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Catering at the Speed of Data

Data is everything! In my last article, I talked about how important it is for a catering company to have an organized data system and a data management specialist dedicated to overseeing it. With every passing generation, we have quicker access to the data in our daily lives. And people are making faster decisions.

Consumers are making quicker purchasing decisions—from buying personal items to ordering lunch for 45 clients for an impromptu business meeting. These speedy decisions are happening online, over the phone or via text message. Sometimes all at once.

Are catering companies up to speed?

With the rate that everyone’s moving, it’s our responsibility as caterers to create a decision-buying process for our clients that’s seamless, easy, quick, and accurate. Data, whether it’s in print form or online, should match the pace of society.

Food service is moving in this direction in all parts of the hospitality industry. Kiosks at fast food restaurants, online restaurant delivery services, and online corporate event catering are all great examples of this trend.

Technology companies have been finding ways to help the hospitality industry streamline their businesses. They understand that catering is a broad business. There are so many extra factors outside the realm of social and large-scale corporate events that takes months to produce and execute. Our world can be a lucrative business, but let’s remember that it’s also labor intensive.

Online decisions are not necessarily in the sales associate’s power. Data specialists are the ones responsible for adding choices, streamlining the order process and driving customer loyalty online. It is up to them to create one-stop-shops for all choices that are not done over the phone.

Caterers take pride in creating memorable moments. However, those moments are not necessarily happening seven days a week. Many caterers need more sources of revenue, which is where corporate, drop off, and contract dining options come in. It’s difficult to count on these options. Many of these client relationships are often short-lived. There is a high probability that they will go through your menu offerings quickly and want something that they haven’t seen before. Like so many other decision-makers, they are making decisions in the moment.

Reacting to quick decisions is time-consuming, especially if you don’t have the systems in place that are constantly updated or adjusted to meet trends that are beyond your control. Customers want lots of options, and they understand if you don’t have what they are looking for right then and there, they can move on.

The future of online catering

The data we’re talking about here should be your menus, pricing, images, customer reviews, delivery options, specials, and daily events. This data needs to be continuously managed in real-time in a way will drive continued sales. If you leverage technology the right way, customers will have freedom to create their own orders and process information—verses having your internal team doing immense amounts of data entry work. Caterers are far better suited to provide food and service than a part-time driver who oftentimes has no accountability to the product being delivered.

It’s important that caterers learn to embrace the technology of an evolution that is well in motion. Start by reorganizing your organizational chart and job descriptions to include data management as a priority—not an afterthought.

John Reed

Owner, Custom Culinary Solutions, Chicago, IL

John Reed is a professional chef with over 30 years’ experience. He is the owner of Customized Culinary Solutions, a culinary consulting firm located in the Chicago Northshore area. He works with restaurant, catering, and foodservice companies to provide the highest quality food possible. His contributions include menu and recipe development, emerging concept development, and transition management for companies introducing culinary and production software programs. His company specializes as an on-demand culinary department supporting out-sourced culinary project management.

An active member of the ACF, he has earned certifications as a Certified Executive Chef, Certified Culinary Administrator, and American Academy of...