Many caterers enjoy their business because, unlike restaurants, caterers usually have a reasonable idea of what is scheduled for the next day. Although not absolutely unheard of, last minute weddings that require catering are uncommon. Short notice events can pop up, but again, this is not the norm.
When you enter the realm of drop off catering, however, the rules drastically change. Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for any number of guests can appear on your doorstep with sometimes only an hour's notice.
If you have 10 orders for lunch today and they're all choreographed perfectly so that the food arrives on time, a last minute order can be a challenge.
Now note that I did not characterize the last minute order as a “problem.” I called it a challenge for a reason, because there are numerous ways to handle these situations and capture more business.
No situation should be characterized as a problem, if it involves a customer who offers you money for your product. It may definitely become a challenge to produce and deliver that order along with your other orders in a timely manner, but you need to take that last minute order.
1) If the order is from an active customer, they naturally depend on you to service them. If you can't, there will be someone else out there who can.
2) Maybe the order is indeed from a customer who has had their order denied by their regular caterer—probably not a client of mine! In this case, you can start a long-term relationship by solving the customer's problem.
3) Maybe a last minute meeting occurred and the team leader needs food delivered ASAP. For whatever reason, someone found your number. Service this new customer properly and again, you can begin a long-term relationship.
4) Possibly a regular customer simply forgot to order. They'll look really bad if their lunch doesn't arrive. If you can save them, you can have a customer for life.
5) A new customer misunderstood the ordering process. Maybe they're used to merely calling a restaurant an hour before they need their food. You can explain your ordering guidelines later. Take the order now and make money!
Remember, your regular and potential customers most likely do not understand the inner workings of your business and they shouldn't be expected to do so. They don't want to know how many orders you have, how many employees have called in sick, or how many of your vehicles are down. You advertise that you deliver great food on time and people will call you for that reason. It may seem trying and inconvenient for you, but the rewards can be great.
Michael Rosman is founder of The Corporate Caterer, a membership website and consulting company for restaurateurs and caterers who aspire to begin, or want to grow, their corporate drop-off catering business. Michael can be reached directly at: [email protected].