When we speak to clients some of the initial questions we ask are...
- Do you have a separate, hard-copy corporate drop-off catering menu?
- Do you have a link on your website that reads Corporate Catering?
(Some parts of the country use the term drop-off, some parts of the country use the term corporate catering...we’ve combined the two...corporate drop-off menu)
- If the answer is “no” this is where we begin.
- If the answer is “yes” this also is where we begin.
Creating a stellar corporate drop-off menu is the first step in letting the world know what you do.
Do your research. Print, or get hard-copies of three of your competitors catering menus. Compare and contrast the design, layout, menu offerings, pricing structure and policy information including hours and days of delivery, ordering minimums, delivery charges, advance notice requirements, payment terms, how to order, presentation and set-up, pricing and taxes, cancellation and changes and equipment pick-up policy.
* Do not reinvent the wheel. Piggyback off any existing menu(s) you have. Do you sell chicken, salmon, and beef? Great! These items can all be used for specialty sandwiches and room-temperature buffet platters. Do you have a restaurant menu that includes Chicken Cutlet Parmesan or Lasagna? Expand your brand by offering menu items that aren’t typical of what you generally offer.
Create a basic menu based on what you think is kitchen and delivery friendly.
* Do not copy any of your competitors menu or policy information word-for-word.
If you DO have a corporate catering menu
Take a good, thorough look at it.
Are there any items that have not sold or have rarely sold over the past year? If so, take them off.
Replace the unpopular items with any new items you may have.
Ask yourself these questions:
* When was the last time I added any new items to the catering menu?
* Am I staying current with foods and dietary issues that are trending?
* Am I able to accommodate individual requests that may be allergy related, vegan, intolerances? More often than not there will be one or two people in the group you are delivering to that has these needs. The person placing the order needs to know that these requests can be readily accommodated.
* Are my policies / fine print current? Am I charging enough for delivery? (There is no reason you need to charge any less than your competitors).
Some corporate caterers charge additional fees for:
- Chafing Dishes
- Upgraded Paper Products
- Paper Tablecloths
- Fuel Surcharge
Ask yourself a few more questions…
* When is the last time you implemented a price adjustment? (Speaking of price “adjustment” remember we NEVER refer to changes in pricing as price “increases” always stick to the word “adjustment”)
In regard to price adjustments, a short email on a Friday afternoon in the summer is an ideal time to inform your clients, that “due to escalating costs of X our menu has been amended to reflect the adjustment” (you can specify, for example dairy products and produce). Remember, your clients go food shopping and watch the news, they are well aware of market conditions affecting their personal expenses. If the timing is strategic, messages left in there box will be buried by late Friday afternoon emails, as well as the full barrage of weekend emails hence the “adjustments” may never become an issue.
* Don’t forget about beverages. These should be amongst your highest profit items. Check and see what you competitors are charging for an assorted beverage assortment. Is everyone charging $1.95 or more? You don’t need to be the only one charging $1.50. Especially if bottles of spring water are costing you a dime (or less), and cans of soda cost you 35¢.
* No 2 liter bottles! I am surprised by how many corporate caterers offer 2 liter bottles of soda. Unless you are charging $10 per liter, you will turn a substantially higher profit margin on individual cans. If you sell 2 liter bottles of soda, (or tonic or pop, depending what part of the country you are in - STOP. If you get pushback from your clients, ride it out. It will pass.
This is where it begins.
Do you have a separate, hard-copy corporate drop-off catering menu?
Do you have a link on your website that reads Corporate Catering?
If the answer is “no,” this is where we begin.
If the answer is “yes”, this also is where we begin.
If you do NOT have a corporate catering menu
* Creating one is the first step in letting the world, (or least your market area) know that you mean business. When you can hand a potential client a menu that says “_____ (insert name) Corporate Catering,” you are saying, “this is part of our brand,” If you run a restaurant, cafe, food truck, corporate dining facility or home-based catering operations you are announcing, “corporate catering is an independent division of my business.”
* Print, or get hard-copies of three of your competitors catering menus. Compare and contrast the design, layout, menu offerings, pricing structure and policy information including hours and days of delivery, delivery charges, minimum ordering and advance notice requirements, payment terms, how to order, presentation and set-up, pricing and taxes, cancellation and changes and equipment pick-up policy.
