Lunch will be your main meal. Your corporate catering division will serve lunch, more than anything else. No matter what the theme or heart and soul of your restaurant is, we strongly suggest offering sandwiches, they are the most popular by far for lunch.
- Get creative, if you’re a bbq joint maybe offer pulled pork sliders.
- Don’t forget about the vegetarians/vegans.
- If sandwiches are not your wheelhouse, then start with just 5 simple sandwiches on your menu and rotate them out.
- If you’re a niche establishment, we’ve found that certain items sell big...perhaps comfort food with a twist.
- Hot food: Don’t treat this like dinner. People are not going out for a sit-down dinner, this is a corporate setting.
- No onions on sandwiches! Be mindful of your recipes, your clients are in a working environment, they don’t want to smell like onions for the rest of the day. This goes for salads too. Keep the onions on the side.
- Offer salads, you can keep it traditional, garden, Caesar, Greek...remember onions on the side. Later down the field you’ll develop specs for different size platters and bowls.
- Offer veggie, potato and pasta salads.
- Individual drinks! As we already talked about forget the two-liter bottles of soda, only offer individual drinks. Did you know that spring water is the most profitable single item on your menu? Spring water is also a great up-sell. You can also have a “designer drink” like a sleek sparkling water/soda/juice.
- How does it hold and travel? When creating your menu you need to think about things that hold well and travel well. For example, french fries don’t hold well or travel well. Think of things like steak tips, lasagna, chicken parmesan, grilled salmon. All of these items hold and travel well, whether in hard chafing dishes or in disposable ones. Remember that this food that’s being delivered at noon is probably coming out of the oven at 10:30, then into hot boxes, etc. If you’re not sure how it’s going to travel then do a test run. Always do test runs if you’re not sure about your food, delivery, etc. Try serving new items to your staff first, see if it holds and travels well.
Sometimes items that might not hold/travel well can be changed with a few minor adjustments. The honey mustard chicken and rice might be to dried up by the time it reaches the location. However, if you keep the chicken and rice separate while holding/traveling you can construct it on-site so it doesn’t dry up. This is a good example of communicating with your delivery team how this dish is presented as well.
- Make sure everyone is on the same page. If the chicken and rice remain separate, then the delivery team needs to know to set-up for lunch. Do they need 2 chafing dishes and 2 utensils? Or are they pouring the chicken over the rice (which is important to know) in which case they only need one of each.
- Portion Control: Cut chicken breast in half so it stretches further, 10 becomes 20. Cut lasagna ahead of time in portion sizes that will also stretch further.
- Start out small and simple add to it gradually.
- Desserts should always be offered.
- Fruit can also be offered.
- Don’t forget about potato chips.
- Get yourself a “salesperson” NOT an “order taker” You want someone with a good repore answering your phones. Someone with great customer service skills who knows how to up-sell! And make sure they’re completing that client inquiry form.
- Your pricing should be more than what it would cost in a restaurant. We suggest pricing per person, NOT per tray size. If you prefer tray size, then you can try it out see if it works, this will be touched upon more when we discuss your menu. Take a look at your competitors, what is their range for sandwiches, hot food, etc.? Once you have this information you can decide where to position yourself. If you’re purchasing more expensive products then your pricing needs to be appropriate. Food cost should be about 33%. It’s best to be somewhere in the middle, not the most expensive, not the cheapest.
Lunch is the most commonly ordered meal for corporate drop-off caterers. Sandwiches are the most frequently requested item. If your restaurant delivers, you are in the catering business. Often, the owner of a pizzeria will say, “We deliver pizza and salads to offices but we don’t cater.” Guess what? Yes, you do! Whether you are running a deli, a pizza shop, an ethnic restaurant or a diner, your food, if properly marketed, will be a viable option for companies that order catered lunches. Once you let the world around you know you are a corporate caterer, eventually that will be the perception. Remember, Perception = Reality.
The most commonly sold items on a corporate catering menu are sandwiches. Consequently, you may already be catering sandwiches or plan to add some to your menu. Given this, we want to offer some thoughts about the almighty sandwich.
- BREAD MATTERS
The first step, before deciding what goes in your sandwiches, is to look at what holds them together...BREAD. Bread is important. Don’t cut corners or go with the least expensive. Kudos if you bake or par bake some or all of your own. If you can’t bake it yourself that’s fine, but whatever you do use fresh bread.
