Erle’s Catering Corner – Reposted off of

The order-entry experience may be the single most important component of the catering order-to-cash cycle. It is the first point of contact to your catering channel, and this is where the customer experiences the catering service standards for your brand. In the world of catering, where we often are serving a business-to-business transaction, customer confidence can be easily distilled. When that happens, not only do we put our catering transaction at risk, in fact, we put our entire brand at risk.

Many operators have set themselves up to take catering orders at the store level. While this can be done, you must consider the answers to the following questions: Should we take orders centrally? Should we outsource? Should we take orders at the stores? Should we take orders online?

You can do all of the above, but you must implement strong and clear policies and procedures at each point of contact.

I believe that the order-entry process at the store level can make it more difficult for your unit operators to execute and maintain a proper and predictable catering experience – especially from the customer’s perspective. How many times have we seen a customer at the front counter placing their dine-in order, only to be interrupted by the cashier answering a telephone to take a pick-up or catering order? Or even worse, a cashier keying in a catering order into their POS system while customers are waiting in line!

Additionally, if you have 100 stores and you allow catering orders to be placed at the store level, you may find training more than 100 order takers not only a challenging task, but it can be detrimental to your brand. Furthermore, if you have more than one order taker per store, the results can be disastrous in our high-turnover industry. To be successful in the world of conversational ordering, it might be a better strategy to create a role for internal (or outsourced) specialists, depending on the size and scope of your organization.

I’d like to make an argument that training specialists, responsible for taking catering orders as well as maintaining and building customer relationships over the phone, will yield higher order averages, more accuracy and a better catering service experience for your customers.

Many operators I speak to are reluctant to service the customer outside of the restaurant. I propose that in our minds, we must separate out the ‘selling process of catering’ from the ‘service process of catering.’ ‘Selling’ catering services needs to be done at the neighborhood level so that you can reach out and touch your customers where they live, work and play.

‘Serving’ your customers needs to be approached with what is most efficient and profitable and what is easiest for our operators. Clearly we need to manufacture, package and distribute our catering orders out of our stores (or commissaries). However, taking orders and handling the administrative subtleties at the store level can create incredible tension and stress for your people and for your customers. There are just too many moving parts.

Thinking about a centralized point of contact for order entry, I believe this logic can be implemented in various forms, depending on the structure of your organization. There is a discussion to be had around centralized vs. decentralized strategies and I plan to expand on these concepts in my next set of essays and blog posts.

You will need to make policy and procedure decisions regarding order entry specific to your own brand circumstances. A lot of these catering rules will depend on your current system structure such as ‘corporate’ vs. ‘franchised’ in your brand’s structural mix.

Let me know your thoughts.