where centralizing production for catering in a specific market could make sense. We can even go further to suggest that if you have particular real estate in your existing retail portfolio that is under performing, then perhaps turning that unit into a catering focused production facility could be a good strategy. For most though, especially in widely distributed systems and fragmented franchisee systems, as a community, we must be able to execute these sales/services on top of existing restaurant assets in order to realize the full gains of the opportunity. So, we probably need to study/document/ and scale both of these models to move forward as a community using our size and scale to win these dollars from customers. Great discussion. Hope this helps.
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Erle's Catering Corner

Latest posts by Erle Dardick
Erle Dardick
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.”
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