Catering to Your Customers

Catering is not a new concept to the pizza industry; pizzeria operators have been offering catering for decades. But if you’ve noticed a slight downturn in the economy or felt the pinch of the rising cost of flour, offering a catering menu can introduce an entirely new revenue stream to your business—as well as new options for your customers.

After all, branching out can often prove valuable in the pizza business. If you’ve been paying attention to the Big Three, you may have noticed Pizza Hut’s new offering of pasta, with the chain forecasting that it could account for 15% of their sales within one year, without affecting pizza sales. “In just one month we’ve sold more than two million Tuscani Pastas,” says Chris Fuller, a spokesman for Pizza Hut. “The pastas are being ordered for many occasions, and we’re seeing a strong trend toward families on a Sunday night.” Of course, pizzeria operators and restaurateurs in general often look to industry leaders to seek out new trends, and expanded menu options with catering-friendly items may be the next to take off.

In addition, catering can be a wallet-friendly way to increase business and revenues. “Catering is the ideal way to expand your business outside of your four walls,” says Robert Skvorecz, president of Skorr Products in Paterson, New Jersey. “So many kitchens are underutilized; catering lets you make more money using the same kitchen.”

To Cater or Not to Cater?
Catering isn’t for everyone. Like with any new venture, you’ll need to sit down and think about how much time you’re willing to invest in marketing your new offering and making it work. “Like anything else in business, you have to make a commitment through effort, capital and time. If you want to cash in on the catering dollars but you’re not willing to give it 100%, you probably won’t see the results that you’re looking for,” says Niko Frangos, director of concept development for Cleveland-based Rascal House Pizza Cafe (www.rascalhousepizza.com), where catering has been on the menu for more than 20 years. “There are no shortcuts when it comes to being great at what you do.”

If you’re looking to try it out, though, start-up costs can be minimal; Skvorecz says it can cost less than $100 for some aluminum pans, wire chafing stands and Sterno Canned Heat. He suggests starting in the second quarter of the year, when plenty of weddings, graduations and Fourth of July celebrations can help sell your service.

Those who have been in the business for a while also tend to encourage a slow and steady approach. “It’s important to start slow and develop the business on your own level,” says Cyndi Fulco, owner of RoSal’s (www.rosalspizza.com) in Plainfield, Illinois, who has been offering catering since RoSal’s opened 22 years ago. “I suggest starting out by sending a flyer to the local PTA, nearby offices, etc., to test the waters.”

Even those who have been catering for only a few years think it’s worth the effort to at least try the option. Larry “Vito” Preston, owner of Vito Goldberg’s NY Pizzeria (www.vitogoldbergs.com) in Marietta, Georgia, has been offering catering for four years; although he says the response has been spotty, except during holidays, he highly recommends it to those who want to give it a try. “There is no waste of product or labor, the profit picture is intense and the repeat business is worth the front-end effort,” he says.

To learn more check out the upcoming May issue.