Improving your catering odds

If you've ever been to Vegas, you quickly realize the massive, elaborate and impressive assortment of casinos were financed because the odds favor the house. When a potential catering client calls you to book a self-service drop off catering or a full service event, make sure the odds are stacked in your favor. You want to maximize your check averages and increase order taking efficiency while ensuring your guests feel they are getting the best possible option.

Our name is synonymous with barbecue in Nashville, Tennessee, and most people find it hard to make the transition to using us for non-barbecue events. Our staff is just as capable of carving prime rib, frying catfish, grilling chicken breasts or serving pasta bars as the next guy. I understand the apprehension and even preach the perils of not keeping your catering congruent with your concept.

Discovering Problems
Recently, we acquired a catering company to incorporate into our operation and make customers and prospects comfortable with using us for their non-barbecue functions. The new division, Miller's Grill was a well-run "Mom & Pop" operation.

The owner did everything, including answering the phone when he was close to it. Most of the time it would roll to voice mail. An operator would find that strategy efficient. A marketer and salesperson would find it ineffective.

When I opened my restaurant in 1992, I took the time to mystery shop my catering competitors. I pretended to be in the market for a caterer and asked all sorts of questions about pricing, service and menu options. The information I garnered was helpful, but my observations during that pre-opening exercise has probably single-handedly been responsible for selling over a million dollars a year in full and self service catering out of my restaurant's back door.

Pick-up The Phone
Most caterers I called never picked up their phone. I was immediately routed to their voice mail or their answering machine. Playing the part of the perfect prospect, I quickly realized this was a recipe for disaster. Whether it's a secretary on her lunch hour planning the company picnic or a bride getting menus mailed for her big day, time is valuable.

If you don't answer the call, your prospect is on to the next name in the yellow pages or scurrying to find another pizza operator to help with their event. My management team wanted to use voice mail to screen all of Miller's Grill catering calls. It was "easier". Well, never let operations dictate how marketing should function. Marketing's job is to get the phone to ring and the register to overflow with dollars. Operations will try to get you to sympathize with their plight.

I immediately had the phone answered live during our normal business hours. That one move will probably add 10 to 15 percent to our sales from Miller's Grill. In fact, my partner took a call in for a 500-person event that resulted in a booking. He told me that if the phone had not been answered live, he feels certain that the prospect would have found another caterer.

Now, if you are overwhelmed and can't dedicate the manpower to spend unhurried time during your rush hour with catering prospects, do the next best thing. Here's a script you and your staff can use to keep the prospect from fleeing.

OPERATOR: Thanks for calling Romano's Pizzeria this is Bob can I help you?
PROSPECT: Hello, Bob. I'd like to talk to someone about a catering.
OPERATOR: Great. And whom am I speaking with?
PROSPECT: This is Mary Jones.
OPERATOR: Ms. Jones. I am in the middle of my lunch rush and want to spend the time necessary to answer all of your questions and review any and all options that would be a fit for your event. Would you mind if I called you back in 45 minutes so I can give you the time you'll need?
PROSPECT: No, not at all.
OPERATOR: What number should I call you back at?
PROSPECT: 555-555-5555.
OPERATOR: Great. I'll call you back in 45 minutes and look forward to helping you with your event.

Feel free to modify the script to ask a few more questions like company name, type of event and number of guests. You can also substitute a manager's name for your staff to use as the one to return the call. Your prospect just wants to know they will be taken care of. The feeling of leaving a message and having no idea when, or if, someone will call you back is more stress than the average person wants or needs to deal with.

A la Carte or Packaged Menus?
The answer to that question will dictate whether catering will flourish or flounder in your pizza business. Growing up, all fast food restaurants would list out each menu item, broken down by menu category, for customers to ponder while the line behind them grew and grew. One day someone had the idea to create Value Menus. The fast feeders of America trained us to order a #1, #2 or #3. We could choose a package that came with the sandwich of our choice, side item and a drink. As a society bombarded with hundreds of decisions to make and thousands of marketing messages a day, we were suddenly relieved from the obligation of thinking. Your catering prospects want you to do the thinking for them. By creating various packages your prospects don't need a culinary degree to calculate quantities for their guests. I always recommend that my consulting clients create packages that are sold at "Per Person" pricing. Use a chart for your staff to write up the quantities of food needed for each size group. It's easier and quicker for your staff to take orders. Your catering clients will appreciate the simplicity and the peace of mind of knowing that you'll provide plenty of food and stable per person price – whether they feed 20 or 23. You may choose to include drinks and desserts or have them as an up-sell option. Three sample catering packages for a pizza operation could be:

A: Pizza & Salad
B: Pizza, Pasta & Salad
C: Chicken Parmesan, Pasta & Salad

Your customers can easily decide what package best fits their needs, give you the number of guests and go on with the rest of their day. Package selling allows you to take orders quickly and focus your menu on the most requested catering options. This eliminates waste and stocking items that rarely move.

Good, Better, Best
Years ago we offered one self-service and one full service catering option – a meat, two sides and bread. Paying attention to how people outside the restaurant industry promote themselves, I decided to adopt Sears, "Good, Better, Best" strategy to my catering offerings. We instituted a "Basic, Deluxe & Super Deluxe" package with prices almost double the Basic for the Super Deluxe option. The difference had to do with the number of meats that came with the chosen package. You can create multiple options by adding on extra meats, pastas, sauces, sides or desserts.

Let's examine the odds and psychology behind this strategy. The Basic package appeals to about 50 percent of clients because of price or the fact their primary concern is to provide a meal. About 40 percent will opt for the Deluxe because of the same reason you choose the medium at a fast food restaurant. You're not sure of what to order and medium is a safe bet. Finally, 10 percent will order your Super Deluxe package because of ego. They always want the biggest and best and are out to impress guests or clients.

A friend of mine says that small hinges swing big doors. Taking the time to examine and improve the finer points of your operation can have the largest impact on your bottom line. Always answering your catering calls live, creating catering packages and offering at least three tiers of pricing for those packages can bring big bucks to your bank account.

All of these little things increase your odds in the catering arena. Keep them in mind to get the most profit out of each catering order.

Meet Michael Attias
Working his way through college as a server in the original Corky's Bar-B-Q in Memphis, Tennessee over fourteen years ago, Michael Attias had the vision to see the potential of great West Tennessee barbecue outside his native town. With no prior management experience, Michael convinced an investor to put up over $1,000,000 to build one of the first Corky's franchises.
Michael was fed up with cute ad reps that couldn't deliver customers and immersed himself in the study of direct marketing – the only marketing accountable to your bottom line. Because of the success he has enjoyed adapting and adopting these principles to restaurant marketing, he now has a close to $3,000,000 a year business with an annual return on investment of over 25% to an absentee owner.
As a result of these trials and tribulations, Michael has been asked to share his restaurant marketing and catering successes and failures with audiences and companies nationwide.
Michael created The Results Group and The Catering Magic system to help independents operate more profitable restaurants, start working "ON" their businesses, not "IN" them and start enjoying their life.