by STU LEVENTHAL
Once you know you have restaurant operations in line, meaning; your kitchen staff, food servers, managers, hosts and whoever answers your phone are trained and ready to tackle the addition of large bulk sales orders, you are now ready to begin ramping up your catering sales efforts and implementing your new, catering marketing plan. Let’s start by making clear, setting the sales team loose, pushing for more sales and marketing are two distinctly different things. Yes sales and marketing are closely associated and often work hand in hand with one another but they are really two totally different concepts which require you to construct two totally different plans. Sales people sell! Let’s not confuse that with marketing. We want our sales people; knocking on doors, making telephone calls, conducting onsite tours and business meetings and presenting off premise demonstrations of our products and services 100% of the time. Your ‘marketing’ is there to assist the sales force. Your new marketing plan will concentrate on positioning your products and services in the community and separating you from and raising you above your competition. Your sales team will use your new marketing pieces and newly branded messages to sell easier and sell much more.
Sales people usually work on commission and bonuses so we don’t want to be the thing that is holding them back from doing their job. Selling! That means marketing has to be done for them. Now, I’m not talking about taking out a high priced radio add that shouts, your restaurant now caters. That is called advertising. Plenty of upper managements bulk all their advertising, sales and marketing together as if they mean the same thing. Marketing entails positioning your sales people so they have everything they need to go after a particular market. For example, you need to design the sales tools to attack the business lunch market. A different catering menu is needed. People eat lighter and usually healthier at business lunches than dinner buffet style catering. You may also need to hire some day time delivery drivers and get them trained on how to load, transport and set up your new business menu items.
Want your sales people to go after day care centers? You need a whole different kids’ menu, a healthy themed kid’s menu, if you want day cares to be able to sell the idea to parents. Creating coupons for the coming super bowl party weekend is a marketing strategy from its time of inception. The coupons are advertising tools. Putting together the special menu items into interesting, tasty party packages then pricing them to sell is all marketing. Deciding how to get the message out there is marketing. Handing everything over to your sales people with the orders, “Sell!” is our goal. You design the marketing stuff then pass it off to the sales team and say “Go get them!” Your additional advertising also supports the sales team.
Many management regimes make the mistake of leaving the marketing up to the sales people. No! If they make phone calls, you give them their scripts to say, already written for them. Of course they can modify it to fit their own personalities. But, you still need to give them a well thought out, well developed script for any niche you want them to go after. If they are knocking on doors, you give them a package to leave; coupons, menus, maybe food samples etc. Keep your salesmen and women selling! Let them earn their commissions. Create then hand over to your sales force all the tools they need to do their job and your sales will ski-rocket.
When a restaurant is considering adding a new catering service the first things to do are design or re-design all the advertising tools that will be promoting the service inside the restaurant. We need to let the customers know we now cater! That means signs, posters, new menus and notes on all the pages of the menus. Depending on the restaurant’s theme, you may want table top displays that advertise the new catering service on every table, counter and especially ordering surfaces. A display catering table is a good idea for a visual they can’t help notice. Set up a mock buffet with buffet pans and a nice, fresh flower center piece. Add stacks of take home catering menus and a fish bowl for customers to drop their business cards in as they try to win a catered meal for their office. This will help you gain leads to pass on to your sales people to contact.
First you set up your in-house marketing plan. That is everything you can do to promote your catering business without leaving the restaurant. Table toppers, foot notes on the menus, menu inserts, printed takeout bags, wall signs, posters, and the catering display table (preferably near the door). Remember the 80/20 rule; Statistics show, 80 % of all successful sales gained from a new promotion will be from customers we already have. If we are going to get a quick noticeable start with catering, we need to focus most of our marketing on getting the attention of the customers who are already loyal to us. We need them to buy in.
Once you have the restaurant decorated to promote catering everywhere possible, now it’s time to move on to the outside. Banners, lawn signs, helium balloons and streamers may be enough to start.
*If you are really committed to catering, you may even want to consider changing the main sign from, for example; ‘Salvatore’s Italian Restaurant’ to ‘Salvatore’s Italian Restaurant and Catering.’
Now, let’s think about how we plan to market to the first five block radius around our restaurant. The plan should be to blanket the immediate first few blocks surrounding our restaurant. These are our within quick walking distance potential customer base. We need to own this market! Slowly we expand our circle taking it wider and wider by just adding a few more blocks at a time. If we can, we add a half mile a week until we hit the five mile radius mark. The plan is to really cover and re-cover our immediate five mile neighborhood. We want to hit every establishment, in every conceivable niche this close to us. After five miles we will start specializing. That is when we start going after specific niches with marketing designed to take advantage of the needs of your particular area. We’ll need to evaluate all our competitors and look for the best promotional opportunities. But first we need to mark our turf!
Do you have formal catering order taking forms printed, in strategic places and readily available so the crew isn’t using drink napkins to jot down the new catering orders, customer information and special delivery instructions? Do we have catering containers to pack the new catering orders in nicely and serving utensils to give our customers when we deliver or when they pick up?
All personnel should already be trained to talk up the new catering menu and service as much as possible. But, we need to take it up another level. Customers want knowledgeable suggestions. If you just have anyone who happens to answer the phone taking your orders, many customers will go to where they get that extra special attention. Can you blame them? They are shelling out big bucks. They deserve VIP treatment and to talk to a specialist who knows how to make a fuss over them and their special occasion. Sometimes, just caring is the only sales advice you need to implement in order to grow your catering sales.
We’ve already talked to death the importance of the kitchen being ready and operating on all pistons before you throw all the additional chores at them by pushing for catering sales. I’m going to assume you have committed leadership and everyone is on board with the decision to add catering. Let’s also restate how important it is to have a trained and knowledgeable staff, especially at the phone order taking level and server levels. These front line positions are often neglected when it comes to training but just being able to take a phone order is not being trained in catering sales! You are losing a lot of money if this is acceptable to you. Not only do you not get add on sales; dessert, beverages, salads; you don’t have anyone pushing the higher profit menu items. But worse of all you lose tons of whole orders because most customer first call around checking prices. A catering specialist knows how to steer the customer into thinking more about planning the perfect party or event. Another problem with just having phone answerers taking your catering orders and not having someone dedicated to catering sales is there is no follow up with the customer after the order is completed. Our goal is to gain customers not individual, one time sales!
*Important – when first starting out, it is not important to offer delivery. You can just have pick up catering until you are ready for this next, very big step. Adding delivery must be well thought out. Yes, delivery can be a game changer as far as building sales but it can’t be gone into lightly or halfcocked. Not delivering a party on time and with hot food still hot will break your catering program. Forgetting to pack the delivery vehicle with service utensils or forgetting the dinner rolls or condiments like butter or salad dressings will be a disaster as far as word of mouth goes in your community. Are you prepared if your driver calls out sick the day of a big event?
You should think of ‘delivery service’ as a special feature you can add to enhance your customers’ catered experiences, down the road. You should plan as a goal to add a delivery service once you hit a specified sales figure that will support a driver’s salary. At first, orders will not justify you purchasing a catering delivery vehicle so your driver will be required to use his or her own vehicle. But you will have to up your insurance to cover the driver and anything else that happens during the delivery situation while they are working for you.