What keeps caterers awake at night?

We have all become familiar with the concept of the credit crunch, with many independent businesses left wondering what is going to happen over the next 12 months. Here we will take a closer look at what independent caterers say their concerns are for the next 12 months and identify ways in which they could adapt their business to grow sales.

him! recently interviewed 3,000 independent caterers while they were shopping in cash and carries throughout the UK as part of its annual Cash Carry Caterer Tracking Programme. As part of the study him! asked them to rate a range of issues out of 10, with 10/10 being of primary concern to them and 1/10 being of no concern, and the results are shown in the accompanying chart.

Caterers say that they are most concerned by increasing transport/fuel costs, the higher cost of ingredients and the impact of the credit crunch/recession. As these are concerns which most businesses have at the moment and issues which they have slightly less control over, this article is going to focus on the areas of concern which can be influenced by the caterer even during the tough economic climate.

Caterers say they are also concerned by increased customer expectations, providing a healthy offer and a reduction in customer numbers. Their concerns are well founded as him! knows that consumers will be spending less on eating out at restaurants, going to the pub and entertainment (source: him! recession study 2008). Also 56% of caterers say that they have already seen customers spending less in their outlet.

However businesses which are flexible, adapt their offer, and are willing to try new things will grow their sales. Caterers should focus on identifying new ways to attract new customers and encourage existing customers to buy more from them more regularly. During recession, businesses need to be even more customer focused. If they haven’t already then they should consider speaking to their customers, e.g. providing comment cards, short questionnaires on tables or simply having a quick chat with regulars.

There is still plenty of room for improvement. Caterers say that they only review their menu five times a year, only 48% of caterers tell him! they change their menus due to customer demand, only 22% have seasonal produce on their menus, and only 39% offer weekly or daily specials. Currently only 26% of caterers alter their menus for special events such as Mothers Day, Valentines Day or Easter.

Only 6% of caterers say that they currently have a loyalty scheme – such schemes can be very successful in driving repeat visits. Only 5% of caterers are planning on running any local marketing or advertising. Caterers should be actively distributing leaflets as this is a very cost efficient and effective form of marketing. They should promote their services to local companies for meetings or party bookings (eg free balloons and decorations when they book a party for 10 or more).

There is still plenty of opportunity. By diversifying and expanding their offer to include – meal deals, new products, local specialities, different themed nights, making the most of quiet times of the week with mother and baby groups meeting, offering WiFi, and capitalising on breakfast opportunities, or offering a takeaway/delivery service.

It is important for wholesalers and suppliers to understand how they can help caterers to improve their businesses because caterers will be looking to them for advice and support. In particular wholesalers should be engaging with catering customers now more than ever to keep them informed of ways to focus their business during the next 12 months.

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