Post-COVID Profits: 5 Experts Share How Caterers Can Bounce Back with Over $45k/year In Savings

Bouncing back from uncertainty is a mark of great entrepreneurs. 

Even Steve Jobs faced the uncertainty of being fired from Apple, a company he co-founded. But he didn’t let that deter his ambitions. Instead, he bounced back, reclaimed his place, and initiated Apple’s growth to where it is today. 

At 26 years old, Dave Ramsey’s real estate portfolio was worth over $4 million

Things were all rosy for him until the unexpected Competitive Equity Banking Act of 1987. This Act forced banks to recall $1.2 million in credit lines and loans from Dave. He filed for bankruptcy and shut down operations. 

But Dave didn’t let this uncertainty weigh him down either. 

Going from being a business owner with millions to bankruptcy forced Dave to learn everything he could about financial security. From his new learnings, Dave bounced back and now earns millions teaching others about healthy financial lives. 

I bring up these stories for a reason. 

Entrepreneurs must stand tall in the face of uncertainties however they come. Sometimes it could be losing a loved one or a job. Other times it could be a government policy or natural disaster trying to push you out of business. 

Most recently, it was a pandemic. 

According to Roy Porter, a recognized catering and events expert, “roughly 36% of caterers closed and will never return.” Yes, the pandemic was an unfortunate situation. It brought uncertainty many caterers never saw coming. 

But you’re still here. 

And that’s because like Steve Jobs, Dave Ramsey, and other entrepreneurs who succeed long-term, you know overcoming uncertainty isn’t by becoming a cry baby. It’s by adapting and learning new ways of doing things. 

Specific to drop-off catering, the new way of doing things starts by asking: How do I operate my catering business more efficiently with less in today’s digital-first world? 

This guide will give you practical answers to that question. 

You’ll see how to eliminate manual ordering processes and save upwards of $45,000 per year with less staff, using catering automation. We even went as far as interviewing five industry experts to share best practices on how drop-off caterers can navigate the new normal. 

What Can Drop-off Caterers Expect In The New Normal?

Roy Porter estimated a whopping 36% of catering businesses closed and would never return due to COVID, as you saw above. 

However, when we queried his stance on recovery, he was optimistic: 

“Will [the drop-off catering business] return? Yes. Will it be sporadically? Yes, for a while. And then it will continue to build because when people do come back into the office, that’s going to be a special day, and they’re going to order these lunches. A lot of people right now are more comfortable ordering individual lunches, and that’s fine. But I can tell you; I can see in LA the tsunami of buffets and social services and events are coming back at high speed.”

Jennifer Perna, former VP of Sales at Blue Plate Catering and Senior Consultant at Fulton Market Consulting, was also optimistic about recovery. 

When asked if the catering industry will bounce back, she said:  

“Yes. It is already kicking in for most caterers I work with. Everyone is trying to balance the volume of client interest with the reality of what can be produced and the Human Resources needed to produce it.”

Here’s what you should take from these experts’ optimism. 

Caterers like you who stand firm and are ready to adapt to the new normal can expect to grow even bigger by grabbing more market share.  

Jennifer Perna agrees: 

“The bright side to losing some of these caterers the pandemic swept away is it’s created an opportunity for new players to grab market share.”

Let’s explore things to expect as you look to grab a piece of this market share. 

1. Expect the Economy to Bounce Back Stronger

Few weeks after states started reopening, Reade Pickert shared this report from Bloomberg’s data for the US economy: 

“Bloomberg Economics’ weekly dashboard of high-frequency, alternative and market-based data showed a weekly measure of retail sales accelerated for a third week, as gauges of mobility, consumer confidence, and restaurant bookings all improved.”

And CNBC’s Shark Tank investor, Robert Herjavec, had some advice for entrepreneurs eager to pounce on the boom that’ll come with reopening:

“As the US economy booms and states lift Covid restrictions, the decision entrepreneurs now need to move quickly on isn’t cutting back or carefully growing. Instead, it is time to make a big, bullish bet on the future. Businesses that let fear linger will lose.”

Why did Robert advise entrepreneurs to adapt quickly and go big?

It’s because he, like other economists, expects the economy to bounce back even stronger with more growth opportunities for those who act. The catering industry is part of the overall economy. 

So it will surely grow as the economy grows because food is a life need. 

2. Expect the Digital Economy to Drive Most Opportunities

As you remain bullish on bouncing back with the economy, it’s also vital to know where the action is taking place. Knowing this will help you adapt even better.

Roy Porter shared insight on this: 

“Our society has moved from a manufacturing base to an information-driven base. Potential clients use the internet more and more each day to search for and decide about purchases. You can produce awesome food. Provide outstanding service and create special moments. But if prospects can’t find you digitally – they can’t hire you.”

