Could catering help restaurants bolster their bottom line? The question may seem counterintuitive since catering, like other areas of foodservice, has been hard-hit by the pandemic. But restaurateurs who have weathered pandemic restrictions and public hesitancy about dining out may be considering whether or not to add a catering operation.
Glenn Whitehead, owner of Plant Matter Kitchen and Plant Matter Café in London, Ontario, says, “Adding any possible revenue stream is probably just good common sense, to be honest. […] If you own a business right now and you’re open, then offering whatever you can is certainly something that I would strongly suggest.”
Jeff Dover, principal at fsSTRATEGY Inc., a foodservice and hospitality industry consultancy, adds, “The pro is that catering is more profitable than the restaurant business. Some of the fixed costs that impact the profitability of restaurants are known. You know how many orders, of what, and at what time. It also makes use of kitchens and kitchen labour that are idle or have excess capacity during COVID.”
On the con side, he points out that pandemic gathering limits affect the size of events, decreasing demand for catering. And many businesses that used to have staff meals catered now have those staff working remotely for the foreseeable future. No staff = no office catering.
Which has a better future: event (e.g., weddings) or office catering? The answer depends on whether you’re looking at the short term or beyond.
Dover says he’d choose event catering because these contracts “are typically larger and can involve alcohol-generating additional revenues.” He also notes the pent-up demand for event catering.
Public health restrictions, however, continue to restrict catering demand for such events. Whitehead is well aware of the pandemic’s impact on this part of his business. He catered hundreds of events before COVID-19 took hold, but that business dried up once restrictions hit. “Basically, we haven’t done a thing in a year,” he says.
Many variables influence when a hundred or more people will be able to get together again, Whitehead says. He doesn’t anticipate catering large events of any kind before mid- to late-2022. However, he does see opportunity in catering office lunches, especially in office towers where there are multiple businesses open with non-skeletal staffing.
Adding a catering operation requires fresh thinking about what catering means and how to plan carefully, especially as the third wave of the pandemic is making its presence felt in Canada.
Whitehead says, “Looking for other [revenue] streams is a critical piece to try to get enough sales to cover things and keep moving forward.”
Rather than the traditional weddings and conferences, foodservice operators looking to get into catering need to consider smaller-scale approaches that can generate revenues in the short term. In addition to the office lunch trade, options include catering meals for small gatherings at people’s homes and meal kits, both of which have become more popular during the pandemic.
Technomic, Inc., which provides insights to the foodservice industry, reports that for the second quarter of 2020 in Canada “45% of younger consumers, including Gen Zers and millennials, are buying more meal kits now from restaurants compared to before the pandemic.”
Whitehead says that with people being more cautious but also bored of cooking, restaurants can offer them more variety through items like meal plans and seasonal kits. “It’s a little bit less catering and more meal kits, but I would put it under that same category.”
He has always offered a meal plan service, with clients who come twice a week to pick up several days’ worth of assembled meals. “They don’t have to do anything but heat them up,” he says, “so that’s certainly an option that I think will continue to grow.”
Operators exploring adding a catering operation should think about the following considerations.
Written by Marlene Cornelis.
During the pandemic, the need for outstanding visuals to sell your food is even greater than before, when competition was already fierce for food dollars. That’s where professional-looking food photography comes in.
Consider food photography being worth not only a thousand words, but a thousand dollars in revenue for your restaurant brand. In a digital world that’s easily influenced by visual storytelling, this is the impact that high quality styled food images can have in attracting new business to your restaurant.
According to the TripAdvisor “Influences on Diner Decision-Making” survey from 9,500 international diners, 60% of respondents from the US reported that online photos influence their dining decisions. The impact of online photos proved even higher in Spain at 72%, followed by Italy with 67%, France with 64%, and the UK with 52%. This is definitely something to keep in mind when trying to attract tourist (and other) diners.
For restaurant brands large and small, the importance of capturing high quality, well-planned menu photography remains the same – HIGHLY IMPORTANT! And during the pandemic, the need for outstanding visuals is even greater.
So, when is using a phone to take your restaurant brand’s photography a good idea?
