Making the right investments to capture catering’s promise
On its way to surpassing 400 U.S. restaurants, Jet’s Pizza placed a more intense focus on one underdeveloped area of its surging pizzeria empire: catering.
The Michigan-based company trumpeted the value of catering to its swelling franchisee community to generate buy in and momentum. It pushed for higher catering sales through partnerships with the likes of ezCater and launched large group ordering through its own in-house text ordering program. And most recently, Jet’s added a designated catering section to its online ordering platforms, which even suggests various ordering combinations.
In addition to driving increased revenue and spurring customer trials of its Detroit-style pies, Jet’s strategic investments in catering continue propelling its growth, a particularly important reality as Jet’s approaches restaurants in 20 states.
“Catering offers the opportunity to impress potential customers who have never tried Jet’s before,” Jet’s IT manager Jessica Vicari says. “As we expand into new markets, catering is a great way to introduce ourselves.”
The beauty of catering
Make no mistake, savvy, profit-minded pizzerias embrace catering for its ability to drive performance and build brand equity.
“When done well, catering is only of benefit to your restaurant,” touts Joseph Lema, professor and chair of the Food & Beverage and Event Management Department at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
Mike O’Hanlon, chief customer care and operations officer at ezCater, an online marketplace connecting businesses and catering operations, pegs the average catering order on its platform at $350. That alone is a hefty sum, but the true value transcends the revenue.
First, fulfilling that single $350 order requires far less work than preparing 35 individual $10 orders. This improves labor optimization and enables operators to better utilize staff during off-peaks hours as well.
Yet more, catering serves as a powerful marketing tool for pizzerias. While one person orders, dozens and sometimes hundreds, enjoy the food. The incremental brand exposure opens the door for additional orders.
“Great service, delicious food and your logo front and center will leave a lasting memory for all guests,” O’Hanlon says.
Diving into digital
As the top additional revenue stream for pizzerias, catering warrants earnest attention and thoughtful investment to capture its performance-driving promises.
A lively digital presence sits atop the list of catering’s necessary investments. While O’Hanlon urges pizzerias to “be everywhere online,” including social media and third-party marketplaces, he also recommends restaurants confirm hours of operation are current and consistent across all platforms and that online ordering displays prominently on the restaurant’s homepage.
“People can’t order from you if they can’t find you,” O’Hanlon reminds.
Lema calls ease of ordering equally critical to availability. He encourages investments in software that make it simple and seamless for catering customers to order. (Furthermore, Lema adds, it’s helpful when software links catering orders to the restaurant’s point-of-sale system and generates reports. Such functionality propels in-store efficiencies and provides valuable data restaurant leadership can use to inform decision making.)
Jet’s, for instance, invested in a text-to-order service. Customers can text their local Jet’s phone number and write in something like “Party of 20.” The Jet’s text service will reply with a suggested order to cater the party’s needs. Such ease and simplicity continue appealing to Jet’s patrons, Vicari says.
Catering’s next critical investments
Beyond technology, industry insiders identify three other critical investment areas to fuel catering success: delivery, packaging and marketing.
In today’s catering game, delivery is a must. Those placing catering orders often seek a full-service option, not a partial solution. If the restaurant does not offer in-house delivery powered by a catering vehicle, then O’Hanlon suggests ownership invest in reliable delivery partners they can trust to handle the last mile.
“Catering orders, specifically, are often high stakes and require orders arrive on time and as ordered,” O’Hanlon says.
Alongside delivery, packaging plays a significant role. Though a potentially expensive investment, quality packaging helps maintain food integrity over time and distance. Even more, packaging featuring the pizzeria’s name and logo advances brand awareness.
“It’s one thing to make the product, but quite another to have it sit for a while,” Lema says. “If you can’t get product to hold and travel well, then it’s a problem – and one you need to solve.”
On the sales and marketing front, pizzerias can work with marketplaces like ezCater to complement an internal sales and marketing team or enhance promotion of their catering offerings. Vicari says partnering with services such as ezCater has fueled Jet’s catering success. In addition, Jet’s has increased its digital presence to promote placing catering orders on Jetspizza.com and also offers a 10 percent discount on online orders over $100.
Finally, O’Hanlon suggests restaurants lean into social media to champion catering. It’s free and effective.
“Share specials and promotions or simply images of your product to get customer’s mouths watering,” he says.
Two catering dos and one don’t
DO inject your brand into every catering order. Catering customers have fewer touchpoints with a restaurant’s brand, all the more reason pizzerias should explore extending their guest experience beyond the restaurant’s four walls, ezCater’s Mike O’Hanlon says. For instance, one pizzeria known for its live music shared a curated playlist customers could pipe in during an event.
“True hospitality and creativity will set you apart from other restaurants,” O’Hanlon says.
DO create packages. By developing catering packages, restaurants can better calculate their costs to ensure profitability and weave the upsell into packages by including beverages, appetizers or desserts. This often increases the value proposition as well.
“Put it all together for customers so they don’t have to search around for anything,” UNLV professor Joseph Lema says.
DON’T overlook operational execution. As important as catering orders are to Jet’s Pizza, the chain has worked to develop systems ensuring a successful experience for every customer. Catering should be a complement to a pizzeria’s core business, not a revenue stream that marginalizes or complicates the eatery’s everyday business.
“Don’t expect catering orders without a heads up,” Jet’s IT manager Jessica Vicari says. “Staff isn’t always ready to take a large order and still be able to maintain regular orders.”
Daniel P. Smith Chicago-based writer has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.