So, you’ve opened a restaurant. You have rave reviews, excellent staff, and customers who keep coming back. What’s next? Undoubtedly, you’ve already been asked, “Do you cater?” People already love your food, so why not capitalize on it and offer catering services as well?

Today, the food industry is one of the fastest-growing businesses. As a restaurateur seeking more financial activities to bring in more business. Catering out of your restaurant is one such way to increase your sales and profits. Restaurant catering is a lucrative way to reach customers beyond your dining rooms.

Most restaurant owners have banquets and private dining halls that can be used to organize events like weddings, business conferences, or parties, while some also offer off-premise catering services. However, managing your restaurant and catering business together is a challenging job.

Here’s your guide to everything you need to know about getting into the $7 billion dollar catering industry.

The Concept

Choose a concept that you are knowledgeable about and perfect it. While it may seem easy to translate a dine-in menu to catering, having a set number of dishes or themes (wedding, BBQ, office lunch, etc.) will help streamline the process.

Specializing in a specific type of food or event will allow you to develop a clear marketing strategy for targeting clientele. Gourmet caterers, for example, may target corporations, large holiday parties, wedding receptions or other special events. Smaller, casual operations might be more oriented toward office lunch parties, BBQ’s or family events. Unlike a restaurant where customers can see the ambiance, clients have to envision what your catering style will be like. Pictures of past events, brochures and a sample menu can all help bring the concept of the event to life for clients.

Catering is also an excellent opportunity to build brand awareness and reach clients who may have otherwise never heard of your restaurant.

As with any start-up venture, there will be a learning process. Out-of-the-box thinking is required. Follow up with every client and learn from feedback to determine what to improve upon in the future. Consider conducting surveys, and incentivize your customers to take the survey while the experience is fresh in their mind. By asking specific questions you will get feedback on any part of the order process that might not be working as well as you would like.

The Cuisine

A restaurant catering menu can be as simple or as elaborate as you want to make it. However, your restaurant-catering menu should be more flexible than a regular dining room menu. Keep it simple and stick with popular food items that travel well. Menu planning is an art. Play the spy and study catering companies in the area and learn from them. Know the prices and menu of other caters. This will keep you from pricing yourself out of business before you begin.

Remember, food remains the most important aspect of catering. Every dish not only needs to be delicious but also flexible enough to withstand transportation. Most items have to survive sitting in a food carrier or chafing dish for several hours. A simple rule of thumb? Hot food needs to stay hot; cold food needs to stay cold.

Feel free to experiment with your menu, but don’t forget that nothing replaces great food and presentation.

The Chef

This may seem an obvious aspect, but it’s crucial nonetheless. Not every chef loves catering. Make sure your chef and kitchen staff are on board. You may need to hire extra staff.

The technicalities

  •       First and foremost in order to run your restaurant catering business well, you need to be organized. Make sure that you have enough personnel to handle both the jobs simultaneously. You should also possess the needed equipment and tools along with additional space for storage and preparation. Ensure that you have all the resources to take a catering job and still manage to successfully run your daily business.
  •       Next, you should be able to advertise your catering business well. You can start with your regular diners. As they already like your food and service, they are likely to be the most approachable and enthusiastic clientele. Let existing patrons know about your catering service through a notice at tabletops or entrance or as an insertion in the menu. You can also start looking in local newspapers and restaurant associations for ongoing bridal and food shows. Set up your booth in these events with food pictures, price guidelines, and services offered to attract potential customers. Another way is to publicize in local papers and media.
  •       Your restaurant catering menu should be simple yet full of variations. Your menu should also be flexible to accommodate changes according to the needs of individual clients. You cannot have the same menu for your dining room and catering service; as some of the dishes would not last for the time that catering food requires. However, you can easily add a few of the delectable dishes from your regular menu to the catering menu. Or experiment new dishes for your catering menu, and if they are well appreciated you can add them as “specials” in your dining room menu. This way even the diners will get new culinary experience when they visit your restaurant.
  •       Keep a minimum number for your restaurant catering to make good profits. Also when you take up a catering job, ask your client beforehand the number of people expected to attend the event. Inform your client that this will be the number of meals that you will charge, and they are expected to pay the full amount even if fewer people actually turn up. Also, have a time limit for your catering job

From load-up to clean-up, catering can be extremely physically demanding. Essentially, each full-service event is equivalent to setting up and breaking down a restaurant in as few as 24 hours.

Find the right staff to ensure you’ve got a solid team for whatever the events may bring. Whatever the case, work with your team to understand the clients’ needs and whims. Look for personable, organized individuals whom you can comfortably delegate tasks both beforehand and during the day of the event.