Increase Your Profit Margin by Implementing These Cost-Cutting Strategies to Your Next Catering Event

When it comes to running a successful catering business, every dollar counts. Saving even a few bucks here and there can add up to thousands over time – and that can make the difference between a successful event and one that sends your books spiraling into the red.

Sure, you want to give every guest a memorable experience on a budget, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a profit. Keep costs down by implementing these 5 hacks and watch your profits soar.

Use Local Farms

Fresh is best. Lucky for you, that can mean slashing your costs. Strike up a deal with local farms to provide the freshest ingredients for your dishes. Designing your dishes around seasonal offerings is not only tastier; it’s more cost effective.

Remember though, produce isn’t the only ingredients that you can find in your community. Locally raised chicken beef and pork can also be much cheaper when purchased from a neighborhood butcher. Here’s another bonus: it’s often tastier too since you can choose your meat from farms that feed their stock only what makes the meat taste the best.

Watch Employee Costs

Labor costs should never exceed 16%, yet many catering businesses shell out up to 30% for staff salaries and benefits. It isn’t because they are offering great salaries, but rather, because they don’t know how to manage employee costs. If you notice that the cost of your employees is running higher than 16-17%, try a few of these tips to cut costs without being a scrooge:

Start with proper training. The better trained your kitchen staff and servers, the less money they will waste. Well-trained servers know how to get the job done efficiently (and quickly), working as a well-oiled machine. This means you can avoid having “extra hands” on deck simply to ensure enough bodies are present. Kitchen staff that is trained in all areas of preparation, cooking, and safety wastes much less food, which can increase your bottom line substantially.

Retention is more important than you think: did you know it costs about $3,500 to hire a new employee? This includes all costs related to the new hire. Now, if you have a large turnaround, you are going to be spending tens of thousands of dollars each year simply training those new hires, only to be forced to do it again and again and again. Concentrate your energy (and cash) on retaining the employees you have and watch those costs steadily decline.

Buffet or plated? This decision can raise your employee costs. When it comes to keeping employee costs down, a lot rides on how you serve meals at your catering events. For instance, while serving a buffet cuts down on staff (saving money on helpers), it can substantially raise food waste, which may cost you more. The bottom line is that every catering event is different, and while you may cut costs at one by serving food buffet style, you may cut costs deeper by controlling portions when plating.

Invest in insulated food pan carriers. Can changing the way you transport food really cut your catering costs? It sure can! By investing in lightweight food pan carriers, you can have one employee focus on moving the food and the rest on other aspects of the venue, thus utilizing your employees more efficiently and reducing costs. Weighing just a few pounds, these lightweight ergonomic carriers are easy to transport by individuals, unlike the heavy traditionally carriers that are cumbersome and often require take two people to carry from the vehicle to the venue's kitchen area.

Watch Those Portions

Proper portion control is essential to cutting costs. It is true that you never want a guest to leave an event hungry, offering more than they can eat only accomplishes one thing: it cuts down on your profit. Here are some tips to help keep portion sizes smaller:

  • Offer plated meals. This provides guests with standard portions and eliminates people taking more than they can actually eat –which ultimately gets thrown in the trash!
  • Serve multiple courses. By starting the meal with a salad and then soup, followed by the main course (be sure to fill that plate with plenty of fresh vegetables and rice or potatoes), you can keep the size of the most expensive part of the meal (the meat) at a minimum. Plus, serving multiple courses slows down the eating process, which helps guests feel fuller.
  • Plate effectively. Offering smaller portions don’t have to be noticeable. When plated for dramatic effect, even the smallest cut of meat can look both appetizing and generous.
  • Showcase desserts during the meal. When guests can see the splendid array of desserts being offered after the main course, they will actually prefer smaller portion sizes to make room for the snacks afterward.
  • Offer plenty of fillers. Adding plenty of bread to meals (and buffets) helps fill guests.

Avoid Food Waste

Food waste is one of the largest costs endured by restaurants and caterers. Do your best to avoid having too much leftover at the end of an event by:

  • Having a firm guest list. Sure, you want to have a few “extra”’ plates available, but you only need 5-10 extra platefuls of food to be prepared for extra guests or a dropped plate, etc.
  • Track and analyze all waste. This will help you pinpoint problem areas.
  • Reuse any leftovers you can. Made too much soup? Maybe it can be frozen and used at your next event.
  • Donate extra. Sending leftovers to a homeless shelter or food bank is not only generous but can be used as a tax deduction which can counter-act any food cost over-runs from the event.
  • Keep foods at the right temperature. You may have always thought that keeping foods hot and cold was only about food safety, but that's not the only reason to watch your temperature control. Keeping food at the right temperature using insulated food carriers can help assure the food is both safe and appetizing, keeping your clients happy!

Offer High-End Taste with Low-Cost Ingredients

Every good chef knows that to create a tasty menu does not always require high end) ingredients. Don’t waste money on expensive vegetables or spices when cheaper ones will do. Instead, save that money for better cuts of meat or specialty items designed to add elegance to your menu.

Cutting costs at your next catering event doesn’t have to mean cutting flavor or offerings. It just means cooking and serving smarter using these simple to implement tips.