* Do not re-invent the wheel. Piggyback off any existing menu(s) you have. Do you sell chicken, salmon, and beef? Great. These items can all be used for specialty sandwiches and room-temperature buffet platters. Do you have a restaurant menu that includes Chicken Cutlet Parmesan or Lasagna? Those are great meals for a corporate catering menu. If you specialize in an ethnic or specialty food such a Mexican, Italian, Greek, Mediterranean, Health Inspired or Barbeque, stay in your lane. Your corporate catering menu should offer similar foods that what you are already offering and what you do well. You are expanding your brand.
* Start simple. Create a basic menu based on what you think is kitchen and delivery friendly. As you get your footing, there will be ample opportunity to add to the menu as you go and grow. Adding new items to your menu incrementally is also smart marketing. Studies show that consumers love the word “New.” This is why you will notice a “New” (usually in red) marking on menus.
* Do not copy any of your competitor's menu or policy information word-for-word. I will never forget the day, (as I am sure neither will “they”), when a new member of www.TheCorporateCaterer.comcalled to discuss ordering a Leads List. As we were talking, I went to their website. Figuring I had made a mistake and entered my own catering company’s website, I tried again. Dazed and confused, I asked my new member if I could call them back shortly.
For the next fifteen minutes, I read thru “their” corporate catering website with the feeling that I must be having a dream. Large pieces of the content were identical to the menu I had labored over for over fifty hours. When I was certain this was a real-life experience, I called them back, hoping there would be some incredible explanation other than the fact they had plagiarized my menu.
An awkward conversation? Umm...yep, to say the least. The rambling, clearly uncomfortable explanation was that “someone who no longer works there put the menu together and we has no idea what happened…” Um hum.... I terminated their membership and told them, (for the first and only time in my professional career), that I did not want their business.
Why do I share this? Another example of it truly, “being a small world,” and as a reminder that at some point, everything usually comes out in the wash.
If you DO have a corporate catering menu
* Dust if off and take a good, thorough look thru it. Are there any items that have not sold or barely sold for the past year? Take the off. All they are doing it taking up space. Replace them with any new items you may have. Ask yourself these questions:
* When is the last time I added any new items to the catering menu?
* Am I staying current with foods and dietary issues that are trending?
* Am I able to accommodate individual requests that may be allergy related? Or requests for vegan? Or lactose-intolerant? More often than not it only one or two people in the group you are delivering to that has these needs, but the point is that person who is placing the needs to know that these requests can be readily accommodated..
* Are my policies / fine print current? Am I charging enough for delivery? (There is no reason you need to charge any less than your competitors). Some corporate caterers charge additional fees for:
- Chafing Dishes
- Upgraded Paper Products
- Paper Tablecloths
- Fuel Surcharge
- A line item option for the client to add a gratuity
* When is the last time you implemented a price adjustment? (We never refer to it as a price increase). Has it been over two years? Remember that you don’t have to adjust all prices across-the-board at the same time. Perhaps sandwiches and salads adjust due to your escalating costs combined with existing market conditions. Next, hot entrees and desserts may be impacted because the last thing you would ever do is compromise the quality your customers have come to know. (It’s amazing sometimes that how you say something can trump what you are actually saying).
* Thirty years of experience has taught me that price adjustments do not need to be thought of, or considered front page news. Can you name an industry when prices never change? While it is appropriate to notify you catering clients about any adjustments it can be done quietly. A short email on a Friday afternoon in the summer is an ideal time to inform your clients, that “due to escalating costs of (you can specify, for example, dairy products and produce), remember, you clients go food shopping and watch the news. They are well aware of market conditions affecting their personal expenses.
* Don’t forget about beverages. These should be amongst your highest profit items. Check and see what your competitors are charging for an assorted beverage assortment. Is everyone charging $1.95 or more? You don’t need to be the only one charging $1.50. Especially if bottles of spring water are costing you a dime (or less), and cans of soda cost you .35¢.
* I am surprised by how many corporate caterers offer 2 liter bottles of soda. Unless you are charging $10 per liter, you will turn a substantially higher profit margin on individual cans. If you sell 2 liter bottles of soda, (or tonic or pop, depending on what part of the country you are in - stop. If you get pushback from your clients, ride it out. It will pass.
Restaurant vs. Catering Menu
A corporate drop-off catering menu is set-up differently from a restaurant menu. You are establishing a brand, an identity.
