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Consider premium presentations, such as steaks with a luxurious sauce or special chutney, sides embellished with premium seasonal add-ons, or over-the-top desserts.
"Your cooks are already trained in a certain style of cooking, so you want to keep them close to that style, but add some accoutrements to it," says Neil Doherty, Sysco's Director of Culinary Development. "A restaurant is not like a banquet kitchen in a hotel that's used to producing different menus every day of the week. In restaurants, the staff is used to working a specific menu, so you want to keep it close to that style or you'll end up retaining an entire staff."
Also factor in the production challenges of serving larger parties, either on-site or off-site. Fixed menus are a godsend for efficiency. So are buffets. The last thing a restaurant needs during a busy schedule is a party of 20 all ordering different entrees.
In addition to demand, service style also affects staffing and pricing. Fully catered, off-premise events that require service staff and some on-site cooking demand top dollar, since they involve more labor (setup, service, breakdown, cleanup, etc.) as well as the cost of travel. But although these events can be a boon for sales, it's important to watch profit margins.
"There are so many open variables that you'd be crazy not to put pen to paper," Doherty says. "A lot of times, people who do catering see the money at the end of it, but they trip up on what it cost to do it."
Restaurants catering off-premise risk leaving money on the table if they don't tuck in charges for items like supplying plates, flatware and glassware (after all, someone will need to organize, transport and clean these items); trash disposal; ice (and the labor involved in packing it); travel to and from the event; and more.
There are a variety of options to reduce the labor demands and costs of events. More affordable and less labor-intensive options include drop and leave with disposables (including disposable chafing dishes); an agreement to pick up service items the following day; or buffets, with or without servers plating individual servings. Small corporate dinners at an executive's home - an increasingly popular style of entertaining - saves on venue rental and decorations. Often a small crew can handle intimate groups like this.
Restaurant operators who strategically plan their holiday catering schedule can turn events into gold: Dallas-based catering consultant Sandy Korem estimates that profits from a catered event should range from 10% to 15%, well above the typical restaurant margins.