For chefs or restaurateurs, if you have basic photography knowledge and understand lighting, angles, product positioning, shot styling, and are tech-savvy with the latest editing applications, then go for it!
TIP: Scroll through Instagram to find inspiration and shot examples to guide your photoshoot.
However, if you are like most of us, with little photography expertise beyond selfies, and even less time to spend in this area, and if you want to put your best visual face forward, here are some other solutions to create a professional profile at reasonable cost:
1. Hire New Talent
Aspiring photographers or recent photography graduates are a great place to start as they need projects to build their portfolios and often have very affordable rates. Try posting a free ad on jobsites like Indeed.com and on your restaurant’s social media pages to attract résumés.
2. Find the food influencers
A food influencer is an Instagram user with an above average following who focuses on curating and sharing food and restaurant-related content that produces user engagement to influence consumers’ decision-making.
These are savvy photographers and editors who are always on the lookout for new content to curate!
Whether you choose to take your own photos, or use a trained photographer, understanding how to make your food look its best from the kitchen preparation to the final shot can help to achieve your desired look.
Your website and social media channels might be the first experience and interaction potential guests have with your brand. You have one chance to attract business from that first impression.
This is why it is so important to put your best shot forward!
Consumers will search your website and scroll through your social media channels to read reviews and look at photos of your menus and space before deciding whether or not to book a reservation or order from your restaurant. Those visuals may mean the difference between choosing your place…or the eatery down the street.
Written by Katen Engineer and shared with permission from chefconnexion.com.
Marketing your restaurant brand successfully, meaning you’re actually experiencing a return on your marketing dollars, can often seem an insurmountable task.
It’s important to keep in mind that some of the most effective restaurant marketing strategies are designed to produce long-term results, as guests need constant visual reminders and communication about your brand to persuade their decision-making.
Instagram and Facebook have made it extremely easy to attract and gain new guests with targeted digital advertising. Set your ad objective to target audiences similar to who follows your social pages, and drive them right to your website for reservation bookings. You can track the results, and not only begin seeing your social community grow, but also your reservation bookings.
Create a seasonally inspired ticketed experience or event that requires guests to secure their spot in advance with a ticket. Not only does this guarantee a full house, but also allows you to manage the profit margin to increase your revenue, while creating a unique experience for guests. Try EventBrite for ease of ticket management.
Promotional marketing has a reputation of hurting the bottom line, but that isn’t always the case if planned strategically. There are many ways to maintain your brand experience and reputation, while offering a nominal perk to encourage guests to dine with you, and spend a little bit more. The objective with promotional incentives should be to increase the average check, by upselling the order on profitable menu items. Themed menu nights, pre-set menus, menu specials, alcohol features, and combos are all forms of promotional restaurant marketing that can increase revenue.
What better way to encourage sales than by giving someone a complimentary experience first! This marketing tactic allows you to communicate one on one the key selling features of the menu item or beverage, while making the guest feel special with a complimentary tasting. Work with your suppliers to create the experience and provide additional support and product, which will also reduce your expenses and increase your profit.
FACT: Customers are 93% more likely to purchase an upgraded bottle of wine ($10 more) when offered a sampling.
Why wait for the guests to come to you, when you can go to them? Pop-up carts, booths, and street activations can be very a cost-effective way of reaching a new audience and marketing your brand experience directly. Be sure to hand out a promotional piece, such as a complimentary appetizer or dessert card, to invite guests to your physical location to dine again!
Consider leveraging your most popular dishes, sauces, or made-in-house products that have the highest profit margin, and packaging them to go for guests to enjoy at home. This out-the-door form of marketing keeps your brand top of mind in guest homes, sparks word-of-mouth advertising, and provides your business with another revenue stream.
Most restaurant point-of-sale systems have built-in rewards programs that track guest’s information and dining history. The systems are extremely sophisticated, and often provide digital marketing opportunities to reward guests based on their dining behaviour and milestones, such as birthdays and anniversaries. Whether it’s a complimentary birthday dessert or points towards achieving a unique experience, be sure to maximize the preexisting marketing tools in your point-of-sale, or reservation booking systems, to encourage repeat business.
