“We are fanatical software architects with restaurants in our DNA,” declares Erle Dardick, CEO & Founder, Monkey Group and Catersource Featured Speaker. A 20-year catering veteran, business turnaround expert, and author, he is best known for helping multi-unit restaurant executives create successful catering revenue channels.
But Dardick did not start his career as a technology guru. He just believes that process and technology are among the keys to catering success for restaurants. We talked about trends in the catering industry and how restaurants need to up their technology and off-premise game in order to survive and thrive.
How did you get into the business?
Just like Zingerman’s success, it all began with a deli. A young entrepreneur, Dardick decided to buy Tony’s Deli in Vancouver, CANADA back in 1997. “I was a ‘fix-it guy’ and I liked their food. Over time, I built a ‘platter-based business’ because my gut told me that if I could have $800 to $1,000 in orders going out the front door, my restaurant operation would not have to carry so much of the weight.”
Dardick’s instincts paid off. As his business grew, he partnered with a web developer who happened to be upstairs in his building to create a technology solution to streamline ordering and operations. Long before the tech boom, Dardick was onto something. By 2001, Tony’s Deli & Catering (which was renamed based on the new business model) was generating $2.3 million in sales.
In 2002, Dardick decided to “pay it forward” and started training other businesses how to use technology to scale their businesses. Monkey Media now has more than 8,000 customers, including brands like Einstein Bros Bagels, Moe’s Southwest Grill, and KFC. He also educates smaller restaurants through The Catering Institute and his podcast.
What is the off-premise paradigm shift?
“For the first time in history, people who sell food now have the ability to distribute through digital channels. Technology companies have changed consumer behavior, which is now putting pressure on food service operators to meet consumer demand. The only way restaurants will be able to scale is to adopt a new set of business practices and channel management (including technology).”
What do restaurant owners need to know as they prepare for 2019 and beyond?
“They have to focus on consumer segments. For example, if your target market wants to order from Door Dash, you have to be able to meet that need. They need to have the right technology stack.” A technology stack is the right combination of software for marketing and delivery. Much like a great sandwich, the right ingredients and condiments can make a huge difference. The people making and serving it up need to be talented and experienced too.
According to Dardick, restaurants need to create “smaller menus, very focused, well thought-out, designed and priced.”
Who are some of the models of success in the catering space?
“I could list so many. But the one thing they all have in common is that their leaders really know what’s going on in their businesses. They constantly think about operations, menu, service, and scale.
“Panera has 120 salespeople pounding the pavement every day to build their catering business. Boston Market has also had catering in its DNA for 20 years. Their business workflow and call centers are set-up for catering. Jason’s Deli, Fazoli’s, Corner Bakery are all ‘doing it right.’ They offer platter-based menus and have their kitchens organized for food preparation.”
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What common mistakes do restaurants make as they expand their catering operations?
“They don’t think through the competition for resources in their kitchens. They underestimate what’s entailed. You have to really commit to marketing, people, and technology resources.” According to Dardick, even if you “missed the tech memo,” you can still catch up and scale your off-premises catering operations.
Attend his sessions at Catersource as a first step toward enjoying the type of success that Dardick built for his own deli!
What are you looking forward to at Catersource?
“I love learning from people who are already in the space and figuring out what the next generation will be like.”
That generation is welcome to enter the first-ever Catersource Future Star Competition. In business three years or less? This competition is for you!