Catering corner

It’s ironic that the skills needed to be a successful student in school are those that hold you back as a business owner. I was never taught to embrace failure.

The rewards and recognition went to those students that achieved A+, 100 percent, as much as possible. Failure was a scarlet letter, C, D or F growing up.

Now, let’s examine business. Imagine my relief and joy when an older, wiser man told me that failure never existed in the business world. “We call it testing,” he said. And he was right. Every failure is to be embraced and chalked up to a lesson learned. The highest paid executives are not paid for their perfection, but the lessons they’ve learned that won’t be repeated at the next position. Let’s examine the seven biggest mistakes, um lessons, pizzerias make in their catering operation:

1. Failing to Add Catering as a Profit Center: Many operators are sitting on the sideline letting catering profits go down the street. You have menu items, or can easily add them, that will make you extra profits. Catering allows you to do most of your prep in off-hours, thus justifying extra hours for your crew. Catering is the only tool that pays you to advertise your pizzeria.

2. Refusing to Package Sell: My members send me catering menus for critique. Overwhelm-ingly, they focus on full pans of this and whole pies of that. Today’s catering decision maker wants a per person charge. They expect you to calculate quantities. Just make sure they don’t run out of food and get embarrassed. One of my members, Christopher Rioux of Christopher’s Pizza, has succeeded with this advice. He has a package for forty or more guests at $5 a head that includes pizza, salad and drinks. When I went to visit him last week, the host informed me they had to turn away catering business that particular day.

3. Not Letting Your Customers Know You Cater: Since it’s six times easier to get a current customer to buy more from you than to find a new customer, why are so many operators keeping catering a secret? I like to use “All Walls” Marketing! Table tents, banners, restroom signs, flyers, box toppers, lobby signs, car signs…you name it: I want to make sure anyone buying my food knows we cater. My catering check averages are much higher and profitable than my takeout or dine-in numbers. Having a database of customers allows you to get the word out with direct mail and broadcast voice mail.

4. Being Duped by “Hot Ad Reps” as Opposed to Mastering Direct Marketing: The first two to three years of being in business, I threw more money at hot ad reps than Donald Trump does on young girlfriends. It’s very costly to play the mass media game. I hate couponing. Understanding the basics of proven direct marketing is key to your success in catering. You must concentrate on the perfect target or niche, and send them the right message at the right time. Ads and sales letters with magazine teaser-like headlines will translate into higher sales than plastering your giant logo on the top 25 percent of the ad. Using testimonials, guarantees, strong offers and calls to action put more dough in your register than cute commercials people remember but can’t recall who they’re about.

5. Failing to use Lead-Generation to get Catering Business: Please don’t call me to go fishing, but I’ll jump at the chance to go “catching.” Selling catering is the same in my book. Cold calling stinks. The word “salesman” puts a chill down the spine, and “adversary” immediately pops into the brain. I want people to seek me out, perceive me as their catering expert. Lead-generation does that. The purpose is to get those interested in using your pizza and Italian specialty catering service to raise their hands and say, “Please let me buy.” Lead-generation involves setting the right bait for the right creature and waiting for them to take it.

6. Never Saying “Thank You”: I know you probably thank your customers after they place a catering order or you drop one off, but when was the last time someone took the time to send you a hand-written thank you note? I have a staffer that sends one out after every full-service and self-service catering. This simple gesture ensures a long relationship.

7. Failing To Seek Out Education: I mentioned at the beginning of this article that you are rewarded for learning from your failures. The most successful operators succeed more quickly and easily by learning from other people’s failures, um lessons. Education doesn’t stop after you grab the diploma. I invest at least $5,000 a year on seminars, newsletters, consultants, marketing tests, etc. Each time the “just one good idea” standard more than justifies my investment in each learning experience.

You have an opportunity to get a whole year’s worth of lessons in a couple of days. Make plans to attend PMQ’s New York Pizza Show and Pre-Event Workshops November 1-3. I’ll be there with much more to share than 800 words an issue permits. I hope to see you there. Together we’ll all walk away with lessons we can take home and profit from.