You might consider giving this division its own name or sub-name, for example:
Edibles Catering Express,
Edibles Catering On-the-Go
Edibles Catering Delivery
Edibles Catering On-the-Road
Edible Corporate Catering
Most items are offered family or buffet style, with minimum ordering requirements. Prices are customarily listed per person or platter size. Your pricing structure should be higher for your restaurant menu – across the board. If you charge $7.95 for a tuna sandwich in your restaurant, you can charge or $8.95 for the same sandwich. Clients are expecting to pay more for the convenience you are providing. The catering menu should include your delivery area, delivery charges, required notice, cancellation policy, and payment terms. By offering separate menus, you are creating a more prominent corporate drop-off catering presence.
Your catering menu can be a more focused, scaled back version of your restaurant menu. It is important to keep in mind that some of your in-house items may not travel well, or hold up satisfactorily if they are not served immediately.
Your restaurant customers may have no idea you deliver to their businesses, and you corporate catering clients may have no idea you operate a restaurant. There is a treasure trove of opportunities to cross-promote, increase awareness and grow your brand.
A separate catering menu, both a hard-copy and a Corporate Catering link on your website announced to the world that you mean business. You are establishing an identity as a catering company that is experienced, successful and reliable.
Differentiate Yourself From Your Competitors
Analyze the marketplace. Research and gather menus from the caterers in your area including colleges, delis and grocery stores. Consider your competitions’ menu style, selections, hours of operation, pricing, minimums, service area, and delivery charges. Identify what, if anything, makes them unique. If you sell similar items can you differentiate your offerings and services in some way? Can your catering operation stand out and above the competition? You may feature specialty niche items, healthy dietary alternatives, fresh garden-grown herbs, home-roasted meats, home-baked breads, unique packaging or local sourcing. Perhaps you are known for being very active in the community by donating to local events. You could be recognized for having the best customer service in town. Come up with some realistic ways to set your catering services apart from others.
If you want to create a successful catering brand, you need a consistent product. Be sure your physical catering menu and its content matches the feel of your business. Focus on the things your operation does well and is set-up to produce. For example, if you or your restaurant specializes in pizza your catering menu should probably not highlight sushi. If traditional comfort food is your trademark, do not switch gears into a complex, sophisticated catering menu. It will confuse your customer base.
Keep It Simple
If you’re just starting to cater keep the menu simple. Start with items that you produce a daily basis such as sandwiches, and salads, dessert platters, sliced fruit, continental breakfast spreads, and seasonal hot entrées. Your primary focus should be delivering a quality experience (both in food and service)...ON TIME! Concentrate on successful execution at the beginning and add to your menu later, once you have a good rhythm and an established system. The last thing you want is trying to overcome a bad reputation caused by a poor launch.
Every item you serve should be measurable by weight or portion size. You should have a recipe book for everything the kitchen produces. This will ensure consistency and maximize profitability. Along with impacting your bottom line, consistent portion control affects your brand.
When you produce food in bulk quantities it must be tested, standardized, and documented. All bulk recipes need to be tested for accuracy prior to adding new items to your catering menu. Making one serving of pasta salad is not the same as producing twenty servings. In addition, it is important to establish the edible cost-per- portion (total cost of ingredients divided by the number of portions the recipe yields.)
When pricing your menu, factor in all the fixed and variable costs including food, labor, transportation, paper products, and other operating expenses. As a rule of thumb, your overall food cost for corporate drop-off catering should be approximately one-third, what you charge. For example, if you charge $7.50 for a turkey sandwich, it should cost you $2.50 to produce.
Evaluate Your Resources
Your available resources such as your physical working space, equipment, the skills of your culinary staff and the responsiveness of your vendors all need to be considered. Serving 250 covers in your restaurant and coordinating 250 covers separated into ten different corporate deliveries are two very different things. It is important to ensure that you and your team will be ready to handle a sizeable catering order with short notice (usually within 24 hours), as well as same day orders.
Leaving too much work until the last minute is not a recipe for success. Create your menu with dishes that can be prepared anywhere from a few hours to a day(s) in advance. You may have to experience the growing pains of trial and error to get this right. If you compose hors d'oeuvres that don’t hold up well for the next day – you will have to re-make them. Next time, you will know to prepare them on the day of delivery.
Your catered food must transport well. It needs to hold up from the time it is prepared in your kitchen until your clients eat it; sometimes this could be multiple hours. The logistical issues of delivering the food after it has been produced should be transparent to your clients. Their concern is how it looks and tastes. Mastering the delicate art of successful food transportation is an important part of a prosperous catering operation. Therefore, as you create your menu, consider food selections that will travel well, withstand time delays, and be enjoyed by customers at the optimal temperatures.
