The three biggest hurdles impacting food service operators today include the over demand and under supply of good real estate, the unprecedented rise of construction costs and an increase in labor. Combined, these hurdles create the perfect timing for restaurant operators to get into catering as a way to increase sales.
According to Steve Starr, principal at Charlotte, N.C.-based starrdesign, these operational challenges will be in place for the next 12 to 36 months and should encourage restaurant operators to ramp up their catering and off-premise sales efforts. Those efforts and sales could work to increase operating revenue and counterbalance any changes to construction, real estate and labor costs.
When it comes to preparing restaurant kitchens for catering operations and preparation, the first thing to keep in mind is forecasting.
“Daily catering orders are something you can forecast because you can set parameters in regard to when and how an order is placed,” Starr said. “You can handle catering orders by having an increase in labor during a specified time and an enlarged staging and packaging area where orders can be put together. The good news is you don’t have to duplicate equipment.”
Overall, if there is going to be a large catering business, the goal is to determine how many of those orders the kitchen can produce and what kind of staging is required to get daily orders ready. Inside the restaurant, designated areas should be highlighted for catering and/or takeout orders so customers have a clear vision of where to go for each.
“You really need to have a home at the front of house for those different transactions to live and it has to be clear to the customer,” Starr said. “What the majority of restaurants have done is offer catering and takeout, but they haven’t highlighted it. They have to given those transactions a home where they can live and happen.”
Starr believes part of today’s catering success comes from the devillification of the drive thru. Fast casual operators now have drive-thru operations that customers accept and use and catering is being acknowledged as an alternative resource in the same vein. However, catering orders should not be pulled off the same line as drive-thru or in-store dining ones.
“You’ve got to separate it,” Starr said.