Many restaurants have scrambled to increase their catering business. For many of these companies, a party simply requires an estimated guest count and a reserved table or room. The guests order off the menu and drinks are all charged by the drink. Rarely, the host may restrict their guests to specific entree choices. Usually, a printed menu is prepared with the limited choices specified with prices.
Some restaurants offer catering services with no catering menu. How do they operate as a caterer? They simply let a party reserve a much larger table than usual (sometimes an intimate room off the main dining room). The guests do not order ahead of time and they are served from the dinner menu.
Is this truly a catered affair?
Some restaurants charge a set price per person for food but let the orders go through to the kitchen on the POS system. Often, these companies have separate PLU numbers to handle these orders. In this manner, the revenue is generated per person and the menu items selected are tracked to the specific party. These PLUs may be grouped to show party activity at-a-glance.
Most restaurant operators using their facility for parties do not shut down their normal operation unless the group wants the entire space for the event. Occasionally, you will see an apology sign in the window letting guests know the restaurant is closed for the evening due to a party.
Since a party could have been booked with a catering specialist, these special events are clearly catered affairs. Restaurants with no catering menu do not typically book huge parties during their prime hours. There are exceptions to this rule.
If the restaurant does not ask for the order ahead of the seating, the event is strictly a large party. However, some restaurants ask the guests to order ahead of the party. In my mind, this is a truly catered affair. The restaurant provides a comfortable venue and the room is configured to focus on the party. The kitchen has a predetermined menu allowing the culinary team to execute the event well.
A third option involves establishing a fixed price amount charged per guest and limiting the menu item options. These operators allow the party guests to choose their appetizer and entree options once they arrive. Although the restaurant has a firm sales number, the profit potential won't be as high as the event with a predetermined menu.
Although the restaurant is still seating regular dining patrons, the act of putting the special menu on the agenda is key. The food order is less uncertain and the proper staff level is easier to forecast. These are two of the advantages caterers have over an a la carte dinner house.
Generally, the manager adapts the service staff to the number of guests. The final count for the party is added to the base forecast. Since the guests often order items which are also on the regular menu, the meal period is treated as normal with a higher covers forecast.
Extras like photographers, flowers, special invitations, etc. may be handled by the host or the restaurant. If the restaurant provides these services, they are usually added to the bill.
Caterers often have profit and loss statements with very low food costs. A 25% food cost is at the high end because they divide the total revenue into their food cost. Beverage costs are treated similarly. Most restaurants show the traditional food and beverage cost numbers. Extras will be treated as other income.
While it is not always the case, caterers tend to use job costing principles and restaurants stick with periodic reports. Restaurants could increase catering profit by creating suggested packages. If guests were offered packages with higher gross margins, the positive impact of special events could increase.
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