Column: Catering Equals Big Profits

Tips for jump-starting a catering business

Boxed lunches created by Sandy Korem

Any operation offering foodservice faces downtime, and if you want to bring in a big profit revenue stream, catering is your answer.

I have owned an off-site catering company for 20 years, and in my world there are three categories of off-site catering: boxed lunches, drop-off/set-up and full-service. For the purposes of the foodservice-at-retail audience, I will concentrate on boxed lunches and drop-off/set-up catering.

When it comes to any kind of off-site catering, first and foremost, I have to share my cardinal rule: Test, test, test. What works in your operation may not transport well.

Now that you’ve mastered your menu, here are some crucial tips for boxed lunches and drop-off/setup catering.

Boxed Lunches
It's a simple concept, but to excel you must make the lunches special. Everyone has a turkey sandwich, but how many have a hand-carved, oven-roasted herb turkey breast presented on specialty bread with a dollop of homemade basil pesto mayo? 

  • Don’t offer too many selections. For both boxed lunches and drop-offs, limit the selection just as you do with your regular menu. 
  • Presentation is key. Don’t use a plain white box. Find a great container in which you can see the food and label it with your logo.
  • Timing is crucial. Be late for a corporate office lunch meeting once and you’re history.
  • Presentation of the staff is monumental. They represent who you are. Fresh clothes with your logo, a knowledgeable delivery person and a great attitude go a long way.
  • Establish a minimum order or you won’t make money. Our minimum is 25 lunches, and we charge $38 for the delivery, too.
  • Don’t be the cheapest. If you have a great product, clients will buy it. Don’t be afraid to charge for it.

Drop-Off/Setup
This catering is really good for your cost of goods sold because you can cater what you know the best and what you are already producing in your operation. Generally this consists of hot menu items such as lasagna, chicken, spaghetti, etc.

  • Some equipment is required. Clients usually want plates, forks, etc., so charge for it. Hot food also requires chafing dishes. Drop some of yours off or use the disposable wire ones.
  • Knowledgeable staff is critical. They will be asked lots of questions about the food--especially if they set it up. Leave the client detailed serving instructions.
  • Be prepared. So you don’t forget a critical item, have a checklist and have back-up items in the delivery van.  
  • Profits. I guarantee, you can charge more for this food than if it was served in your store. If you can provide quality food that is hot on arrival, charge the client for it and make some money. That is the key to off-site catering. The client is calling you for food but they are also calling you for convenience--so charge for it!

Sandy Korem is the CEO and founder of one of the top 20 catering companies in America, The Festive Kitchen, based out of Dallas. She was awarded the White House Food Service Medallion in 2008 for outstanding food service to President George W. Bush. Her company, www.thecateringcoach.com, helps restaurateurs take their off-site catering revenue stream to a different level.