Seven steps for successful off-premise catering

By Diane Chiasson

With the holiday season rapidly approaching, there is extra business to be made in off-premise catering.  It is time to capitalize on the many businesses and companies planning their annual holiday events, or customers looking to throw a party at home.

People may want a service that falls between takeout from a restaurant and a full-scale catering company.  This month, focus some of your advertising and marketing dollars on bringing your restaurant to the homes and offices of your customers.  Here are some tips on how to attract this extra business your way:

1. Offer self-service catering

Create party platters, family-style meals and special holiday menus to service this need during the holidays.  Keep in mind your customers are probably looking to feed a large crowd with as little hassle and fuss as possible, and with minimal cleanup.  Make sure you pitch the right foods to the right crowd.

2. Don’t forget packaging and delivery

When budgeting your catering menu, remember to include food packaging and delivery expenses into the total cost of the service.  You may need to invest in new packaging to accommodate serving larger numbers of people in specific timeframes.  Also consider packaging that holds food securely and keeps it at the right temperature.

3. Create a menu that reflects your restaurant

Try to incorporate all your signature dishes into your catering menu.  Offer menu items that are bestsellers in your restaurant.  Off-premise catering is not the time to experiment.  Make sure your menu items can be made in advance and provide enough variety for your clients.

Also provide a combination of hot and cold foods.  Keep in mind the necessity to serve finger foods that don’t require a knife and fork to eat, or buffet foods that guests can eat while standing up.

4. Make it look good and unique

Be creative in the way you serve food.  Customers entertaining at home or other offsite locations need more than just food from your restaurant.  They want food to arrive in attractive platters with the appropriate garnishes – this helps add to the overall success of their party or event.  Allow your customers to ‘rent’ or ‘borrow’ platters, crockery and silverware from your restaurant that can be returned the next day.  Alternatively, you can use environmentally friendly bamboo trays and platters to arrange food, helping you save on disposable packaging.

5. Cross-promote businesses

Collaborate with your local florist, a deejay or musicians to offer your catering services as a package that comes complete with food, decorations and music.

6. Marketing your menu

Create a holiday catering menu and leave copies all over your restaurant.  Include a menu with every guest bill.  Send a creative direct mail package or an email blast to your existing mailing list, as well as all businesses in your area.  Contact local event planners and let them know about your new holiday catering menu.

7. Pay attention to final details

Not enough emphasis can be placed on final details to ensure your catering operation will run smoothly.  Whether finalizing an event or checking the spelling on your menu, it is necessary to go every single minute detail.  Make a schedule and stick to it.  Tie up all loose ends by making certain food transportation is planned, proper food temperatures and safety issues are considered, and all necessary additional equipment has been acquired.

About the author:

© 2009 Chiasson Consultants Inc. All rights reserved.

Diane Chiasson, FCSI, President of Chiasson Consultants Inc., has been helping foodservice, hospitality and retail operators increase sales for over 25 years. She is recognized as the industry leader in providing innovative and revenue-increasing foodservice and retail merchandising programs, interior design, branding, menu engineering, marketing and promotional campaigns, and much more. Contact her at 416-926-1338, toll-free at 1-888-926-6655 or, or visit

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