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Successful Catering 101: 4 Operational Tips to Boost Sales, Improve Efficiency

Catering sales remain one of the fastest growing areas of the restaurant industry and represent a critical source of revenue for restaurants as Americans continue to spend fewer dollars dining out. A survey by Rasmussen Reports published in November 2008 revealed than 57 percent of Americans were eating out less than in the previous six months due to the economic downturn. However, an April survey from the National Restaurant Association reported four consecutive months of growth Ã.‚¬" an indicator that the industry could be looking up. Still, restaurateurs should always be looking for ways to diversify their business regardless of the state of the economy. Whether your organization already has a successful catering program or is looking to implement one, below are several essential best-practices that every hospitality business can develop or expand upon to build a winning catering and delivery program.

1. A dedicated catering platform ensures proper execution from order to delivery.
Most restaurants use a POS system for counter and table sales with a food costing and inventory system in place to keep track of material usage and to watch over your cost of goods sold. The same should apply to catering. If your organization has a catering sales team in place and maintains a separate menu for that business, such as platters and box lunches instead of individual menu items, then a dedicated catering platform will ensure that you maintain proper control and visibility over this segment of your business, rather than treating it as an afterthought to dining room sales. A catering platform should seamlessly integrate with other restaurant systems and business intelligence tools, including inventory and costing systems, so that the corporate office and investors can view the "big picture" while store managers focus on day-to-day operational priorities. At Boudin Bakery, we use MonkeyCatering from MonkeyMedia Software to manage sales, orders, production, packaging, delivery and all the details in between to ensure that we execute efficiently and profitably on our catering business.

2. Pursue a balance between centralized control and store-level execution.
To successfully manage a high-volume catering program, a restaurant with multiple locations needs to manage both global and store-level business data. A distributed management system with store-level log in and user dashboards lets each restaurant easily access the information for their location in order to execute their catering operations more efficiently. Each location should have the ability to use different features and configuration settings and since system access can be tailored to each job function, the amount of training and available information is much less overwhelming.

3. Consolidate orders to maximize production efficiency.
In today's economy, maximizing efficiency has never been more important. Catering businesses should consolidate daily production requirements so that they produce across all of their daily demand, not just one order at a time. Through your catering solution, operations and production sheets should be grouped by menu item and work flow to reflect the kitchen design. These production sheets should include precise lists of every item included in the order, down to the number of utensil packets, boxes and bags that will be needed. Having these items already in place frees up time for the kitchen and restaurant managers to focus their efforts on higher-level operations like customer service, instead of worrying about the logistical details.

4. Keep business clients happy with streamlined, customized service.
For most restaurant-based catering operations, a significant number of customers are businesses. Because these businesses place much larger orders than your typical to-go customer, the order-taking, production and delivery processes must be especially timely and efficient Ã.‚¬" and a seamless back-end infrastructure can help make the front-of-house experience perfect. A key component to achieving this is knowing your customers well Ã.‚¬" keeping track of all customer information, preferences, special requests, previous orders, delivery notes, billing information and other customer data that help make the service more personalized and accurate. Another feature that is popular is "group ordering," enabling multiple people to place an online order, but consolidating those entries into a single order when it hits the restaurant. B2B clients are some of the most loyal and high-value you'll find, so ensuring that their orders are perfect and on-time every time is essential.
Tony DiCenzo is the consulting VP of IS&T for Forklift Brands (parent of Boudin Bakery) and a restaurant technology consultant. He has more than 22 years experience in the restaurant industry.
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