Restaurant Catering Questions

Everything You Should Know About Restaurant Catering

Empty banquet room at a luxury resort overlooking wine country in Napa Valley, California
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Why should you offer catering services as well part of your restaurant? If you are lucky enough to have space for a private dining room or better yet, a large function room, it is only logical you try catering. It is a good way to boost sales, it attracts a lot of business, and is good for word-of-mouth advertising. Also, a restaurant has several advantages over independent caterers, including more buying power, more equipment, and more staff at their disposal.

Do I Need a Contract for Catering?

It all depends. It never hurts to have everything in writing, so both parties are clear on what the caterer’s responsibilities are. Larger operations in cities will often have a very scary, legal document for customers to sign, something akin to a last will and testament. Smaller independent caterers may require nothing more than a deposit check.

What Kind of Equipment Do I Need for Catering?

Restaurants have a distinct advantage over independent caterers, in that they already have most of the equipment needed for catering, such as plates, glasses, flatware and serving utensils. It may be more economical to rent linens, if you don’t normally carry them, or if you don’t have enough on hand for both your regular dining room and your function room.

Chaffing dishes are a must if you plan to serve any kind of buffet. If you plan to offer off-premise catering, then you may want to invest in a cambro, an insulated carrier which keeps both hot and cold foods at a safe temperature during transportation.

How Do I Price My Catering Menu? Should It Be the Same as My Dining Room Menu?

Pricing you catering menu is similar to pricing your regular restaurant menu. However, if you offer off-premise catering, you need to charge slightly higher prices to cover the cost of transportation. On-site catering will often have better food cost than your regular dining room menu because you are buying in bulk, which reduces your costs and because you have a guaranteed number of meals already paid for.

Where Should I Advertise My Catering Services?

Traditional advertising is not cheap, but it is necessary for new businesses. Along with the old standby’s of advertising, such as newspapers, TV, radio and the yellow pages, take advantage of special events, such as wedding season or the holidays. Contact your local paper and inquire about special wedding flyers or holiday promotions they may produce.

If you plan to cater weddings, then you want to advertise where brides are sure to look. A booth at a bridal show expo is a great way to get the word out about your catering services to the masses.

You can advertise your catering services inexpensively with table tents or menu inserts. All you need to add is a simple note that you offer catering services. Take-out catering menus, placed near the entrance or another prominent spot, will encourage patrons to take one home with them, to look at later.

Should I Charge a Room Fee, or Any Other Fees, Beside Food?

That can be tricky. You want to make enough money to cover the cost of the function and clear a profit. However, you don’t want to scare potential customers away with a high priced menu. Many restaurants make up for lower prices with additional fees, such as a room fee, cake cutting fee, or bartender fee. Whether or not to charge fees depends on your menu prices, as well as your clientele. In more urban areas, where people have more money to spend on catered events, you can get away with fees, while in rural areas, you may not be able to.

How Much Should I Pay My Staff?

At least minimum wage (because that is the law). Some caterers pay a flat hourly rate, while others charge customers a gratuity and pay their staff with that. If you want to retain competent staff, it is a good idea to make it worth their while to work a catered function rather than a dining room shift, where they will make more money. Charging 15%-20% gratuity is the general range for most catered events.

If There Is Food Left Over After an Event, Who Gets to Keep It - the Restaurant or the Customer?

First, check your local health codes to find out if there are any specific rules about leftovers. Barring any health codes, the choice is up to you. In general, most caterers will prepare 5%-10% more food than necessary, as a backup. The customer did not pay for that extra food and is in no way entitled to it. However, say a couple pays for 100 guests and only 75 show. A gesture of goodwill is to give them the food they paid for. However, many caterers will keep it, to use in the restaurant. The most important aspect is to tell the customer before the party, what happens to extra food.