Canadian Franchise

Considering Catering? 5 Important Questions to Ask

from Alan Dickson, co-founder and CEO, PigOut Catering.

What kind of catering best fits our concept?

Catering comes in all shapes and sizes – from the most casual workplace lunch to fine-dining affairs. Take a good look at your concept and decide which style of catering is best for your restaurant – full-service? Drop-off and pick-up? Boxed lunch? Buffet? Before making an executive decision, think about what your restaurant does best – this is what your customers will want in catering: the convenience of food they love in a new format. Fast casual restaurants often find success in catering because their menu is varied and flexible, which is an important component of catering.

Can my menu be adapted for catering?

Depending on the style of catering you’re planning on offering, your menu might be a perfect fit or it might need some adjustments. In my experience, I suggest keeping the menu simple – I see far too many concepts try to start out with a huge menu, only to realize that they don’t have the equipment, staff or time to actually serve these items at their best. Think about what your guests want – food they love, served at optimal freshness and temperature. When you’re catering, you don’t often have the luxury of time, so all of your menu items should be able to be served at the proper temperature after travel time. Choose items that can be reheated easily without compromising the quality of the food.

Another consideration to make is to think in terms of bulk and price flexibilty – you’ll want to offer different packaging options so customers can choose how much they want to order and, more so, how much they want to spend. PigOut offers a design-your-own-menu option so guests can choose their own food based on their own personal tastes. For example, we have a list of proteins (pork, beef, chicken, seafood and vegetarian), hot side dishes, cold salads and sides, composite salads, side dishes, drinks and desserts – we also offer a host of vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free options for guests who may have dietary restrictions.

Will increased equipment costs be worth it?

There’s no question about it – if you’re looking into catering, you’re going to need to be willing to spend some money to turn that dream into a reality. The first consideration is the vehicle – if your concept doesn’t come fully equipped with a mobile catering unit like PigOut, you’re going to want to invest in the right vehicle. This is essential in catering, because the vehicle must comply with the state’s mechanical refrigeration requirements and be able to keep the food safely hot or cold. It’s also necessary that the vehicle be easily accessible for moving around in and standing up to create an efficient execution.

Additionally, consider your equipment capacity. If your restaurant is maxed out and full all the time, catering might not be a great choice because your existing resources, such as storage and refrigeration, might not be able to handle the extra food and space that catering requires.

Is my staff equipped for catering?

Think about who is going to actually get this catered food where it needs to go. If it’s a drop-off delivery catering system, you’ll need a dedicated driver. If you’re looking into full-service catering, you’re going to need an actual staff – plus uniforms, transportation and more – to execute the event. Can you afford to hire people for this purpose, or do you have existing staff members whose time can be allocated toward catering? Are they friendly and personable, while still being capable of serving a full meal outside of the safety of your brick-and-mortar location?

How will we market ourselves?

Growing a catering business requires the same consistent marketing efforts as running your existing restaurant. You’re going to need to conceptualize menus, brochures and in-store signage to promote this new offering. Think about online marketing too – you’ll need to add on to your website and social media pages, and perhaps raise awareness through social media, mobile apps and email marketing campaigns.

You’ll also need to look into building and maintaining a database of current and prospective catering customers, and communicate with them on a regular basis to keep yourself top of mind, suggesting reasons to cater and showing off new menu items or promotions. A good rule of thumb is to dedicate a small amount of time each day to focus on catering sales and marketing. Considering the potential profit, as catering orders can be several hundred to several thousand dollars’ worth of income, this small time allocation is worth it tenfold.

Catering can be a lucrative way to supplement your restaurant’s profits, increase brand awareness and explore a different component to your business. With the right considerations, you’ll be sure to find success.

Alan DicksonAlan Dickson is the co-founder and CEO of PigOut Catering, a Canadian-based white-linen catering concept that features a roaster as the focal point and gives a “WOW” factor with the overall experience. He founded the company in 2007 with his wife, Anne, after successful business ownership in the hospitality industry in the United Kingdom.

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