Whether your menu is positioned in the lower, middle, or upper pricing echelon, always try to feature some lower-cost, higher profit items. Pasta dishes, homemade cookies, and brownies, continental breakfast platters, bottled spring water and coffee are examples of good money-makers. While high priced items such as seafood, beef, specialty cheeses, and fresh berries will contribute to lower returns.
The food you serve is more than the items on your menu. What goes into the creation of those items is significant too. While you can cut your costs by choosing generic bread vs. bread from the artisan bakery down the street, be sure to weigh these choices carefully. If the artisan baker down the street gets ingredients from the organic farm up the road, then their bread may be fresher, healthier, and at a lower environmental cost than the alternatives. Advertising the local aspects of your menu may yield real benefits as well.
On the other hand, if no one is going to buy your $14 artisan, all-local sandwiches, you won’t be serving them very long. The point is, factor in more than just the cost of goods when considering your bottom line, and make sure that you stay proud of the quality of the food you are providing.
Note: Bread is IMPORTANT, especially for your sandwiches. If you can become known in your market for “having great bread,” you are on the road to success.
Quality vs. Quantity
Quality should always trump quantity.? When it comes to menu options, less can sometimes be more. This principle is exemplified in most high-end restaurants. Instead of focusing on how many items you can put on your menu, strategize on how good you can make every item.
A signature item or two can sometimes make all the difference to the customer. It is not uncommon to hear, “I order lunch for our staff meetings from ABC Catering because they have the best homemade chocolate chip cookies.” A $500 catered lunch may be placed with a specific company simply because the person ordering craves their (fill in the blank.) It happens all the time.
Whether it is your sandwiches, desserts, salad dressing, even condiments, if you are focusing on quality ingredients and/or homemade items you will attract new and repeat customers. Remember, this is a process and you may not get everything right the first time. You can always add or change your menu later.
It is important to offer variety and options that will appeal to a large swath of customers. When contemplating which catering company to order from, the decision maker is often influenced by their personal preferences. By offering a good product mix, you increase the chances of being selected.
Repeat customers, the lifeblood of a corporate drop-off catering business may be particularly interested in a rotating variety of options. You must rise to the challenge of developing creative ways to appeal to your regular customers.
To succeed in the catering business, your food must be consistent. If company X has a standing order for 20 assorted sandwiches every Monday, the assortment should be identical regardless of who is producing them. For example, if employee A, a vegetarian, produces the sandwiches on Monday #1, and employee B, a meat lover, produces the sandwiches on Monday #2, the amount of vegetarian and roast beef sandwiches should be the same both weeks. Left to their own devices, they will defer to personal preferences. The secret to ensuring food consistency is creating an Operations Manual (what we call “Your Playbook”), and training your staff to use it.
Are there any special niches, not currently well served by competitors that you could leverage in your menu? According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2017 Industry Forecast, the top culinary trend themes include (Info to follow)
Update Your Menu
If you have an existing catering menu, ask yourself and staff these questions:
- Is my pricing up-to date?
- Are my high-profit and top-selling items highlighted to catch the eye’s attention?
- Does my menu include new dishes or ingredients that reflect my customers’ wants and needs?
- Could my food descriptions be more informative?
- Are we achieving our sales goals?
- Can I easily edit my menu in the future as my restaurant expands and grows?
- Is the overall menu design and look current? Or has it become outdated?
- Do I need to update any policy information?
- Do I want to test out a few new items?
If you are creating your first drop-off catering menu, consider some of these questions:
- Based on my restaurant’s operations, what type of food should I offer?
- What specialty items could I provide?
- How can I translate my restaurant menu into a robust catering menu?
And Will You...
Cater breakfast, lunch, and/or diner?
Cook your own meats (ham, turkey, and roast beef) for sandwiches?
Serve hot food?
Offer any ‘home-made’ items? (cookies, brownies, breakfast pastries, condiments for sandwiches)
Offer appetizers and/or hors d’oeuvres?
Deliver catering to private homes or only to companies and organizations?
Your Policies...What are they?
- Delivery area?
- Minimum required order?
- Advance notice policy?
- Substitution policy?
- Special menu request policy?
- Delivery policy?
- Money-back policy?
- Satisfaction guaranteed policy?
- Cancellation policy?
