Sales relationships critical for successful catering program

May 17, 2011 | by Alicia Kelso

A catering program can oftentimes be more profitable than in-store performance, and a restaurant operator therefore must have the right sales team in place to capitalize on the opportunity.

A webinar Tuesday, "How to Sell Catering Effectively in the Multi-unit Restaurant Environment," hosted by MonkeyMedia Software, covered how restaurant operators can create a winning sales program. The webinar is part of an education series titled "Catering Makes Sense: An Educational Series for Multi-Unit Restaurant Operators" and was moderated by MonkeyMedia Software's Lisa DeFeo, head of catering education. Panel members included Britney Hickman with Newk's Cafe and Wayne Alexander, director at Einstein Noah's Bagels.

A number of participants shared tips on how to best implement the right sales team to tackle the catering component from inception to delivery.

"Make sure the right policies and procedures are in place for sales people when they're going out to sell. Have a good structure on who they're reporting to," said Jeff Drake president and cofounder of Go Roma.

Sales managers, he added, will fail without training or proper tracking tools.

Britney Hickman, from Newk's Cafe, said sales members should be a voice of the customer, and make sure the organization and what it's providing is not only meeting their needs but also exceeding their expectations.

"For us, it's about providing a personal relationship that your customer can relate to and contact time and time again. Building relationships retains customers," she said.

Time management also is critical from a sales standpoint. Setting business meetings with various department heads, especially at the heavy buyer accounts, will create optimum effectiveness.

Key accounts tend to be financial companies that frequently host monthly broker lunches, large multi-department companies such as AT & T, State Farm Insurance and Verizon, campuses and universities that host numerous events, and pharmaceutical companies, which contribute up to 40 percent of catering sales for some chains.

Pharmaceutical reps order between three to five lunches a week as they bring in a whirlwind of clients to talk about their products.

"A sales person should never meet with just one person from a large company. Work with the HR contact and make sure you're getting all departments into one meeting at one time. Because pharmaceutical reps cater so much, ask them to let your company sponsor their next regional meeting. Provide lunch and offer some brief information about your offerings," Hickman said.

Keeping it simple while building relationships

In addition to identifying heavy buyers, scaling down a catering menu is important in getting focused with the catering component. Three to four choices is a good start.

Another key in achieving a well-oiled catering machine is making sure operators and the in-store crew are on the same page.

According to the webinar, communication should be open throughout the entire organization. Operators should be able to share the best practices and gaps they've discovered in the catering component, should be involved in customer call backs, and should receive enough information that makes them aware of the overall financial impact catering can have on their business.

Operators also should willingly promote the catering program through in-store displays and other methods. They should train staff members quarterly to be knowledgeable about the catering element, including pricing and structure, so they're able to answer any questions on the spot.

Good customer retention comes with consistent execution with every order. MonkeyMedia suggests a few steps to take in order to best achieve a flawless order:

  • Receive orders
  • Organize production
  • Prepare delivery
  • Prepare order
  • Delivery, set up and service
  • Follow up

It's suggested to have the driver call customers ahead of time to confirm time of delivery, address of delivery and directions. It's also imperative to make sure drivers are clean and presentable.

After a catering service is completed, internal meetings should be held to discuss what was done well, what opportunities were missed and how to prevent missing them again.

Wayne Alexander, director at Einstein Noah's Bagels, said in order to best retain customers, a business should focus on quality and taste, on-time delivery, order accuracy and ease of ordering.

"Those are the top factors customers think of when considering a catering source," he said. "On the sales side, retention begins with the connection made up front, which starts and sets the tone for a great business relationship. That connection is enhanced by the sales person really knowing the business and how that person uses catering in their business and their ordering patters."

In the concluding Q&A portion of the webinar, it was asked how a company could remain competitive if it didn't offer delivery with its catering services. Alexander said such a setup would continuously be an uphill battle.

"People ordering food are usually not the ones eating the food. They're looking for timely delivery and to not have that component puts a challenge on you," he said. "It prevents people from ordering from you if you're not willing to take the food to them. I suggest you look at your strategy and reconsider. Convenience is a huge piece of being successful at catering."

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Customer Service / Experience, Delivery, Operations Management, Staffing & Training, Webinars

Alicia Kelso
Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with, and has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, and Franchise Asia magazine. View Alicia Kelso's profile on LinkedIn

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