Here’s what Porter means. 

If prospects can’t find you online, getting new catering clients will elude you, no matter how much the economy grows. And that’s because the digital economy is now driving the entire economy across the world. 

There are data to support this. 

In 2020, over 45 million Americans used delivery apps to buy food, a 25% increase from 2019. Three out of 10 restaurateurs expect this trend to continue even after the pandemic ends. And they’re adjusting accordingly. 

If restaurants are adjusting, caterers have no option other than to adapt too. Do otherwise, and restaurants in your city will creep into your business. 

It’s why Frank Christian of Taylored Hospitality advised drop-off caterers to think digital as they look to bounce back and adapt to the new normal. 

He said: 

“Buyers are now accustomed to the Amazon economy. There is no waiting around for services, and buyers like instant gratification. Specifically related to an online presence is you never know what sales would have been out there. And that’s it; we tell people that all the time. If you don’t have a good online presence, you’re not able to direct folks either to your website or your online ordering, either indirectly or directly.”

There’s a third thing expected to drive the market significantly. 

3. Expect Your Customers’ Buying Behaviors to Change 

The lockdowns had a tremendous impact on people’s food buying behavior. 

Diners had no other option than to order food from home. This fueled off-premise, direct-to-consumer online ordering. Today, people still rely on it and will continue to do so. And this increasing reliance has made direct customer online ordering a significant segment of the entire food industry. 

A study by Statista confirms this.

In their research, direct-to-customer online ordering was the largest in the entire food delivery sector. In 2020, 78% of customers placed online orders directly, and this sector alone generated more than $16 billion in the US. 

Here’s the significance of this changing buying behavior. 

Post-pandemic, customers won’t return to calling and emailing you to see what’s on your menus. They’ve all tasted the convenience of browsing online menus and having food delivered to them with a few button clicks. 

It’s now on you to adapt to this customer buying behavior or lose out. 

And that’s a call to go beyond taking, managing, and fulfilling orders on notepads and Excel. In short, Frank Christian advised against this.

In our interview, he said: 

“I say this over and over again: Catering companies that run on Word and Excel without a repeatable process will have a costly retraining expense because you just cannot train over and over and over with the constant turnover that we have in the industry.”

Frank is correct. 

If you continue to do things manually, you’re setting yourself up for failure because that’s not how people want to order food today. Also, even if you manage to grow, you’ll need to hire, train, and re-train more staff to handle all that manual work.

That’s neither a wise nor scalable way to grow your business.

But how do you adapt to the expected changes in online ordering driving food buying behaviors? How do you do it in the face of other challenges like rising food and labor costs?

And most importantly, how do you shrug off the threat from third-party platforms like ezCater aggregating thousands of restaurants and charging crazy commissions for your own food and hard work? 

We asked the experts we interviewed for this guide these questions, and they all said something in the lines of:

  1. Get your catering business online by yourself, and 
  2. Leverage automation software anywhere possible to streamline your processes. 

Experts Share How to Overcome the Challenges that Comes with Caterers Moving to Online Ordering

1. Getting Your Catering Business Online

Adapting to the new normal and moving to online ordering starts with setting up an online presence unique to your catering business. 

Aleya Harris is a former catering company owner and now award-winning marketer for caterers

She said this about caterers having their own online presence: 

“Let me start by being clear: It’s ALWAYS the perfect time to have an effective online presence. But, now more than ever, consumers are navigating an uncertain return to market from all sides. They’re not sure which businesses are open, which are only offering limited service (like curbside), or which have closed for good. 

If you don’t have an online presence right now, your past customers might assume your business didn’t make it through the pandemic. The rest of the market won’t even know you exist.”

Frank Christian of Taylored Hospitality had similar advice: 

“Related to an online presence, you never know what sales would have been out there. And that’s what we tell caterers all the time. If you don’t have a good online presence, you’re not able to direct folks either to your website or your online ordering, either indirectly or directly.”

Renowned International Speaker, Alan Berg, who is also an Expert on Business of Weddings & Events, shared some best practices: 

“Having an effective online presence is a couple of things: First, it’s being found. This is your own website. If customers don’t find you online, you don’t exist. That’s it; you’re done. And if they do find you online and don’t like what they see, you’re also done.

“Most caterers show too many pictures of their food on their website and not enough pictures of people enjoying their food. Show me “aspirational images” of people having a great time so that I’m going to want that kind of a result. 

“Show social proof of your customers talking about their experiences: Testimonials, social posts, emails/texts you’ve gotten, video testimonials, etc., that describe what it’s like to do business with you.

Here’s the bottom line of all this. 

By setting up an effective online presence, you put your destiny into your hands. Instead of competing with thousands of restaurants aggregated by third-party platforms, you can give your customers customized experiences. 

