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How High-Tech Complements High-Touch

Caterers’ IT tools to improve customer communication and service

There is no doubt that progress in technology has allowed great advances in every field of business and customer service. But it’s now up to you to use technology to free up interaction time with your guests, while being more effective with your employee practices.

However, you must avoid the trap of thinking that apps, software, or the like are an appropriate replacement for excellent guest service and communication.

Many of the following measures can be implemented by any caterer whether large volume or small independents; in either case the recurring lamentation is the same: “I don’t have enough time!” By using these techniques, you can cut down on the time wasters and improve your quality of time spent.

Contractual forms & credit card pre-authorization

Capturing digital signatures, zerodollar credit card pre-authorization, and secure online payments that are PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliant will significantly reduce both time and paperwork storage, regardless of what other system(s) you use. Chargebacks can virtually be eliminated, and several systems integrate with HubSpot and Salesforce. I was personally involved in a catering operation that held large holiday brunches for 700– 1,000 people and using this system for reservations reduced the number of no-shows from an average of 5–7% to zero. Major players in this area include Sertifi and Canary. 

Event floorplan software

In addition to the layout of tables and ancillary items, user-facing options allow guests to input seating assignments and entree selections, a major marketing feature. The two big players are Social Tables and AllSeated. Some catering software, like Caterease, have their own seating program embedded, or alternatively interface with a seating program so that diagrams are attached to the events.


Food costing and production using recipes is one of the biggest challenges, plus it is particularly important to address as we combat fluctuating price changes and labor issues. Cheftec is one the powerhouse programs for larger operations who can support it. Suppliers like Sysco, Gordons, and US Foods also provide free software to their clients and can include ingredients other than what they sell to you. Features can include scalable recipes, shopping lists, inventory, export to QuickBooks/ Excel, and alarms for exceeding food cost thresholds. 

Online staffing solution

There are many staff scheduling programs available, but a specialized on-/off-site catering solution offers event-specific features. Some of the features in these programs include timekeeping/payroll, the ability to rate staff by skill level, custom tag searches, and help accommodating staffing agencies. Many caterers use QuickBooks and interfaces are available for any accounting software where a .CSV file can be imported. The two major players are Nowsta and StaffMate. 

Communication apps

Want to be able to text or voice message your chef, sous chef, and banquet manager instantly, while at the same time having the ability for anyone to replay the message so details don’t get lost? These instant communication programs simulate two-way radios, or Push-to-talk (PTT) and allow 1:1 or 1:group communication via voice or text-style and feature many free robust features. Another advantage is that contrary to standard two-way radios, any headphone/ear bud device that functions with your phone can be used. It also works across city, state, and even US/Canada boundaries as seamlessly as if everyone were in the immediate vicinity. Download these apps to your phone: Zello, Glide, Mumble, and Voxer. 

Remote desktop application

Microsoft has significantly improved their game in Windows 11 with a rebranded application—just click on the magnifying glass and enter “Quick Assist” to share your computer with yourself while in an appointment. No longer will your sales staff have to run back and forth from office to appointment to check available dates and other details. They can also enter information on the spot, rather than take notes and transfer it later. Plus, imagine not needing your IT department to handle remote access. There are also other free methods such as Google Chrome Remote Desktop, GoToMyPC, etc.

CRM systems

A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system helps manage customer data. It supports sales management, integrates with social media, and facilitates communication. SalesForce, Hubspot, and others require more time and sophistication. There are currently three types of CRMs, each of which addresses diverse needs. PC Magazine has a good list of systems for smaller businesses. 

Employee training efficiency

The majority of catering operations are seasonal, and therefore ramping up staff by 25–50% is common. Scheduling people for on-site training can consume many hours, and it is often a time burden to the managers and employees participating, as well as a costly measure. The free app Google Classroom can easily be formatted into a structured lesson with a variety of ways to hold individual or group sessions remotely and can even include tests.

Guest reviews (reputation management/fulfillment)

Answering every guest review is important; if feedback arrives by email, using a service to respond could save considerable time without sacrificing the personal touch. You can craft a series of appropriate responses for the service to use, and then you will see the responses in editable format before they are sent. You can also specify that extremely critical comments come directly to you. Organized dashboards with summary results and detailed reports are also included. Existing highly ranked systems include Travel Media Group, Revinate, and GuestRevu. 


John Lombardo

John Lombardo

Managing Partner, Branches Catering, West Long Beach, NJ

John Lombardo, CHA is a senior consultant with Certified Catering Consultants and is a veteran hospitality industry executive. His successful career includes managing privately-owned businesses and four- and five-star level corporate hotel properties. A combination of practical skills honed by opening and turning around properties ranging from locations in Maui, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and elsewhere across the continental U.S., combined with a degree from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration provide John with a unique ability to understand many facets of hospitality. His additional experience owning several hospitality businesses complements his overall understanding of how to address the challenges that owners...