Brian Farris, vice president of catering and off-premise at Schlotzsky’s, has been in the catering business for more than 12 years, and has seen the impact a well-positioned catering program can have on a restaurant business.
Schlotzsky’s catering’s success is due to the leadership of its executive team and also to the technology provider the company works with to handle its catering operation. That’s why, earlier this year, the company named MonkeyMedia Software as its 2014 Vendor of the Year.
The Vendor of the Year Award is given to a top-level supplier that provides a beneficial product and that also becomes a strategic partner toward Schlotzsky’s overall brand success.
MonkeyMedia Software was recognized with the award for its role in revitalizing Schlotzsky’s catering business and increasing system-wide catering sales by 40 percent in 2014. Additionally, the company’s solution to online, mobile and phone catering ordering, in addition to the training and order management tools it provides, have all contributed to the growth of Schlotzsky’s catering platform, which is already on pace to surpass last year’s record-breaking sales.
Farris first started to work with the MonkeyMedia Software catering executive and sales team in 2013. The partnership has been successful, Farris said, because they truly are a strategic partner. But what makes a good third-party partnership successful when it comes to building and growing a catering, take out or delivery service, and what should operators consider when making their choice?
“With MonkeyMedia Software, it clearly was a strategic partnership, but not every vendor is going to be a strategic partner. Some are going to be more commodity-based. Part of an operator’s approach should be first determine what they’re looking for,” Farris said. “Are they buying a product or is it about something that they need a strategic partner with?”
Operators should review the scope of what they’re trying to do, it’s impact on the business and the amount of fluidity involved before making any decision. In part, because technology is always evolving and a good strategic partner should evolve along with it.
“The technology you’re buying today won’t be the same in a year because you hope it’s evolved with the market,” Farris said. ” For us, catering is extremely important. We know we have an opportunity to gain market share in this segment and we know we want to grow it. When you look at catering, delivery and online ordering, that whole space is very competitive and you absolutely need a strong technology- and thought-partner that can help you understand where the technology is moving compared to the consumer and where you should be in that curve.”
Farris also works with mobile loyalty and insights provider Punchh and said team members from both companies are available whenever needed. This is important because lines of communication are open and clear.
“Every vendor is going to need to pick up the phone when we call them. We want the feeling that they are thinking about our business and invested in our business,” Farris said. “We’re only going to see so much so as part of them being a strategic partner, we want them to look around the corners for us.”
Not only does Farris advise other restaurant operators to know what they are shopping for, he also believes operators should hire slow.
“When looking at a partner of this magnitude, look at what you need. We knew we needed a strong partner and we weighed that heavily. If we feel like we don’t have a good partner, we keep moving,” Farris said.
When challenges do arise, Farris relied on those clear communication channels to uphold accountability and alleviate misunderstandings.
“If there’s an issue raise your hand. If there are things that need to be done, be clear on both sides. If someone is behind we just need to call it out and fix it,” he said. “Knowing we’re going to have to answer to each other about what we need to get done sets up accountability and it’s clear what everyone’s responsibilities are.”
Overall, working with a third-party to grow catering and off-premise sales requires everyone working toward the same goal and to the best of their ability.
“Do the best you can to understand what you’re needs are and how much you’re willing to invest,” Farris said. “Talk to people to make sure you get a good feel for them. Treat it as if you were hiring someone for your company to work with you. Even though they may be a vendor they are still a big part of your team.”