How to Increase Restaurant Catering Ordering Volume & Frequency

One of the most important questions asked about catering sales in restaurants is: “How can our brand effectively drive more catering sales to our restaurants?”  In general, there are three ways to grow more restaurant catering sales:

• Acquire new customers

• Get existing customers to order more frequently

• Increasing the order size to the customers you already have

Certainly, these three principles can be applied individually to growing your restaurant’s catering sales; however, a solid catering sales growth strategy should include a focus on all three.

As I look back at building multiple programs, it is safe to say that anywhere from 60%-70% of our sales came from what I would refer to as professional catering clients.

The frequent consumer of catering is very different from the customers that are dining in your restaurants, and even different from the casual or infrequent catering customer. 

Predominantly, high-use, frequent consumers of catering products and services are found in offices and business settings of corporations. For example, in the course of performing daily duties as an office manager, administrative assistant, HR training administrator, and educator, people are tasked with arranging food deliveries to the office to feed people where they work and learn. This includes meetings with clients, internal meetings as well as regular on site meals for employees as incentives for working in office. 

Additionally, there are various sales professionals, who, in the course of selling their products, arrange breakfast, lunch and cocktail gatherings with their clients and serve food as a means of having more time with key decision makers. 

From our experience at MonkeyMedia Software, The Catering InstituteTM, The OPGA, plus countless conversations with clients at multiple brands – five customer demands dominate all others:

• Food quality – On-time delivery – Order accuracy – Ease of ordering – Trust & confidence

So when you nail all these factors, then the sales just come, right?  Well, not exactly. These elements are just the key enablers – the minimum requirements you need to fulfill to be in the consideration set of the catering game. 

Our cumulative experience in selling these frequent consumers of catering shows us the proven tactic of food sampling and the delivery of your menus to their offices is the key starting point to building relationships.

These effective guerrilla marketing and sales methods can be accomplished by a motivated and driven restaurant and or sales team. Applying proven and developed prospecting and acquisition skills toward the off-premises opportunity is yielding them fantastic success, especially when a skilled catering sales leader is providing structure and discipline to the sales and lead generation program. The most effective restaurant catering sales leaders that we see balance a multi-unit sales force focused on prospecting and client acquisition activity with a well-defined client relationship-management strategy. 

Building a productive and professional sales force requires a sound Customer Relations Management system (CRM) that the catering sales team can leverage to productively and efficiently maintain and track connections. This occurs by combining data-driven contact points such as:

• First-time orders

• Top 10/20 sales client follow-up

• Lapsed user/lost user

• Lead follow-up and order conversion

• Current and prior-year quotes and sales events

Balancing customer acquisition and connection activity can vary according to the development stage of your restaurant’s catering program. Early programs need more energy applied to customer acquisitions, with sales force activity allocated 80% to acquisitions and 20% to relationship building. 

More mature restaurant catering programs that are leveraging an online presence with search engine marketing campaigns, may have a 50/50 acquisition to relationship building strategy as a result of search engine optimization (SEO) activity.

First time buyers offer a commonly overlooked opportunity. Expanding the consumer relationship with this first- time order connection becomes the sales focus because when people have a great catering experience, they want to tell their coworkers. Securing more referrals from this connection is easy, as satisfied buyers want to share their coworkers names when they have been well served. Likewise, if the event had problems with on-time delivery, order accuracy or food quality, the sales team is positioned to personally recover the relationship by taking care of the problem and capturing feedback that can be valuable in improving operational execution.

The right kind of follow-up questions can include:

• Was everything OK with your party yesterday?

• What kind of event was your company engaged with?

• How often do you order for those type events?

• Are there others in your office who order?

• What other needs for catering come up from time to time?

• Who else may I talk to in your office or in your building?

• Can I help you place any additional orders?

Another important catering connection for key clients is being recognized for their business in a personal way. Dropping off cookies are productive sales activities that let key decision makers know you’re engaged and committed to the relationship.

Meanwhile, a well-thought-out CRM system should provide a look at the order history of the sales professionals who have not ordered in 30, 60, or 90 days.  Many times, these customers are in the category of “light catering users” and, from experience, we know they are likely to be influenced by an incentive. This group typically has greater sensitivity to price than the heavy user who values consistent service execution.  

Connecting with lapsed users through email or call contact, and offering a small incentive for a limited time, can bring frequency to a group that may have forgotten about your company’s catering program. Also, some of these clients may be heavy users who had an undiscovered bad experience and can be recovered with a call, not to mention the fact that your frequent catering customer might have moved on to another company.

While we see many restaurant companies make the decision to invest in a professional catering sales force, few companies actually structure their sales activity into clear expectations or provide sales outreach objectives in a structured, methodical and disciplined way.  

Many companies we work with focus on the number of orders the sales team has written, forsaking great salesmanship talents such as relationship and connection activity, in favor of the easy-measurement of order completion. 

The smarter companies we work with are bringing visibility, measurement and focus to their high touch/high impact sales activities, and defer order taking to a well-trained customer service representative or online platform. This allows the higher compensated sales team to sell and you’d be surprised at how a prospect or catering consumer will spend more money with your brand if only a solid sales associate invited them for a cup of coffee!  

The important decision to build a catering sales team should be accompanied with a clear plan for what the sales team will be doing and how their time will be allocated and dedicated to high-value sales activities.

So what does the investment in a professionally skilled salesperson amount to? We believe one of the best model sets pay equivalent to the range of a general manager, supplementing that pay with a bonus or commission that adds 25% – 30% in quarterly performance based payouts when sales objectives are accomplished. Payout requisites that center on sales activities applied to the region and leads converted to sales and connections accomplished ties individual sales activity to the sales performance.

 Establishing a productive catering sales team, arming them with the tools and systems to be successful, and providing talented sales leadership are all critical components to growing new customer acquisitions and building frequency through relationship management. Partnered with flawless operational execution, you have created the foundation for the strategic development of a successful restaurant catering program capable of generating double-digit, year-over-year, same-store sales growth.  Let’s get catering and grow sales!

Let’s talk catering.

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