- EVALUATE YOUR SUPPLIER
This is a good time to evaluate your current supplier unless you're 100% satisfied. Perhaps they could provide you with some samples of other sandwich bread or products they carry. Or maybe it’s time to look around for a new vendor?
- COST CONSIDERATIONS
When looking for ways to cut your food costs, weigh your decisions carefully. For example, is it better to use cheap generic bread (still fresh) or more expensive fresh baked bread from the artisan bakery down the street? If the artisan baker down the street gets ingredients from the organic farm up the road, their bread may be fresher, healthier, and have a lower environmental cost than alternatives. Also, consider all the potential customers who are partial to the local bakery and the possible reciprocal referrals between your businesses. Finally, advertising local patronage may yield additional marketing benefits. Consequently, even though the artisan bread costs more, it might be the more profitable option.
- DIFFERENTIATE YOUR SANDWICHES
There are endless creative sandwich options. Experiment and try to find ways to differentiate your sandwiches from competitors. One operation may offer as few as five types, but they are known for having the best pastrami and the daily lines to prove it, while another may be renowned for their fresh-out-the-oven bread.
- BETWEEN THE SLICES - MOST POPULAR FILLERS
- Roast Beef
- Tuna Salad
- Chicken Salad
- Cooking your own meats such as turkey, roast beef, and chicken is more labor intensive but will cost less and you can charge more. Your customers expect to pay more for quality. If you do not have the oven capacity or the time to roast your meats, make sure you carry a high-quality product. For vegetarian options, consider offering two types: one with cheese and one without.
- SUGGESTION: Do an online search for terms such as bakeries, wholesale bakeries, and bread in your area. Call and say, “Hello, this is Suzy from ABC Catering. We sell sandwiches in our operation every day, and are in the process of establishing (or expanding) our catering business. We are taking a look at local bread vendors and are hoping you could drop off some samples.”
- RECOMMENDATION: Carry 5 – 7 types of bread including:
- French baguettes / Sub rolls (or Grinder or Hoagie depending on what part of the country you are in)
- Bulkie, Egg or Onion rolls
- Marble Rye
- Roll-up or pita
- White or Scali
“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” ~John Wooden, Head Basketball Coach, 10x NCAA Champion, UCLA
In our world, the term “Set-Ups” means the paper goods, plastic ware and serving utensils that accompany all orders. I can’t say it enough...consistency is crucial! As regularly as possible, the same person or people should assemble them. All set-ups can and should be done the day before delivery. In fact, everything that can be done a day in advance, without compromising the quality of your product, should be.
Creating setup specs as part of your Operations Manual can be painful, but it is very important. Once it is done, it is done. Until then, expect lots of redundant questions regarding the set-up and the process. Accept that sometimes you will be supplying either too much paper/plasticware, or not enough, depending on the guesstimates of the person assembling them. This is an example of something that may appear inconsequential at first glance, but the cost when compounded weekly, monthly, and annually can significantly impact your bottom line. This is another key point for your Operations Manual. Just like everything else in this industry, there is a formula to paper products and accompaniments. Besides, profit margins in the food industry are challenging enough without self-inflicted avoidable expenses.
SOME OF THE DECISIONS YOU WILL NEED TO MAKE
- What size and style beverage cups will you provide?
- A lot of people drink spring water directly from the bottle. When a customer orders fifty spring waters, do you need to give them fifty cups?
- Should you invest in custom designed tote bags/boxes for bag/box lunches?
- How will hot food be transported?
- With sandwiches and tossed salad, should customers get one plate per person? Or two? Or a plate and a bowl? What if they order sandwiches for twenty people but salad for only ten?
- What types of forks and knives will you use? Mediumweight? Heavyweight?
- How many napkins per person should you include? Be careful not to appear stingy, but don’t give away too much either.
- Should mustard and mayonnaise be served bulk style in bowls? Or individual portion control packets? (=PC’s)
- What size(s) sandwich catering platters should you carry? How many sandwiches should go on each platter?
- What about dome lids? Are there some items you can cover with saran wrap instead?
BOXED / BAG LUNCH CATERING
Box / Bag Lunches are popular because they are quick, (your customers can grab it and go), and convenient, (the meal is packaged together), and there is less to clean-up. There is a wide range of options you can offer from sandwiches to salads to an array of extras.
