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How to Win at Catering: Top Tips from Ruby Tuesday

As the pace of life and business continues to hasten and lunches get shorter, restaurants strive to be proactive in finding ways to bring in business when their customers don't have the time to visit. Catering programs are a low-cost, low-maintenance way to boost sales, and a highly effective method for gaining new loyal customers. As a direct result of its small investment in a catering program, national restaurant chain Ruby Tuesday estimates that they bring in an extra $500 to $1,000 dollars a week in added revenue for the locations participating. Many restaurants try out a variety of creative programs and promotions to increase revenue, and catering is one of the most consistently successful, and customer-requested, service that a restaurant can provide.

Five best practices to help drive sales in catering
The key to implementing a profitable catering program is to ensure that it is as complementary to the restaurant's existing business as possible. Best practices for reaching this goal include:

  • Catering menus should be consistent with regular menu items. Not only is it cost-effective to offer menu items sold on a day-to-day basis at the restaurant, but guests that enjoy the food catered at their event are more likely to come in and enjoy those same menu items with friends and family -- and vice versa.
  • Food packaging for catering should be designated for use with regular items as well. There's no need to order two sets of packaging products if you can use them for both catering and regular restaurant food.
  • Make the guests' ordering process as easy on the restaurant as possible. Ruby Tuesday manages order placement in one central location through a toll-free number, and then the orders are channeled to the appropriate locations.
  • Order placements should follow a consistent format. When a restaurant brand has a central location managing all catering orders, each restaurant should receive its assigned orders in a single format to prevent errors or confusion.
  • Promote the catering program through marketing and public relations campaigns. Keeping existing clients happy is important, but new clients bring in additional sales. Restaurants should drive awareness of their catering programs through targeted promotions, advertising, and community relations campaigns.

Five best practices for excellent customer service
While some of the following tips may seem obvious, they are all fundamental to ensuring a positive customer experience, so be sure to examine each of these areas for optimal results in your catering program.

  • The restaurant's brand should be well-known and trusted. Any restaurant, from a national chain to a neighborhood diner, should work hard to build and promote a stable, trusted brand. Since they're not in the restaurant to easily fix a bad order, customers feel more comfortable placing catering orders with brands they know they can rely on for quality food and service.
  • Earn that trust by providing predictable and reliable service every time. Ruby Tuesday guests know that whether they're traveling across the country or to the next town over, they can always count on any location to provide the same great tasting food and excellent customer service that they've grown accustomed to at home.
  • Always prepare your food with the freshest ingredients -- never compromise on quality or quantity. Guests will notice if their meal is sub-standard and this damage would be difficult to reverse off-site and could have long-term loyalty and word-of-mouth repercussions.
  • Rise above the competition with a unique and compelling menu variety. Ruby Tuesday has developed and honed a menu stocked with "the kind of food America loves." A menu with a wide variety of entrees and other items ensures that every guest will find something to satisfy their palette.
  • Always take ownership of mistakes. It is best to avoid making mistakes; however, when they do occur, never shift blame or fail to take responsibility. Especially with the widespread use of social media in the restaurant industry, small incidents can be disproportionately amplified.

Technology can make catering a cinch
Technology should play a major role in a restaurant's catering program. Managing a catering program's many operations can be complicated without an integrated system in place. A solution like MonkeyMedia Software's MonkeyOnlineOrdering can integrate easily with a restaurant's point of sale (POS) system, not only simplifying the ordering process, but also giving the restaurant the opportunity to optimize each sale. Restaurants looking for a technology partner to help shape the structure of the catering program may benefit from MonkeyCatering, which can enable a restaurant to seamlessly manage all operations -- from order placement and production to delivery.

William Stitt manages all facets of the catering program for Ruby Tuesday Inc., including oversight of the catering sales team and client relationship management at all levels. He started his tenure with Ruby Tuesday in 1993 and beginning in 2006, successfully developed and staffed a pilot catering program with the finest regional catering professionals in the industry. Today the Ruby Tuesday catering program quietly books and manages thousands of events each month.

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