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The busy season is underway, and for caterers and restaurants it is the biggest opportunity in the past two years to boost sales and make a hefty profit. Most travel and social distancing restrictions have been lifted and supplier indications point to a record breaking catering season.

Groups of families and friends will be meeting to celebrate, perhaps for the first time in two years. Many companies will be hosting end-of-year / welcome-back functions. And businesses still working remotely will be hosting online events and sending out banquet boxes with mini-proseccos and charcuterie.

But the old challenges have only gotten worse, and some new ones have arisen. For caterers to really take advantage of this holiday season, and not just churn out hors d’oeuvres, they need to take steps to increase profitability.

2021’s Massive Holiday Catering Opportunity

The period leading up to, and following, the holidays have traditionally been the busiest season for catering. Typically 15-20% of yearly income is raked in during the span of two months.

Thanksgiving and Christmas days themselves, however, are considered slow, as families tend to spend them at home or with friends. Covid-19 changed that when home events turned to catering for help.

Last year, November and December catering sales increased 317% compared to the preceding 5 months. That’s 18 times more than pre-covid. 

The delivery and meal-kit boom, as well as lock-down fatigue, introduced families to the wonders of quality catering, and businesses spent their unused budget on individually delivered event boxes. 

One survey revealed that 30% of last year’s private holiday gatherings with 5 or more people used catering.

This year, the demand for holiday catering is expected to be even bigger, now that most travel restrictions have been lifted and people are eager to socialize. People have multiple private engagements and corporations are planning in-person parties, fundraisers and back-to-the-office events.

It’s not just about American or Christian traditions either. Hannukah (Nov 28 – Dec 6), Kwanzaa (Dec 26 – Jan 1) and The Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec 12) are all part of this year’s catering schedule, giving caterers an opportunity to create multiple different menus.

But grasping the opportunity of this year’s busy season does not come without challenges.

Catering Busy Season Promises Challenges New and Old

The most common catering menus are appetizers and hors d’oeuvres. These small bites require just as much food as entrees, but demand meticulous prep work (and thousands of toothpicks). 

Unfortunately, many catering businesses suffer from disorganized operations, especially in relation to sourcing supplies, prepping food and retaining staff. 

Some caterers are working with the wrong supplier altogether; Years of distrust have made them reluctant to change and they still prefer ‘the devil they know’. 

Others are juggling multiple suppliers for fear of being left empty handed amidst recent supply chain disruptions. Instead of harvesting the holiday season’s bounty, profits dissolve under hidden feeds and fluctuating costs. 

Once supplies have arrived, the immense food prep tasks begin. Many hire part time staff to help with the workload, but finding, training and retaining qualified staff during the labor crisis is going to be tough. Increased wage demands are going to cut into profits so finding quality staff is a must. 

If that wasn’t enough, Covid-19 has also spawned a new threat – major retail grocers. They too recognized the opportunity in catering during the pandemic, and chains like Whole Foods have come out with fully prepared meals for the holiday season.

12 Practical Tips for Caterers to Increase Busy Season Profits

Whether you provide full-service corporate catering, or focus on ‘drop-off’ for family gatherings; Whether you’re catering-only, or a restaurant renting a commissary kitchen for the season – increasing profitability is a must. Here are 12 practical tips that will help increase the bottom line.

  1. Recap the last years’ data – Review the previous years’ sales and inventory reports and create a data-driven estimate on how much supplies you’ll need, toothpicks too.
    >>> Need help forecasting? Cheetah’s Coalition partner PlateIQ can help.
  2. Bundle orders – Instead of ordering 3 times a week, improve forecasting and order once. This reduces overhead fees and will get you better deals from your supplier.
  3. Don’t shop at grocery stores – They are now your competition and they are very expensive at the quantities catering requires.
  4. Don’t waste money on Instacart – It is very expensive. Caterers pay large premiums for delivery and also pay more for the products themselves since they are bought at grocery stores.
  5. Cater to all faiths and celebrations – You’ll be surprised by how untapped those markets are. If you crack the right menu and pricing, word of mouth will do the rest.
  6. Offer plant-based options and eco-friendly packaging – The plant based trend is here to stay. Clients (and their guests) are willing to pay more for healthy vegan options and environmentally friendly packaging. 
  7. Offer Covid-safe catering – Have all staff vaccinated or tested, and offer curbside pickup/dropoff to customers with health concerns. Offering separately packaged items for a premium will also boost profits. 
  8. Create comprehensive meal packages – For example, “The Complete Christmas Dinner” or “The Full Thanksgiving Eco-Brunch”. Market them as zero-preparation or low-environmental impact – and charge a premium.
  9. Prep for multiple events in one go – Don’t do the same prep twice, it will save you labor hours and rent you pay for the kitchen. 
  10. Outsource Prep – Yes, it is possible. Cheetah’s JIT service will bring pre-prepped quality produce and protein to your doorstep, saving countless labor hours and reducing waste
  11. Get on-demand staff with no strings attached – Hire pre-qualified kitchen staff for a shift or a season through Cheetah Coalition member Poached Jobs.
  12. Work with a trustworthy distributor – Instead of being a reactive buyer at the grocery store, use a trusted distributor that wants the best for your business. Cheetah is trusted by over 3,000 caterers and restaurants.

"Cheetah's large catalog, reliable delivery, and fair pricing gave us the opportunity to decrease food and labor costs. Their midnight cutoff-time gives caterers the flexibility needed to comply with customers' last-minute demands."

Chris, former catering business owner Tweet

Cheetah the Honest Supplier

Cheetah’s pricing is transparent and 15-20% cheaper than mainstream distributors. Ordering food and supplies with no hidden fees and no signup fees – caterers pay only for their supplies.

Using the intuitive app, caterers place recurring orders digitally within minutes. And if help is needed, Cheetah’s best-in-class customer support is there for you 24/7.

The flexible midnight order cutoff time is perfect for last minute changes. But the truth is, you can even update your order after it’s placed. Deliveries are supplied the next day, on time within 3-hour windows, 6 days a week. Guaranteed.

As a BONUS, through Cheetah’s expanded business coalition, you get discounts on services like digital and nutritional menus, marketing, staffing and merchandise.

The best part is, trying Cheetah for your catering needs is free and fast. While Cheetah is absolutely committed to you, there’s no commitment on your end.

Get started with Cheetah for caterers

Download the app and place an order as early as today!

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