You know the saying – “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”? This rings true for restaurant competitors too! Over the last few years, as restaurants have struggled with new industry challenges, we’ve witnessed the birth of restaurant and chef collaborations with the objective of bringing unique experiences to guests and driving new business. Consider hiring a well-known chef to design your seasonal menu, or feature some unique menu items designed by another popular restaurant that serves a different type of cuisine, or collaborate on a pop-up to share costs. The ideas are endless, and with the right collaboration the results can be very positive for the bottom line.
When it comes to marketing your restaurant brand, Google Business is a tactic that many restaurant brands have still not tapped into fully. Google Business pages provide a platform where you can showcase images, post daily updates, create digital promotions for guests, link to your website and social platforms, and encourage guests to reward you with 5-star reviews. When a guest Googles your brand, your Google Business page is likely the first thing that pops up, which is why it’s so critical to manage this platform. The best part, all of the digital tools are free.
Let your website be the front door to your restaurant where diners can learn about you before they make a reservation. Your online strategy isn’t complete without one and sites such as the all-in-one platform Sociavore was developed for independent restaurant operators like you to be in full control of your brand, content, online ordering and reservation booking system. Your website attracts visitors and drives sales, so take control of your online presence. Book a Sociavore demo here.
Take your marketing efforts to a more profitable level by implementing one or more of these creative strategies for your restaurant brand.
Written by Kate Engineer, originally posted on chefconnexion.com.
Keeping your guests informed and up to date about what to expect when dining at your establishment has never been so critical to the success of your foodservice operation. The restaurant industry remains in a state of constant change, and to maximize the allowable dining capacities, you need to up your communications game.
Start off by keeping these key questions top of mind for a more tactical approach to your communications:
First and foremost, a transparent and authentic approach is critical in achieving effective communications that will leave your restaurant guests feeling comfortable, safe and informed about the NEW dining experience at your establishment. Be first to share your health and safety procedures, operational changes such as seating and team updates, and menu modifications, so guests know upfront what to expect without having to ask. This tactic will help to demonstrate that your team takes the changing circumstances seriously, you’re informed, and you want to provide the best guest experience.
In a recent poll, 59% of respondents shared that they use Google to find out information about a restaurant, while 41% use Instagram.
Reservation booking platforms, search engine listings, your website, social media, and review websites all share pertinent information about your restaurant that informs guests decision-making. The information listed on these digital touch points must to be current and consistent for maximum awareness. There is nothing more frustrating for a guest than showing up to find a closed restaurant, when online it says it’s open.
Here is the key information guests are looking when they search; be sure to keep it updated:
TIP: Help reduce email inquiries, direct messages, and phone inquiries by providing a few frequently asked guest questions and up-to-date team responses on your website, Facebook, and Google Business page!
It’s easy these days to overuse the pandemic in our communication, however when the time is right, focus on the new and exciting things happening at your restaurant to entice guests back in to dine and continue to take out. New menu items, improved service, seasonal drinks, revamped décor and design, weekend events, and special occasion celebrations are all things to communicate that will remind guests of why they should choose to dine with you versus a competitor. Promote what you’re best known for, and feature it on all of your communications platforms!
Social media is your simplest and quickest way to share what’s happening at your establishment with guests, and to spark two-way communication. Up your posting to daily, and share the unique brand experiences that will excite guests the most. With health and safety top of mind for diners, ensure your photography and video content showcase your team following the proper procedures, in order to resolve any guest concerns; transparency is absolutely the best policy. When boosting your social media presence be prepared for increased guest inquiries through direct messages and comments, and have a plan in place to respond within less than 24 hours. The FAQs and responses are also a useful tool when responding on social media.
Whether you send monthly emails or have never sent email communication from your brand, now is the time to get in the inbox. You’ll be fighting for space, however email communication is a great tactic to provide more detailed information for guests to help keep them informed of your weekly or monthly happenings. E-newsletters should be short and sweet, with a catchy subject line, and include hyperlinks either back to your website or a direct email for more information. Utilize email communication to feature operational and safety news, menu features, and special events.
TIP: Can’t afford a graphic designer? Try Canva at no charge for a well-designed branded e-newsletter you can create in no time.
