Jackie Kurkjian started her career in catering at Boston Market in 2002 and quickly went to work building the company’s catering program. For starters, she hired catering managers and worked closely with the company’s VP of catering to establish operational standards to make catering a success.
Throughout the next 13 years she held several sales positions within the company and each one enabled her to build a solid foundation for Boston Market’s catering program. She ultimately landed the role of Boston Market’s catering director and continued to build out the program, turning it into one of the most successful catering operations today.
Opportunity knocked in 2013 when Kurkjian joined Qdoba as the head of their catering operation. It was the first time the company had invested in a full time catering position and during her tenure Qdoba catering reached double digit sales success.
Now, Kurkjian has taken her skills to The Catering Institute where she acts as a consultant for the institute’s educational programs and workshops. We spoke with Kurkjian about what it takes to create a winning catering program.
- What is the one thing that all restaurant brands need to build a successful catering program?
They need a strong business model with a well defined strategy. Once the strategy is defined, they can put infrastructure and technology in place to properly support the sales growth. Catering right takes planning. Restaurant companies need to spend time building a comprehensive training program and operating procedures to be able to execute catering seamlessly. Once that is in place, develop the marketing strategy to grow sales.
- You mention table stakes. What is it and how does it apply to restaurant catering?
Table stakes are the minimum requirements your customers expect. If you execute the table stakes consistently, you will build a loyal customer base. Customers have many expectations that can be deal breakers for repeat business if not done right the first time. This means restaurant brands need to execute:
- Accurate, on-time orders
- Food that tastes great
- Easy, convenient ordering process
- A menu that is easy to understand
- Online ordering
- Order confirmation
- I’ve read a lot lately about brands investing in delivery. How does delivery tie into catering?
If you cater, you need to deliver. Otherwise, you are missing out on a huge opportunity in the business-to-business sector. Restaurant companies need to be able to accommodate delivery, as it’s a convenience customers expect in order for you to be in their consideration set. A brand’s delivery should also include set up as presentation and convenience plays a big part in the buyer’s decision.
- How can the industry best stay focused on delivery for catering?
Delivery is such a critical component to building successful catering sales. Yet, it’s often the most challenging to execute. I think having dedicated delivery restaurants or “hubs” that are fully staffed with trained delivery drivers is where the focus needs to be. It can be a difficult task to manage delivery drivers at every location and since the hours are limited, it is sometimes hard to keep delivery drivers in position. When you position your deliveries out of a few locations, there are more opportunities and less chance of turnover.
- What is a realistic length of time for restaurant brands to find their operational stride in terms of catering?
Within the first year, provided the brand has a comprehensive training program and operational standards in place. It also depends on how often the restaurant caters. If it’s a high volume location that gets consistent catering business, they are going to execute the standards more consistently through repetition. Catering just becomes a natural part of the business.
- What are some things brand leaders need to consider when establishing their catering procedures and processes?
There are several things that executives need to have in place/ask themselves to establish the right operational processes. For example:
- How will they take catering orders? It is highly recommended that they centralize their operation and utilize a call center to bring consistency to the ordering process.
- Will they offer online ordering?
- Delivery or pickup only? If delivery, how will they compensate the driver?
- Does their current technology support catering and integrate with their POS?
- Will they allow businesses to set up a corporate house account? Often times this is the only way a business will put you in their consideration set.
- How many orders will a restaurant be able to take in one day? In other words, how will they manage capacity?
- How do they plan to market their catering business? Will they hire a dedicated sales team?
- Are they staffed to handle catering without burdening normal business? Should they hire a dedicated employee to support catering during peak catering hours?
- How many labor hours will they add to support catering?
- While catering out of restaurants has been around for a long time, it is just now beginning to have a big impact throughout the industry. What do you attribute this growth to?
Catering is a great way to grow top line sales. When you cater, you have money in the register before you even open your doors for business. Most catering orders leave the restaurant for delivery by 11 am. Through catering, people can experience your brand outside of your restaurant that may have never had your food before, so it’s a great way to get your name out there. This gives brands a new way to market their product and encourage trial.
- You have worked in the restaurant-catering field for 13 years. What has that experience taught you?
I have always been involved in creating and growing successful catering programs. I would say what I have learned the most is the amount of opportunity and success you create by developing a solid roadmap and owning this part of your business. There is so much opportunity for new business that if you can train your operators to execute the strategy and create a consistent experience for your customers, your catering business will thrive and become a significant growth opportunity for your brand.
- What one piece of advice would you give to other restaurant industry leaders who are developing catering programs?
Make sure to develop a solid business plan and have alignment from top to bottom. Catering should be part of the brand’s overall strategy and supported by all departments. It starts with the CEO and needs to cascade down to the restaurant crew. When you have this focus, your catering business will be successful.
* Flickr photo by Jeremy Brooks