In a recent study by Technomic, “POP: Parties Off Premise,” 40% of consumers surveyed said they plan to entertain at home more often in 2010 than they had in the past. “Just because consumers are cutting back on dining out doesn’t mean they aren’t socializing,” says Melissa Wilson, principal, Technomic. Consumers surveyed also said they are just as likely to buy food from restaurants for social gatherings at home as they are from other food retailers. According to Melissa, the consumer catering market is valued at $33.3 billion – nearly double the value of the business-to-business market. “Customers are saying they want to have restaurant food for parties they’re hosting at home – not just during the holidays – and restaurants should consider catering.” Some things to keep in mind:
Be flexible with pricing and options. Lisa Santos, owner, Southport Grocery and Café, Chicago, IL, confirms that more people are using catering for intimate home gatherings, including what she calls “partial events,” where clients have only part of the meal catered as a way to save money and/or to allow them to prepare their favorite dishes. “In the fall of 2009, catering, both business and consumer, almost completely disappeared. Now sales are back to a level prior to the recession, only people are doing it in a different way,” she says. “They are using catering to supplement their menus – sometimes we’ll provide just sides, the main course, or desserts but not the entire meal.” Lisa says she’s come down on pricing. “Rather than be inflexible on pricing, I prefer to get my food out there in front of people. A happy client can mean great word-of-mouth, plus catering is a good way to grow the business without opening another location,” she says. On the Border restaurants are also noticing that catering customers are ordering specific dishes, not necessarily an entire meal. “It’s a whole different way to drive convenience,” says Wendy Ewers, sr. director, catering On the Border. “We’re known for great guacamole, and a lot of customers order it by the quart for parties.” Knowing customers have less to spend on catering, Wendy says they’ve created some new options under the heading “Catered Value” to help customers stretch their catering dollar.
Use catering to develop your brand and partner with others. David Burke, chef/owner, David Burke restaurants, says that catering is an important way to build his brand. “I work individually with clients and adapt to their budgets, never marking up rentals or labor – and I always take the high road and give clients more than they pay for,” David explains. He says that there’s more pricing wiggle room with catering than there is in the restaurant, which is helpful. David adds that he always thanks people who refer clients by inviting them to the restaurant for a meal. For small parties he uses his own staff, but for larger events David partners with a caterer for front-of-the-house service and rentals. “We can easily provide the chefs, and that way I can concentrate on what I do best, which is food.”