Guests are eager and excited to get back to in-dining, and the most effective approach to filling your seats is to communicate timely and accurate information that sets a clear guest expectation. Your brand can’t over-communicate right now; it’s time to get loud!
Written by Kate Engineer and shared with permission from chefconnexion.com
It’s a fact. Restaurants across Canada are on the brink of reopening, whether to patio dining, in-restaurant meals, or both. Diners are understandably excited to return to their favourite culinary haunts. But what about restaurant staff, many of whom have been furloughed for part or all of the pandemic? How safe is it for them to return?
As Jeff Dover, principal of fsSTRATEGY Inc., says, “Very few cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed as spreading in restaurants; this includes areas of the country where indoor dining has been allowed. In short, the restaurant industry was [already] doing a good job of keeping staff safe.”
“Very few cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed as spreading in restaurants. In short, the restaurant industry was [already] doing a good job of keeping staff safe.”
Jeff Dover, principal of fsSTRATEGY Inc.
But keeping restaurant staff safe and having restaurant staff who feel safe are two different things. Canadian Restaurant Workers Coalition has been petitioning provincial governments to improve restaurant workers’ protections like paid sick leave and overtime pay. As reported in the Toronto Star, Not 9 to 5, a non-profit providing resources for mental-health well-being among hospitality workers, recently introduced the Mind Your Health project. The project includes a certification program on workplace safety from a psychological perspective, along with an online survey to collect data on mental-health well-being among hospitality workers.
“The key for me is to ensure that staff wear masks and, even more so, keep six feet apart when possible,” advises Dover. “When staff have to be within six feet (e.g., taking orders, picking up food), the time of exposure should be limited. One of the primary challenges is tight kitchen spaces such as a line with multiple stations not six feet apart. Redesigning the menu to have fewer kitchen stations will help keep the staff safe. COVID-19 is more likely to be transmitted indoors and in close spaces. Redesign your workflows to eliminate or limit such interactions.”
Sanitize regularly. Tables, work surfaces, and other areas, both front and back of house.
Reduce staff sharing. For instance, kitchen staff should never share utensils at back of house.
Change your menuing. Other changes will need to be instituted to ensure the safety of both your guests and your employees. Reusable menus, for instance, may become a thing of the past. Many restaurants, says Dover, are putting QR codes on tables to limit contact with shared items. “When guests request menus, they should be provided with a single use copy. Condiments should not be kept on tables and should be sanitized before use. Cutlery should be rolled and brought to the table after the guests are seated. Simple adjustments like these will assist in limiting the spread of COVID-19 for both guests and staff.”
Appoint a COVID-19 point person. “I recommend having someone responsible each shift to ensure COVID-19 prevention practices are adhered to,” says Dover. “This person could also be the go-to for questions about practices being employed to keep customers and staff safe.”
Organize vaccination days. A number of restaurant chains in the US have said they are providing pay for staff to get vaccinated and are even helping their employees to book appointments.
Offer paid sick days. This is key, says Dover. “You don’t want staff to come to work when they are not feeling well. Take advantage of federal and provincial paid sick day programs if you can. Paying sick days will be less expensive in the long run than having your restaurant closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak.” Should you experience an outbreak, make sure you have records of which employees worked when, along with info on your dine-in restaurant customers and who served them. Contact tracing is key.
Ramp up your communication. Let your staff know what you’re doing to keep them safe, and then inform your guests of the steps you’ve introduced to keep them – and your employees – safe. “If you are able to pay sick days, I would communicate it,” Dover advises. “The restaurant chains in the States paying staff (I heard two to four hours) to get vaccinated received great publicity. We have seen in jurisdictions that have opened up that there is significant pent-up demand. However, not all staff will be comfortable working and not all potential customers will be comfortable in dining rooms. Communication on the safety practices being employed will help alleviate any such fears.”
Employee safety, testing and validation will be key to successful restaurant reopening. Healthcare and foodservice workers may be required to validate their health status before handling food in the post-COVID-19 environment. Here are some protocols you should initiate to ensure the highest level of safety:
Written by Jane Auster and shared with permission from chefconnexion.com.