How to run a successful catering business by Executive Chef Peter P. Gambacorta
Running a successful catering business is about more than wonderful food and rental inventory; it requires business management skills, organization, and being prepared for the unexpected. These 10 tips for catering success can elevate your business so you not only look professional to your customers, but you’re also improving profit margins.
Make delicious food. This is a given! Most caterers will start a business because of their passion for the culinary arts, but don’t get stuck making only what you are familiar with. If your customers want something new or unique, explore different options and expand your menu. If you’re not comfortable creating the dish they’ve requested, don’t default to, “we don’t serve that,” instead, try working with the flavor profile, or offering a comparable dish. In addition, focus on making the food pleasing to the eye. The “visual taste” can sometimes be just as important as the actual taste.
Ensure excellent customer service. This is probably the case for 99.99% of any service oriented business, but especially for catering. Your customers want to be “wined and dined”, no differently than if they were in a restaurant. Be sure to call the week before an event and review the details. Has anything changed? How can we exceed the expectations of this client? Also, there is nothing nicer than a personal “thank you” after an event. In the age of emails, think about a phone call or a hand written card.
Hone your ability to organize events. Your ability to stay organized is not only going to impact the dining experience, but it will influence the atmosphere of the entire event. Forgetting to pack the chafing dishes could be a disaster, but having a team that is rushed, disorganized, or serving everyone at different times will make guests impatient and uncomfortable, and you will look like an amateur. You must have a system in place to keep track of venue information, menus, pack lists, hiring, timelines, and more.
Keep Attire Professional. I’m a big fan of coordinated uniforms—whether it’s formal black and whites, oxfords and aprons, or matching t-shirts, it adds a professional touch to the service and tells guests who is working the event. Even if the staff uniform is not 100% identical, be sure all clothing is clean, at the very least! Would you want to be served from somebody in the dirty apron splashed with pasta sauce, grease, dried meat, and dirt? Not me.
Ensure a sanitary environment. The health department will be sure to keep you on your toes in this area, and for good reason. You don’t want to deal with any kind of liability lawsuit, or end up getting anyone sick from the food at your event. This can be tough for on-premise events with limited (or no) kitchen space, so be sure you’ve planned ahead. Update your pack list to include meat coolers and cleaning products, if necessary.
Offer competitive pricing. Shop your competitors! Know what they are offering and at what prices. Along those same lines, you MUST understand your costs. Profitability is important in any business, so it doesn’t make sense to drop your prices to the point of losing money. Having a good software program, such as Total Party Planner, will allow you to analyze event costs to come up with the most competitive pricing and still allow you to be profitable.
Keep profits high without sacrificing service. We don’t want to take short-cuts that will turn a well planned event, and delicious meal, into a rash of angry emails. What can you do to provide excellent service that won’t cost you more? Greg Hicks from Impressions Catering recommends piggybacking on menus of events happening on or near the same date to offer delicious food that keeps your profits high. Consider setting up an extra buffet line to get guests through the line quicker, and make sure you have enough servers, bartenders, and food!