And that’s something to take seriously because if you give customers a great online experience, they’ll ditch third-party platforms and order directly from you. 

 A report by SevensRoom confirms this. 

According to the report, 30% of American diners who don’t use 3rd-party online ordering apps do so to support restaurants and caterers directly. 

2. Leverage Catering Automation Software

Regarding the need to leverage catering automation software, Aleya Harris hinted at why it is essential for caterers: 

“I anticipate that customers will continue to take advantage of virtual ways to engage with all businesses, particularly those in catering and foodservice. For a market that is already heavily tech-dependent, there is a demand for convenience and instant gratification. Online ordering and curbside delivery are here to stay.”

The point there is this. 

Once you get your online presence (website, blog, or social media pages) up and promote it to customers, the logical next step is to make it easy for them to browse your menus and place orders. 

That’s where catering order automation software like HoneyCart comes in. 

Frank Christian had this to say about HoneyCart: 

“If you go with a system like HoneyCart, you’re putting your drop-off operation on autopilot. You’re telling the customer what they can get, if there’s any substitution, it’s done in the software, and there really is no need to talk to them. 

And if they’re willing to give you money, it almost becomes mailbox money, because if you’ve priced your services properly and you know that it’s for a proper profit, or you’re treating it like a marketing decision, and it’s there to get you out on the streets and to kick cashflow, then why waste time talking to the customer if you don’t have to?”

These two points, getting your catering business online and leveraging order automation software, brings us to the crux of this guide.

Let’s dive in. 

How Caterers Can Bounce Back (& Save Over $45k/year) with Catering Automation, Step-By-Step

Things may be reopening, but caterers are still in unprecedented times. 

To give you an idea, consider this MarketWatch headline

Based on this report, besides dealing with the downsides of inflation, caterers like you must also contend with higher labor costs. 

And that’s not all. 

Food costs are also rising, according to this report by Eater.

As per the report, caterers and food entrepreneurs lamented as they watched ingredients skyrocket to levels never witnessed in a 12-month period. In short, Ciro Casella, San Matteo Pizzeria’s co-owner, observed: “that some products necessary to running his restaurant — pizza boxes and tomatoes — are now 30% more expensive.

That’s inflation, rising food costs, and higher labor costs to deal with all at the same time while still trying to keep your head above water. 

This situation calls for a proactive response. 

And the most logical one is to cut costs anywhere possible. But where do I start from is the question on most caterers’ lips? Let’s give it some thought. 

You can’t control inflation, skyrocketing food preparation costs, or the rising labor costs. External factors that are beyond you drive all these. 

So let’s consider your internal circle, i.e., your employees and operations. 

Before now, you probably needed a standby sales manager to take calls or respond to emails from customers reaching out to order food. And to facilitate the fulfillment of those orders. Even if you didn’t have one, you’d need someone in this role as your business grows. 

Here’s the average cost of hiring a sales manager today: 

At $20/hour, that’s over $45,000/year for a full-time employee hired for this role. Now, imagine you could automate this function.

Like what if you could free up your sales manager to go after big catering deals and bring in more revenue opportunities instead of taking calls? 

Doing this is something Frank Christian advised caterers to look into: 

“When a customer calls just to order sandwiches and chips, if the wrong full service event salesperson answered that call, this lead may not make sense to them. A $150 order to them is nothing when they could be going after $60K, $70K, $300,000-$400,000 catering events. It’s got to be the right order-taker for those type of smaller orders.”

In other words, with “the right order-taker,” you can free your best salespeople to focus on closing large event catering gigs. And not worry about hiring another sales manager for taking and processing small orders. That’s over $45,000 saved per year as you reopen and work hard to bounce back. 

Sounds good, right? 

Great. 

Next is how to do it step-by-step, using catering automation software and taking your business online efficiently. 

1. Upload Your Menus On Catering Automation Software

When caterers think of taking their business online, most think about spending thousands of dollars on building a website. The thought of this expense alone leads to in-action.

Although building your site is necessary, it’s not the first thing I’ll recommend.

And that’s because if you pay to build a website first, you also need to pay developers to custom-build your menus and ordering system to enable customers to place orders.

Doing those is expensive. 

According to this report, it costs anywhere from $3,000-$15,000 to build a catering website. And between $12,000-$25,000 for a customized ordering system.

Add both, and you’ll need at least $15,000 to get your menus online. 

But the problem isn’t only in coughing up this huge amount of money. When you hire developers to build your site and upload your menus, if you’re not tech-savvy, which you likely aren’t, you’d always need them to make changes as the need to upgrade those menus or add new ones arises. 

For our aim of saving time and costs lost to the negative toll the pandemic had on caterers, going this route isn’t optimal. 

And that’s where catering automation software comes in. 

