Many bakeries have mastered retail and online outlets but have ignored their potentially lucrative catering potential. According to Butch Rouwhorst, owner and chef of Ryke’s Bakery, Catering, and Café in Michigan, “The catering market is alive and well. Once again, people have more money than time.”
Catering is a natural extension for bakeries. “A bakery has four ingredients that a catering company needs,” Rouwhorst said. “Ovens, a work space, coolers, and customer flow. A bakery’s ovens are normally large and down by late morning, so why not fill them up again? The work space is already being paid for, so utilize the footprint. If you have coolers and can outgrow them, you’re succeeding. And as for customer flow, the best advertising is word of mouth; just insert good food.”
Here are some tips to help you successfully add corporate accounts to your catering program:
Advertise your catering business in trade publications.
Hire a good salesperson to market your catering services.
Be first to the market with food trends and catering displays.
Form a customer advisory board to update your catering menu
People seek out caterers for a number of events. Ryke’s Bakery services events large and small. “Our large events are weddings, corporate events, fundraisers, reunions, graduations, and so on,” Rouwhorst said. “Our smaller events are meetings, parties, wedding showers, baby showers, rehearsal dinners, family gatherings, graduations, and birthdays.”
Tatte Bakery & Café in Massachusetts also caters a wide variety of events, including some in their own event spaces. “We host events in our spaces during the weekends and mornings, and customers also often ask us to cater in their houses” said Tzurit Or, pastry chef and owner of Tatte. “We offer our design services for an additional charge, so you can go from a simple pick-up catering to a full-service catering with us.”
Menu Ideas and Current Trends
Your catering menu should reflect your existing product offerings. “Don’t recreate the wheel, just cover more ground,” Rouwhorst said. “Build your menu offerings around items that can be picked up, and create packaging for your current products; make it easy!”
It’s also important to be well-rounded. “I never think of us and our offerings as bakery only,” Or said. “We offer a full menu—the whole shebang, a feast! People love our quiches, unique salads, meat offerings, and, of course, our desserts and baked goods.”
Start simply with proven successes, and slowly expand from there. “The current strengths of catering for small to mid-sized bakeries are traditional box lunches, morning treats, pastry trays, and coffee service,” Rouwhorst said. “A new direction I feel would be a great move is toward the live organic juices. Roasted foods, not fried foods, are the direction we have moved. And Indian and Mediterranean cuisines are two of our strongest flavor profiles. Northern California cuisine is great to follow as well.”
Display is also important. “We create an experience with our food stations,” Or said. “When you enjoy our fruit platter, you almost feel as though you’re enjoying a farmer’s market stand; it’s so fresh and uniquely spread.”
Transportation and Display
Getting customers to come to your bakery to pick up their catering orders themselves is certainly the easiest route, but when delivery and set-up services are requested, it’s important to do them right.
“We transport in vans, and our packaging is always stackable and as compact as possible.” Rouwhorst said. “Rolling coolers are king and are the most effective way of transporting anything from frozen to steaming foods. The key is finding food display vessels that fit and stack inside the dimensions of the cooler. From the cooler to the table is our goal when it comes to being efficient. Durable packaging is also a key. Vessels made of glass, ceramics, or clay are not on our buy list. They may look great and display well, but if they’re broken when you get there, it doesn’t matter! We prefer wood, hard plastics, metal, baskets, acrylics, and bamboo. These will serve you and your food for much longer and are a lot lighter.”
While potentially fruitful, catering is not without its difficulties. “The biggest challenge is to not compromise your food,” Or said. “Catering is all about the logistics and knowing when to say no to the impossible. It’s important to learn from mistakes, to be honest and responsible, and to take on only what you can handle. Don't do an event if you can't make it awesome.”
Finances can also be an obstacle. “There are so many variables in a catering event,” Rouwhorst said. “Labor will make or break your profit on any event, large or small. So when building your quote, always keep these items separate: food, labor, equipment, gratuity, and tax.”
There are several ways to spread the word about your catering business. “Facebook, industry related websites, and social media are great resources,” Rouwhorst said. “Partnering with local venues and getting on their preferred list of caterers is another opportunity. There are also always an abundance of organizations looking for goodwill donations, which has given us great exposure and the opportunity to exchange food for great word of mouth.”
Other marketing opportunities include creating press releases for local media outlets; networking at local businesses, sports clubs, and exhibition centers; attending trade shows for a variety of industries; and setting up a stand at your local farmer’s market.
“Catering and bakeries have been hand-in-hand for many years,” Rouwhorst said. “The real opportunity is offering a one-stop shop for those with limited time. The more you can put in their bag or deliver to their event, the better.”