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5 Tips to Start a Restaurant Catering Program

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July 14, 2023

At some point in your culinary career as a restaurant owner or operator, you’ve probably been asked, “Do you cater?” Catering could be a lucrative option for your business and help you reach new clients. In fact, the average profit margin for catering is 7 to 8 percent, compared to 3 to 5 percent margins in full-service restaurants.

Can Restaurants Provide Catering?

Expanding your restaurant repertoire to include private catering can increase revenue and use under-utilized spaces within your restaurant. Traditional catering models average about $50 to $120 per person. That’s a hefty amount of sales!

While some might associate catering companies as distinct businesses from restaurants, a brick-and-mortar or food truck can also capitalize on menus for special events. Before you embark on your new culinary adventure, there are some tips to help you ready your restaurant for a catering component.

5 Tips to Start Catering at Your Restaurant

1. Review on On-Premises or Off-Premises Options

There are two main types of catering. One involves catering in-house, on-premises, and the other brings the food and service to the client, off-premises. Which one is right for your business depends on a variety of factors.

  • On-Premises: This catering style is ideal if you have additional spaces that your patrons can rent out to provide a private dining experience. One of the benefits is you can push food out from your in-house kitchen and plan your other reservations around your private party to keep your chefs and service team manageable.
  • Off-Premises: If you don’t have a dedicated space for private events, you can offer catering platters for pick-up, delivery, or full-off-premise service. This frees up your dining room for reservations and walk-ins. You might want a separate catering staff if you consider providing off-site service with servers, chefs, and bartenders.

2. Plan for Different Event Types

An exciting aspect of catering is that all events are unique! With that in mind, you will want to learn more about what events typically require catering. In general, these are the most common parties guests will ask about:

  • Weddings
  • Business meetings/lunches
  • Corporate events
  • Fundraisers
  • Anniversaries
  • Birthdays
  • Holiday parties
  • Baby showers
  • Celebrations of life

Each event has its own needs. Birthday parties and weddings will gear towards a more festive atmosphere, whereas a corporate conference will be more streamlined in terms of timing and menus.

3. Consider Your Catering Menus

The nature of catering means you can play around with menu concepts and offer packages based on the occasion. A wedding menu might have small bites for cocktail hour and steak and chicken for entrees. A business luncheon might offer pastries, sandwiches, and salads. The first step to creating your line of catering menus is to provide variety to serve wider client needs. While you want diverse options, catering-specific menus mean you can also be selective. Consider menu items that are easy to prepare, can hold up to transportation, or stay at the perfect temp on a buffet.

No matter how you structure your menus, you’ll want to ensure you have your pricing dialed in. Catering is vastly different than dine-in service. With catering, you’ll want to include fees for every service aspect, including equipment rentals, servers, dining ware, linens, delivery, and clean-up.

4. Develop a Marketing Strategy

As a restaurant owner, you know how essential marketing efforts are to attach new guests. The same is true for your new catering division.

  • Contact your regular patrons via your email and newsletter contact list and tell them about your new venture first. Think about offering them a discount if they contract you to cater their next event.
  • Post on social media.
  • Add a message on your receipts and post signage indicating you are now open for catering.
  • Offer incentives if a client books by a specific date or spends a certain amount.
  • Hire a catering manager. Catering managers do more than handle event logistics. They also reach out to potential clients and help book sales.

5. Partner with Restaurant Equipment Specialists

You want the best catering supplies to provide the best experience for your catering clients. Talk to your local restaurant supply store and stock up on essentials like professional-grade service and cooking ware.

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