If you own a food venue, your catering menu should have the same look and feel as your restaurant menu. While your corporate drop-off catering division will be perceived as separate from your restaurant, your brand is the umbrella over the entire operation. If you have a website, your catering menu should be on it with a PDF version for downloading. Printed versions should be placed on the checkout counter at your food venue.
- Keep your fonts simple, yet reflective of your feel, food, and style. Avoid using funky fonts, which can be fun but tend to look unprofessional. Also, never use more than three different fonts on the menu or it will look too busy.
- Make it easy for people to read all the options and descriptions. Make sure your font size is big enough to read without glasses, and is pleasing on the eye.
- It is a better strategy to start with a smaller menu and expand it instead of starting with a large menu and needing to reduce it later. This will allow you to manage the operation more efficiently and give the perception that your business is growing.
TIPS & STRATEGIES -
- Presentation is important. Be creative. Consider your packaging carefully. If you are focusing on the sustainability angle, you will want to use recyclable materials.
- Delivering on time is crucial. This is especially true when you are catering for a new client. If your first five orders are delivered on time and are completely accurate, you will have a new regular client.
- The appearance, knowledge, attitude, and mannerism of your delivery staff is an important part of your brand perception. They should look professional, always in uniform, and understand that positive interactions with their customers are always a top priority. We examine this further in “Customer Relations” module.
- Establish a minimum order and stick to it. Also, a lot of caterers charge a delivery fee. Find out what your competitors are doing.
- It is important to easily accommodate common food allergies including nuts, shellfish, and dairy products. Providing table tent ingredient descriptions is a great feature to offer.
- Stay up-to-date on health and dietary trends including vegetarian, vegan, and heart-healthy. In general, consumers are eating considerably less processed foods and more all-natural organic products. Consider offering alternatives such as a gluten-free breads, and whole- wheat pasta.
- Charge appropriately for you higher cost items. Clients expect to pay a premium for a top quality product.
- Be prepared. Have checkout systems for all outgoing orders and backup paper products in the delivery vehicles.
HOW-TO STEPS & GUIDELINES -
1. Gather catering menus from competitors in your area. Spend some time online investigating other corporate drop-off catering menus from around the country. Do an image search on Google for visual ideas and concepts.
2. Create a checklist of all the information and items that will be on your menu such as:
- Phone Number
- Service area
- Delivery charges
- Advance required notice
- Cancellation policy
- Food Items
- Food descriptions
- Prices per person, or by quantity
- Any other important information
3. Sketch a mock-up of the basic menu layout.
4. Choose a color scheme that matches the style of your food and restaurant. Here are a few guidelines for colors: Gourmet Food- use dark colors to convey luxury, seriousness and higher price points. Casual Foods - use warm, muted colors which look appropriately inviting. Young Clientele - use bright colors. Sustainability Focus - use earth colors such as brown and greens.
5. If you own a food venue, your catering menu should have the same look and feel as your restaurant menu. While you want your corporate drop-off catering division to be perceived as a separate entity, your brand is the umbrella for the whole operation.
6. Organize your menu logically. Often menus are broken up by food categories such as sandwiches, entrees, desserts, beverages or main sections (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) and subsections (Fish, Poultry, Vegetarian, Pasta, Salads.)
7. List the food items and prices.
8. Describe each dish.
9. Add photos with caution. If you want to include them in your menu, consider hiring a professional.
10. Work out the finer details in a second round of mock-ups. This time, focus on fonts, margins, spacing, and overall composition.
11. Try to visually balance each page. Draw a square around each area of content, and then look at their overall placement versus the remaining white space. Do the pages look lopsided? Do certain sections look underdeveloped and need more content?
12. Select the final layout. Make sure the restaurant owner, manager and chef sign off on the design and content. Additionally, have someone who isn’t in the business give you their thoughts; what seems obvious to someone in the know may be confusing for the layman. If possible, take the layout to a graphic design professional for any additional design suggestions.
13. Proofread and print the final design. The graphic designer will provide you with a proof. Go through the entire proof with a fine-tooth comb. Consider having a professional proofreader read through it before signing off.
14. Print, Post, and Share. Your catering menu should be placed on the website with a PDF version for downloading. Printed versions should be placed on the checkout counter at your food venue.
15. Update and Revise. Given changing costs of goods and other issues, it is important to carefully review your menu for any needed updates or changes every six months. During this process, pay close attention to your food costs, customer feedback, and market trends.
16. IMPORTANT REMINDER: State this, somewhere on the menu; “Prices subject to change due to market conditions.”