Restaurant catering services offer opportunities for attracting new customers, extending influence in the community and increasing profits, but managers face some serious challenges as well. Restaurant catering operations involve some different skill sets than staff members normally use. These include greater people skills, logistical and planning abilities and special equipment and skill to serve food off-site that is safe, hot and appealing.
Holiday parties, birthdays, graduations, weddings, receptions anniversaries and community events generate great opportunities for restaurant catering services. Research by financial analysts reveals that restaurants generate four times as much catering volume as club stores, and casual restaurants are perfectly positioned to command the greatest piece of the catered pie.
Catering Takes Various Forms
Restaurant catering can consist of simple packaging of a restaurant’s regular menu offerings or include special party platters, custom menus, food deliveries and custom off-site menus for private parties and corporate meals. Simple carryout packaging of regular menu items is the easiest way to cater, and handling private parties at a restaurant using the regular menu is only moderately more difficult.
- Creating a catering menu extends the regular menu without disrupting regular operations.
- Off-site catering generates the greatest challenges to produce successful events while keeping regular restaurant service at its usual level of quality.
- Choosing one or more staff members to communicate with catering customers and coordinate bookings and service can help to facilitate handling inquiries, but someone on duty should always be available to talk to prospective customers.
- Catering services usually need a large prep area for staging, assembling party platters and loading food for off-site delivery.
Choosing Between On-site and Off-site Catering
Off-site restaurant catering generates some unique challenges. Planners must choose foods carefully because some dishes don’t travel well or hold up in chafing dishes. Some foods dry out, and others only taste best in those narrow periods when foods are perfectly cooked.
- Seafood items become overcooked in chafing dishes and produce unappetizing smells when held. Try grilling salmon or fish at the catering venue to order.
- Fried foods become cold, greasy and soggy. Fry food on-site for best results.
- Pastas dry out or become overcooked when held in chafing dishes for very long. Try casserole dishes, or boil pasta and add sauces on-site just before service.
- Red meats, lamb and prime rib grow cold if they rest too long and overcook if held in heated pans. Try cooking meats slightly underdone, and let chafing dishes finish the process. Another option is to grill meats at the site.
Soups and chili, salads, fruit dishes, stews and braised foods work well for restaurant catering menus. Chicken dishes reheat well, and raw and chilled oysters are elegant appetizers that are perfect for travel. Boxed lunches are popular items for tour groups and corporate lunches.
Providing Special Diets for Event Guests
Accommodating special diets correctly has become an increasingly common challenge not only for catering but also for regular restaurant service. Make sure that staff members understand the right definitions of various special diets and prepare meals accordingly. Misinformation or staff mistakes could have serious consequences.
How to Price and Plan for Restaurant Catering
Regardless of format, restaurants need access to basic equipment such as convection ovens, tilt skillets, holding cabinets, steamers, refrigeration, stoves and hot boxes to transport foods at safe temperatures.
- Delivery vans provide essential space without risking liability by using private vehicles to deliver catering food.
- Clear communications and careful scheduling prevent overworked staffs and people working in hectic kitchens at cross purposes.
- Planning menu prices involves adding extra expenses such as delivery costs, mileage, equipment wear and tear and insurance.
- Don’t take on projects that are too large for the restaurant to handle.
- Tiered pricing is a strategy that drops the cost per person as guest counts rise.
- Custom pricing analyzes each project by its unique criteria to determine the price for each customer.
- Fixed prices charge set prices for certain quantities of each dish. Prices might also charge by the head count.
- Extra fees might include cake-cutting fees, delivery fees server fees and set-up or take-down fees.
Restaurant catering offers lucrative ways to increase income and strengthen a restaurant’s presence in the community, but choosing the right strategy is critical to make a profit and prevent conflicts with regular restaurant service.