Four Massively Powerful Ways Centralization Will Build Your Catering Sales Channel

When I first started working at Roti Mediterranean over 15 years ago, the restaurant had a good loyal following with a robust lunch crowd in downtown Chicago.

We had a catering menu and were getting a couple orders each day but with so many offices and workers in the area we knew we had a huge opportunity to expand this channel.

Like any start-up venture, our strengths and weaknesses became more clearly defined as we embarked on this new sales channel. At first, we took orders over the phone, using a simple paper form!  Yet, depending on who took the order we may or may not have gotten all the right info, not a great start to our catering program. However, as our orders increased we were able to put great processes in place that enabled our new business venture to thrive.

It was during the ongoing development of our catering program that I began to understand the importance of centralization and specialization.

Let me explain, our program consisted of our regular ops team at the store, and they handled taking orders, getting them ready and making sure they were produced and delivered to our clients.  We then had a sales team (with limited experience) that canvassed the trade zone, did the selling and all the deliveries.  

The sales team made more money on tips than they did selling, and the ops team had no consistency in how they took orders, assuming they answered the phone.  Lets just say there was room for improvement. 

I quickly realized that we needed to make some major changes to how our business operated if we wanted to grow.  Having only limited experience with catering I naturally just used my operational skills to centralize and specialize the processes, just like with any restaurant, you have people that make the food, others that deliver the food and finally people that take the orders and follow up on the guest experience.

Here is how centralizing your catering business will exponentially create successful and sustainable growth.

  1. Centralize Activities by Team – Just like any successful business and restaurant, narrow the responsibilities and assign the best suited people to specialize in one specific role, centralizing these activities to four small well trained groups.
    • Operations – A team dedicated to the production of catering orders, with one person accountable for all final order production.
    • Service – A team member dedicated to one thing, taking orders in a consistent and friendly manner.
    • Delivery – A specific and well trained team of delivery drivers that were incentivized based on the quality of their engagement and interaction with our clients.
    • Sales – Experienced and properly trained and paid based on securing new customers and increasing repeat business.  We used a highly commission based pay structure that focused on sales growth over LY.

  2. Centralized Order Taking Services – A necessity to the serious catering program, this includes both via phone and online.
    • Consider managing or outsourcing a call center that receives all catering inquiries and orders. Having a centralized order entry point via phone and online will ensure that your clients receive a consistent, controlled and positive experience from team members who know the subtleties of your catering offerings and services.  It also ensures that your ops team has a well scheduled set of orders each day based on their capabilities. 
    • Placing orders must be easy for customers and must be predictable to keep your customers’ trust. Your team members must be knowledgeable, friendly and professional at all customer touch points.
    • Follow up after each catering order with a call from your catering leader. Your customers will feel that you care about them. Any unresolved issues may be addressed and future business discussed. Follow up with every single order, every time.
    • Conduct surveys. 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.
    • Turn a negative into a positive. If a customer does have a negative experience, make sure you thank them for letting you know, acknowledge that you have heard them, accept responsibility and then make it right. Make sure you write it up and keep it with your client records.

  3. Centralize Your Client Engagement – Ensure all client interactions are accessible to your sales and service teams is mandatory.  In other words a CRM tool.  A simple platform is the key, along with good guest engagement features that will allow you to automate your outreach.
    • Hire a catering sales team to maintain relationships and pursue new ones. Active selling is key to growing a catering program.
    • Document and track key engagement metrics for both your sales and service team.  Use these metrics to better understand both productivity and results.
    • Keep in contact. No one likes to feel like a number and staying in touch with your customers on a regular basis keeps your service in the front of their mind.
    • Don’t forget to look after sleepy clients. These customers order less than once per month. It can be easy to forget to touch base with them, but they will actually make up a good chunk of your revenue — especially around the holidays. You can contact them with special offers to entice them to order more frequently.
    • Reward loyalty with a rewards program. B2B catering is big business and companies spend a lot of money on feeding their guests. Providing a designed catering rewards program lets them know that you recognize how valuable they are.  This program can sometimes be a determining factor when it comes to maintaining an ongoing relationship with your customers.

  4. Centralize A Leadership Role – Dedicated leadership for your off premises and catering sales channel is the #1 way to ensure program success.  In countless brand interactions over the last 10 years, the existence, quality and engagement of this leader was the #1 predictor of growth.
    • A leader ensures the team is earning customer confidence with predictable and reliable services every time, across all service channels for your brand. Customers will only order services from your company if they are certain that ordering from any location will be consistent across locations.
    • The leader brings all four teams together, ops, service, sales and delivery to gather information and understand how the teams can work together for improved products and services.

There are many technology solutions that can help you with the process of centralization but don’t let this slow you down.  As you can see from each of the four strategies, they are almost all about the structure and training of your team vs. the technology. Technology is a tool, not the solution.

If done correctly, these four major foundational centralization strategies will help you score big points with new and existing customers. At Roti, we used these tactics every single day. From 2009 to 2014 catering went from 5% of total sales to 25% of total sales, and accounted for almost 50% of bottom line revenue for the company. These results changed the unit economics of our restaurants and I am certain that if you do the simple things each and every day, it will change your restaurant economics as well.

Let’s talk catering.


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