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Cater to Your Customer

5 Ways to Not Incite Customer Rage

A marketing professor once told me, “See the world through the eyes of your customer and you’ll never be wrong.”

I’ve been writing for the Catersource site for a few months now. I interviewed Erle Dardick, who talked about how restaurants need to think-through their catering operations. That means I’ve have been thinking about catering mainly through the eyes of restaurants.

But this week, I saw the catering world through the perspective of a customer. It was an eye-opening experience, indeed!

I’m helping my daughter plan her kids’ birthday party and I offered to arrange for the catering of the “parent food.” We chose a multi-location restaurant whose food we love.

Their website was slick and friendly and offered myriad of catering options. Yum! I filled out the form. I got an immediate bot reply that someone would get back to me within 24 hours. The note was still friendly and chatty. “Great! I’d be able to talk to a live human being about my options,” I thought.

And that’s when the spoilage of the experience began.

I got an email from a corporate return address. It wasn’t even signed with a name. It basically rehashed the menu options from the website. But aha! It had a phone number. I called it. I got a prerecorded message, selling me on a wide range of food options. And then, after about two minutes, a message saying all their lines were busy and they would call me back. I left a message and a phone number.

I waited for a callback. Silence.

Here I am, a loyal and “hungry” customer, ready to take out my credit card and buy at least $100 worth of food. But I have options. I need some personal attention, and not just a platter of meat. We live in a Yelp-driven business era, so unhappy customers can cost restaurants thousands of dollars and their reputations.

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Advice to Restaurants: Technology is NEVER enough!

1. If you are committed to getting into the catering business—which is a smart move for restaurants of all sizes—never forget that you have human beings at the other end of that transaction. You can be part of an important life event or a source of irritation and stress.

2. Develop service systems that don’t keep your customers hanging and, as you automate certain functions, train the “machines” to add a personal touch to every interaction.

3. Be mindful of wait times and response times.

4. Do not over-sell. If someone has contacted your business, chances are he or she is interested. If you were on a date, you wouldn’t talk repeatedly about how much money you have or how cute you are, or how awesome your furniture is. You’d just soft-sell your benefits. The same rules apply to “courting” a catering customer.

5. Remember, time is of the essence. If you don’t respond quickly, someone else can be $100+ richer next month. In our digital, immediate gratification era, speed, and quality are both essential.

P.S. My story ultimately may have a happy ending. A live person (who signs her emails “Catering Concierge) called me back and we went through my order. She gave me options and was upbeat and helpful. The next hurdle: timely delivery and food quality! I plan to provide direct and honest feedback to the catering manager of the restaurant I contacted. Restaurants should always be listening to customer input and ways to improve service delivery.  Of course, I’ll also invite the whole catering team of that restaurant to the Catersource 2019 Conference too!

Nancy A. Shenker

Founder/CEO | theONswitch

Nancy A. Shenker is Founder/CEO of theONswitch marketing and a professional content strategist, writer, and speaker.

She has spent more than  30 years in the events, food, retail, and small business worlds, focused on delivering meaningful and memorable experiences and bottom-line results.