EXPANDING A CATERING BUSINESS

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GROWING CATERING SALES

by Stu Leventhal

A lot goes into expanding a business as complicated as a restaurant or catering operation. No matter how small the change is, a slew of factors have to be taken into account if you want your improvement to stick.

When developing our catering sales crew to go after a new market or if we are implementing a new menu or adding an additional service, first off, we need to develop one person who is the new catering feature expert. This person will be the go to person in our restaurant, kitchen or facility for whenever anyone in sales, production or management has a question about the new feature. Sales team members, kitchen crew, management will know way before the service is launched who our designated expert is. This person will be hands on in every aspect from further developing the new concept to taking sales. That means walking alongside the first orders from the time of sale, through production, going on the first delivery and initiating the customer service follow up call. It is this specialized catering expert’s responsibility to assure your new service is executed without a hitch.
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Our specialized catering expert will be intimately involved with laying out the new service or product mix to the Chefs and Kitchen Managers and explaining their responsibilities. It is okay and preferred for the Chefs and Kitchen Managers, once they themselves are thoroughly informed and educated, to unveil the new service or catering products to their crew members and teach each what their new duties will be. But, the specialist must follow up and assure that it has been done thoroughly, timely and to company standards.

Our go to person must also make sure all supplies needed for the new catering service or products are ordered and in stock and all the catering equipment needed is functioning properly so we can prepare, deliver and serve the new additions to our catering offerings properly and successfully.

Our appointed expert must be the key person to teach, train and assure all the employees who are at customer contact points for catering sales; hosts, servers, shift managers, bartenders and anyone who answers the phone or greets customers, are educated and supplied with all the information and tools to do their jobs efficiently concerning our newly implemented catering service or products. Important topics that need to be covered in sales training include; which items and services we make the most profit with and how to up sell by suggesting more related items or services to an order. Discounting and how to close tough customers are other important subjects. It must be mandatory for anyone who interacts with customers to go through and pass our formal training on how to sell and promote our new catering service or product before they are allowed to interact with potential customers.

By having your one appointed expert do the teaching and coaching, everyone will become comfortable with addressing issues that arise concerning your new catering expansion and its related sales with your designated expert. This will curtail a lot of confusion and frustration that usually comes along when large organizations with lots of departments make a change that effects all the departments.

*Of course everyone on our crew, front and back of the house, has already been trained on how important it is to get contact information; full names, phone numbers, email addresses and street addresses before answering customer catering questions so if someone doesn’t close the deal, the specialist or someone else can re-contact the person with a new sales pitch. We never give out catering prices until we have contact information!

Once our inside production crews and everyone who answers the phone or greets customers are prepared and educated, especially on how to deal with inquires, we are ready to begin our outside sales efforts.

Your appointed expert for the new catering services or products will be the first to test the waters then other sales members will be added. We want to move slow, test and tweak even experiment a little, before we go all out. This is supposed to be an expansion to add sales and profit we don’t need any big costly or embarrassing surprises at the launching stage. So it’s ‘baby steps’ until we’ve built our confidence and skills up.

We always start any new sales building plan by promoting first to our loyal community then expand the community we already touch. Our loyal community is all our repeat customers and regulars. If we are a restaurant and a caterer it would also include all our sit down dine-in customers as well as our frequent takeout customers. First concentrate on getting our loyal guests to buy in to the fact that we have added a feature or product to our catering mix. Next we take our message to the streets! The majority of our catering sales will come from within a ten minute drive of our establishment so we will concentrate our promotional efforts within this zone.

*Remember it is important to write scripts and role play scenarios and have practice sessions throughout the entire organization every time you implement any change in the catering process. Don’t assume people get it!

Eventually it will become just as important for all your employees to be educated about all your catering services, products and menus as far as sales are concerned. Yes, even the back of the house people, who may claim, “We don’t talk to customers.” Anyone who works in your restaurant or catering service, in any capacity, lives within your potential customer sales zone. They live and interact within your community daily. Some of them live within blocks of your fine establishment some farther away but they all come in contact with potential customers both during their off and on time. If you are a prestigious catering organization to work for, they are proud to be your; Chef, Cook or busboy. This means they are probably already telling people, maybe without even realizing it, about your new catering services and products. People in the community will take them as an authority since they work for you. You want these people to be saying the correct things. You also want to leverage their good standings in the neighborhood to gain more sales and leads. This is done by offering rewards and incentives for back of the house people who bring you sales or leads! Tons and tons of potential business can come from your back and front of the house crew members. Don’t leave this money up for grabs!

With any new change, as time goes on, you and your crew will gain experience, sharpen your skills and work out and kinks. Eventually the new service will become old hat and taking care of your customer’s requests will become second nature. If all goes smoothly, you should come to the point where you no longer need the original appointed specialist. Now you are ready to choose another aspect of your catering operation to improve or expand upon.

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