5 Must-Haves for Next-Gen Catering

It used to be that when clients called prospective caterers, they didn’t know anything about the offerings and it was the first contact with the company. With the ever-increasing accessibility of the Internet through both desktop and mobile devices, however, a majority of customers have already researched menus, viewed photos of the venue and even have an estimated cost for the event. “Because customers research online, it is crucial to have an online presence and message that is informational and easily accessible through mobile devices,” says Cary Bradley, CMP, CMM, senior director events-Americas, Hilton Worldwide (www.hilton.com). “Gone are the days when a customer will call us with no awareness of the offerings, and we mail them a brochure.”

Accustomed to pervasive and instantaneous access to information, customers expect proposals very quickly from caterers and want to find as much material on the website as possible. This shift requires effectively implementing technology into daily processes as well as websites and social media in order to remain competitive both in customer service and revenue. Simply purchasing the latest and most feature filled products is not the answer. It is essential for operators to evaluate the catering process and determine where and what technology can be used to increase value to customers. Following are five key elements that operators should consider as must-haves for catering technologies.

1 Specialized catering software
In previous generations, when a catering sales person was meeting with potential customers, they had to either call back to the office to work up a quote or determine availability. Many caterers now use sales software to provide immediate answers and close deals quicker than before. Presidian Hotels and Resorts (www.presidian.com), a hospitality management company, has used Hotel Sales & CateringPro by hotel SystemsPro (www.hotelsalespro.com) for the past six years to streamline the sales process. The product facilitates the communication process while acting as a catering CRM and managing all documents related to prospective customers and booked events. 

2 Mobility equals sales
One of the biggest benefits Presidian Hotels & Resorts has seen is having constant access to data through mobile devices. “You often come in contact with potential customers when you don’t expect it, either through social media or over a glass of wine at friend’s party,” says Robert Cuzzone, vice president of Presidian Hotels & Resorts. “HotelSales & CateringPro allows me to just grab my phone and see if we have availability and what I can offer. The tool lets me give immediate answers which increases sales.” 

3 Efficient online status breeds benefits
Hilton Worldwide has seen benefits with increased customer satisfaction as well as revenue after implementing online menu technology in all full-service brands of its hotels, including Hilton, Double Tree by Hilton, Embassy Suites and the Luxury Collection. One of the challenges Hilton faced was creating an online menu that was consistent in approach and spoke with one voice representing Hilton Worldwide. Hilton Worldwide partnered with Cendyn (www.cendyn.com) using its eMenus product to address the opportunity. “Many hotels share customers and eMenus allows us to create a consistent framework in menus so customers see information in a familiar format while also allowing each hotel the flexibility to create an online experience that includes local flavor, regional products and represents the culture of their location,”  Bradley explains. She says that the hotels have seen increased efficiency which translates into time saving as well as increased revenue because customers have immediate 24/7 access to the information they need. 

When caterers are able to display the latest menu information online, they can then employ online ordering technology to increase sales. When purchasing online ordering technology, it is essential to make sure that the product is customizable for your specific needs and requirements. ONOSYS (www.onosys.com), an online ordering application, allows caterers to customize the technology to ensure that they receive enough lead time for specific products with longer preparation time as well as minimum ordering requirements for specific packages.

4 Blending in rewards
Another trend for increasing sales is to offer rewards programs for booking catering. However, since many customers are corporate employees, it is important to make sure that all rewards being offered are within the corporate guidelines of potential customers and will present no ethical issues to the employees booking events. Punnch (www.punnch.com) recently released a product that allows brands to develop unique apps geared to specific demographics for rewards. The technology uses all information available about the person making the booking to cater a reward to their interests, such as tickets to a game for a favorite sports teams or a gift card to a preferred clothing store.

5 Improving proposal processes with technology
Preparing individual proposals for each prospective catering customer can be time consuming. Catering proposal products allow caterers to start with a base proposal and then customize the information for the specific customer in a fraction of the time it takes to prepare from hand. Tres LA (www.tresla.com), an upscale catering company in Los Angeles, saves two to three hours each week by using Reserve Interactive (www.reserveinteractive.com) to prepare proposals based on templates. “The software has reduced our error rate as well for the estimates since the tool does all of the calculating, and you no longer have to do the math by hand,” says Melissa Teigue, director of sales and operations for Tres LA. “The faster you get a proposal to a client, the higher the satisfaction and greater chance of landing the sale.” 
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