- The box/bag should be visibly marked with the type of sandwich/salad included or grouped together for easy identification.
- A box/bag lunch most commonly consists of a sandwich, bag of chips, and dessert (cookie or brownie, whole fruit) and a beverage. Start with a base price, and charge for add-on items such as pasta salad, fruit, and upgraded desserts.
- These lunches present marketing opportunities. The box/bag can be custom designed with your company name, logo, phone number, website and social media information. This is a good area to invest some of your advertising budget towards. (If you would like more information, contact The Corporate Caterer for some suggestions on getting the biggest bang for your buck regarding custom design printing)
- Green Consideration: If your branding angle includes sustainable practices, you will definitely want to use boxes or bags that are recycled or biodegradable to maintain a consistent image.
Tips & Strategies
What should you give to a group that orders an “assortment” of beverages for lunch? Following are some tips based on tried and true formula.
50% Assorted Soda (Include Extra Coke/Pepsi) More Iced Tea/Lemonade in summer months 25% Carbonated Water/Sparkling Fruit Soda 25% Spring Water
Supply either Coke or Pepsi products. Coke outsells Pepsi, but you should negotiate with both companies. (More on that coming in September’s topic “Vendor Relations”)
- Don’t carry an enormous inventory of flavors. Six is enough. Ten maximum.
- Provide 12 oz. cans, not 16 oz. plastic bottles —which are much more expensive. Ask for “fridge packs”. These are packed loose, so you don’t need to pull each can out of that annoying plastic ring that holds 6- packs together - a great time saver.
TOP 10 COKE FLAVORS
- Classic Coke
- Diet Coke
- Caffeine-Free Diet Coke
- Diet Sprite
- Ginger Ale
- Diet Ginger Ale
- Dr. Pepper
- Diet Dr. Pepper
- Fanta (orange/grape)
*In spring/summer months, replace two flavors with Iced Tea and Lemonade.
TOP 10 PEPSI FLAVORS
- Diet Pepsi Caffeine
- Free Diet Pepsi
- Mountain Dew
- Diet Mountain Dew
- Sierra Mist
- Diet Sierra Mist
- Ginger Ale Diet Ginger Ale
- Root Beer
- Diet Root Beer Slice
* In spring/summer months, replace two flavors with Iced Tea and Lemonade.
CARBONATED WATER/SPARKLING FRUIT SODA
Sparkling = Carbonated
14-16.9 oz. plastic bottles are most common
Coke and Pepsi carry lines of waters and juices, as do a number of other vendors. It is worth taking the time to shop around. Beverages accompany most orders, and they are an important profit maker. Poland Spring sells a popular line of 16oz. flavored sparkling waters.
Two flavors are sufficient.
Include one upscale brand in a glass bottle with a nice label. This will justify charging as much as possible for the beverage assortment, which is the most commonly ordered. Examples include Nantucket Nectars, Kristal, and Snapple.
Spring = Non-carbonated (also known as “flat” or “still”)
There are two very different options for your spring water labels. One is to have your own private label. There are companies that produce bottled, custom-designed labels with your logo, and deliver to your door. It is great advertising and a very cool concept. If you are curious, start poking around the Internet for “private beverage labeling”. (Or, contact a representative at The Corporate Caterer. We can point you in the right direction.)
Alternatively, you can go with a brand/generic label, and mark it up about ten times what you pay — literally. After you get vendor pricing for spring water, check out your local wholesale warehouses. It may be worth sending a van there once a month and loading up with fifty to a hundred cases, depending on your volume.
You want to sell A LOT of spring water. It is most likely your most profitable item.
(1) Diet Coke/Diet Pepsi (1) Other soda (regular) (1) Other soda (diet) (2) Sparkling/flavored water/soda (3) Springwater
25 Beverage assortment
(3) Diet Coke/Diet Pepsi
(1) Caffeine-Free Diet Coke/Diet Pepsi (2) Other Soda (regular)
(2) Other Soda (diet)
(6) Sparkling/Flavored Water/Soda (7) Spring Water
How-To Steps & Guidelines
How to Establish Your Set-Up Policy
For drop-off caterers, pennies by the day translate into thousands of dollars by the year. If you want to be profitable you must establish specific set-up quantities for your employees to follow. The following steps will help you establish your set-up policy.
