How To Build A Killer Drop-Off Corporate Catering Menu Part 2

How to Design your Catering Food 

When you design your catering menu it needs to provide a specific set of solutions based on how people order food when planning events and meetings at their work space, as well as what or how people expect to be served.

The menu lay out is a critical first step and sets up the overall structure of how your menu works and in turn, how the menu provides solutions for your customers.

Before we get to the details, let’s focus on one of the more common mistakes in building a menu.  Don’t build a menu in a bubble, go out and look at other brands.  Who is doing huge volumes?  What are your biggest competitors doing?  Order food from your competitors and see it, eat it, what are the serving sizes, packaging, set up, delivery?  There is no better teacher than your competition, especially if they are good at what they do.  Also, ask your customers, they will give you amazing feedback.

The path to creating what I consider my masterpiece menu took 5 years, this included a menu update almost every year, a customer survey every year and a round up of 20 plus menus from our competitors to study what they were doing, what they had changed and how our pricing compared.

For reference here is that menu, it is so successful that it has not seen a major change in almost 5 years.

Menu Structure

The big three of menu structure is ease of ordering, ease of execution, and pricing.  Why these three?  Because they guide the way you create a balance for your customer and your team. 

Ease of Ordering – Build your menu with your customer’s needs first.  This is where the customer feedback can really help shape your menu.  Create packages with clear and simple choices, use serving sizes that are easily understood.  This is where more choice may hinder or frustrate a customer.  You know your menu, so it can be hard to be objective. 

Keep the basic outline on each day part to 3 or 4 packages, set packages with a base order quantity, and scale up in reasonable increments.  The only item on your menu that you allow for scaling in single increments are lunch boxes.  Allow for no more than three decisions per package. Finally, do your best to create consistency in how your packages work, don’t start at 8 just because your container size fits this, start at 10 in all your packages. If your customers feel they need to call someone to order, then the menu is too complicated.

Ease of Execution – Yes, not only in the build of your menu but in the construction of your food, the more difficult to execute the harder it will be to scale up the sales.  The goal is to have some items that can be put together in minutes, others that require a medium amount of work, like sandwiches, and then you can have a few items that are more challenging, either in the food preparation or the actual production of the final package.  If you can structure most of your catering menu to be constructed from your serving line, you will set up your team to easily handle both volume and last-minute orders with ease.

Pricing – The dine-in menu pricing structure is going to be your base line for where you set your range of prices.  After this is your competition, where does your brand fit based on what you offer in value, both food quality, presentation, selection and service.  Once you understand your range you will want to build a menu that hits the bottom, middle and top of that range.  This doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice margin, instead focus on what you give, the goal is to have an offer for your budget customers and lots of sky to up-sell your more generous buyers.  (You want to create a policy of never saying no to a customer, especially on price, say yes but limit what you will serve for that price.  Give your sales team some off menu options for your most frugal consumers)

What Are Your Day Parts?

This is the starting point of building your menu layout.  If you serve breakfast and lunch then you need to separate these in the layout, dinner is the same as lunch and snacks can be added as a part of the lunch – dinner day part.

Breakfast is going to vary from brand to brand based on how significant the day part is to sales.  A bakery café or coffee shop is going to have an extensive menu, most others will serve from a smaller menu mix.

If you serve any type of sandwich or wrap for breakfast, create simple packages.  An option with just the sandwiches where the only choice is picking proteins, and an option that includes the sandwiches and sides.  The other menu items like pastries, breads, continental platters, yogurt bars should all be packaged with limited choices and similar scaling options. 

Lunch and Dinner is the heart of your menu for most restaurants.  Drop-off corporate catering requires that you fit your menu into the following general choices.  (There are always exceptions, and you may just be one of those, but my experience in this area highly recommends working towards this format as much as possible) 

Some ethnic menu styles make these formats more challenging, especially if your food style is centered around trays of food.  In these cases, especially Italian or pizza-based menus, find a way to replicate these formats as close as possible.  Instead of a box of cut sandwiches and sides, it can be pizza with sides as a package instead of ala carte.  Focus on packages, this is what simplifies ordering and understanding.

Here is a roundup of the menu groups you want to work into your catering program.

Buffets – Everyone orders buffet style for groups, it’s the ultimate self-serve option.  Create a buffet package that comes with some standards to reduce the number of choices a customer needs to make, the goal is three decision points, no more.  My favorite is starch or base, protein, and salads.

Sandwiches – This refers to a group of sandwiches, usually in a box but can also be be a platter although not as attractive. This is just another version of a buffet and this should be listed on your menu as just sandwiches, and as a sandwich package where it comes with sides and or salads.

Lunch Boxes – No menu is complete with out this format.  Even if you don’t sell sandwiches find a way to create a prepackaged meal.  Many companies use this exclusively for lunch and learns and as a portable option where choices on site are quick and simple.  Tier options at two or three levels or price points.

Snacks, Appetizers – There is a lot of latitude on how much and what goes on this part of the menu.  Experience in this area indicates this is usually the hardest production area of your menu, bite size food can require more preparation while trays of spreads can offer simple execution options.

Ala Carte – You don’t want to depend on or build a menu that highlights this area.  This should be used as a way to add more food to current packages to stretch the number of servings, groups that just eat more, or provide some up-sell opportunities.  Keep this last on your menu but make sure to include an assortment of proteins, starches, and salads.

Drinks – Unless you are known for your drink selection keep it simple, bottles water, juice, soda, coffee, ice tea, smaller sizes are better.  Cans are my favorite unless they are too casual for your menu, but they are easiest to transport and more cost effective.

Desserts – You need a dessert, even if it is not true to your brand or foods ethnicity.  This goes back to earlier comments about what your customer expects and finds appropriate to serve.  If you are more heavily engaged within your restaurant with sweets, then go ahead and duplicate your in-house offerings within reason.  Your menu should always be reasonably true to your dine-in offers.  Also, bite size is mandatory.  If you serve a 3.5-ounce cookie in house, then you need to find an alternative to create that cookie in a smaller format.

Next Up – Focus on menu content, online ordering and misc. details.


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