With catering automation software, for instance, HoneyCart, you can get your menus up in minutes. You don’t even need to be tech-savvy to make changes, add new menu items, or remove recipes you’re no longer offering. 

Hear it from Elizabeth Choto, Founder of GrazeDat Catering

“HoneyCart made it super easy for me to build an online menu that was easy for customers to navigate and customize their orders. It’s been easier than I thought to have to create a front-end experience for my customers that is super easy to use.”

And this is what her online catering shop hosted on HoneyCart looks like: 

The main reason to get your menus up on catering ordering software first and foremost is that once they’re up there, anyone can order. 

Additionally, with catering automation software, you can set ordering policies, minimum order quantity, days when special menus are available, and others. 

Once you’re done setting things up as you please, HoneyCart gives you a custom link to your online catering storefront for anyone to view your offers and place their orders. Without calling or emailing you. Without having a sales manager on standby to attend to them. 

That leaves you with one thing: Placing your custom store link anywhere you consider makes sense for you to have an online presence. 

And that brings us to step number two.  

2. Set-up An Online Presence Where Your Customers Are

When it comes to taking your catering business online, what is most important is being on the mediums your target customers are. 

And in today’s world, it could be anywhere. 

As I said in the first step, don’t get blinded to the digitally-driven economy because you don’t have a website. The truth is that there are over 1.6 billion sites in the world, as of writing this guide. 

So unless you know and have the time to drive traffic to your site and know how to convert that traffic to customers, don’t obsess over it. 

Instead, look for mediums your potential customers already hang out on and build an online presence there. This could be on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Medium, LinkedIn, etc. 

Take GrazeDat Catering, for instance. 

She doesn’t have a website. After creating her menus on HoneyCart, she simply added her custom link to the online platforms where her customers hang out. 

On Facebook, she posts her delicacies and menus items 3-5 times a week with a link to her HoneyCart store for her fans to place orders: 

On Instagram, she does the same thing. 

Daily, she posts inviting images of her delicacies and menus: 

As you see above, using a free LinkTree account, she then lists relevant options for customers looking to get in touch with her.

When customers click on the LinkTree, they’re redirected to a page with options to choose from. Above these options, she placed a link to her HoneyCart catering booking store: 

And when customers click on this link, they can browse her menus, see the various delicacies available, and place orders online: 

Here’s what GrazeDat’s Founder, Elizabeth said about using HoneyCart to run her catering business online: 

“The time I spent processing orders has been cut by over 80%, and it’s been such a relief and help to have more time on my hands. My sales have seen a boost for sure because, with all that extra time, I’m able to work more on marketing and fulfilling more orders than before.”

But what if you insist on building a website or already have one? 

No problem. 

You can still place a link to your online catering store on HoneyCart for customers to view your menu items and place orders. 

For example, Nicholas Restaurant, located in Portland, Oregon, does this: 

Here’s what Juan Zamudio, Catering Manager at Nicholas Restaurant, said about using HoneyCart to process online orders with their own website: 

“There are people that I don’t even have to talk to now. They just place their order. They go on our website, see we offer catering, click around and next thing you know, there’s an order. Now when I wake up in the morning, I check my emails, and there are usually three or four new orders. A lot of our orders come in after hours.”

In other words, they are getting catering clients on autopilot. 

Conclusion: Bounce Back, Take Your Business Online, Automate Order Processing with Catering Automation

Let’s revisit what Aleya Harris said about not having an online presence: 

“If you don’t have an online presence right now, your past customers might assume your business didn’t make it through the pandemic. The rest of the market won’t even know you exist.”

And for processing orders once you’re online, she said: 

“Automation software is a must for any business, but especially for caterers who are always juggling a million and one tasks. When you don’t have to spin your wheels on marketing or client onboarding, you can dedicate that time to strategy and profit-driving activities like creating new product lines or getting out there to sell your business. It’s the same reason hiring an employee is such a good move, but it comes with much lower overhead for the most part.”

Two crucial points to take home are: 

  • Having an online presence is now a must, and
  • Automating your ordering processes without hiring a dedicated staff to do it will save you money and time to concentrate on more pertinent aspects of your business. 

As I’ve shown you in this guide, acting now will help you bounce back as the US reopens. And you could save over $45,000/year instead of hiring someone to do those mundane tasks when you automate things. 

In short, using catering order automation software like HoneyCart will even cut down the time usually spent processing orders while giving your customers a smooth ordering experience.  

Hilda Dibe observed this after using HoneyCart for some months

“Using HoneyCart has cut the time it takes for us to process each order dramatically versus doing it the old way. It usually took us about 15-20 minutes before; now, it’s more like 5 minutes. [And] we had a customer say that this was the easiest app we found, very well constructed.”

As they say, seeing is believing. 

So grab a free, 14-day trial of HoneyCart and see if it’s worth your try. 

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