1. Read through all the information and resources in this module.
2. Read the suggested lunch set-up quantities.
3. Explore appropriate set-ups with stakeholders, encourage a collaborative process.
4. Research and compare costs among vendors.
5. Calculate per unit cost for all set-up items.
6. Determine set-up quantities and if/when there are exceptions.
7. Document in your Operations Manual.
8. Make a laminated display that is near the setup area.
SAMPLE OF SUGGESTED QUANTITIES FOR LUNCH SET-UP BAGS
Item: COLD CUPS
Size: 14 oz. TRANSLUCENT Used for: Beverages
Amount: 1 pp (pp = per person) Comments
Spring water will often be consumed from the bottle
If spring water is over 25% of assortment, number may be reduced to 3⁄4 pp
If ONLY spring water, amount may be reduced to 1/2 pp
Item: LARGE PLATES
Used for: Sandwiches, Hot and Cold Entrées Amount: 11⁄4 pp
Sandwiches and some pasta/vegetable salads may go on the same plate.
Item: MEDIUM PLATES
Used for: Sliced fruit, Cake Slices Amount: 11⁄4 pp
Also used for Hors d’oeuvres: 2pp
Item: SMALL BOWL
Size: 5 oz.
Used for: Side salads with excess liquid/fruit salad (see list)
Amount: 1 pp
Salads that have excess liquid should not be on the same plate as sandwiches
Item: LARGE BOWL Size: 12 oz.
Used for: Green Salads Amount: 1 pp Comments
Entrée Salads (Caesar with Chicken) = 9” plate
Description: Plastic heavyweight
Used for: Salads, Hot and Cold Entrées Amount: 11⁄4 pp
Cakes Slices = Additional 1 fork pp
Description: Plastic heavyweight
Used for: Salads, Hot and Cold Entrées Amount: 11⁄4 pp
Some side salads do not require knives
Size: 2-ply “Dinner"
Used for: All
Amount: 11⁄2 pp for cold food or 2 pp for hot food Comments
Beverages ONLY do not require napkins
Seasoned order-placers will sometimes request lesser amounts of certain items. They know one group “always has salad left over”, another “are light eaters and need fewer sandwiches”, and a third group “brings their own drinks”.
What to do, why, and when.
Number in Group = 20 and the order is 20 sandwiches/10 tossed salads According to the specs, a tossed salad gets (1) 12 oz. bowl per person.
But what do you do if a group of 20, orders salad for 10? How many salad bowls do we give?
Give ‘em what they are paying for, right?
But what if the customer calls and says, “There are 20 people eating — you shorted us salad bowls”?
If they’re only paying for 10 — what’s the big deal about 10 extra bowls? For one, this is what they will expect regularly. Next week, if someone else is doing their set-up, will they know to give 20? They cost about .5 cents each.
10 extra bowls at 10 orders per day equals over $1,000 a year.
(Go back and read that sentence again).
Meet in the middle? Compromise? Split the difference? Do you have a headache yet?
The right answer is: there is no right answer.
Or, better yet, it is whatever you decide it is. For the salad bowl dilemma, you can make a case for all three: 10, 20, 15. These situations will come up every day, in multiple ways. If you don’t have written policies, the setup person will either:
- Ask you every fifteen minutes
- Try it different ways
You need to establish a policy, and put it on paper — write your Operations Manual or have The Corporate Caterer create a customized Playbook for your operation.
While we strongly support the same person performing the same tasks daily, the reality is others will have to jump in on occasion. As your catering business grows, you may need a couple of people doing set-ups every day.
CONSISTENCY IS THE KEY
This is just the tip on the iceberg. What about when your customer says:
“We have our own drinks, but throw in cups.” Do you charge for them?
“We always seem to run short on paper products. Send double the usual amount.” Are they stocking their kitchen? Who is paying for double?
“We need 50 spring waters.”
Almost everyone drinks spring water from the bottle, right? Can you get away with sending fewer, or no cups at all?
Decisions, decisions. Decide on your policies and then put them in writing. The goal is to give an appropriate amount of everything, without giving too much and not appearing stingy. There are instances when charging extra is justified and situations when you should not.
In addition to the rules, you need to establish exceptions to the rules. (NOW you should have a headache.)
You can do it – and if you need help, please see our consulting services.