‘Tis the Season

It’s April, and the spring party season is here.

Last weekend, I had a party for my nephew and his wife, who were in town on spring break, and what started as a quiet dinner grew into quite a party that included his high school buddies, old neighbors, friends and family. Along the way, I decided to “outsource” a little and got online to check out my options. The last time they were in town, I made margaritas, appetizers and desserts and then picked up tacos and burritos from Baja Fresh. It was great, but since my Baja Fresh has closed, I had to find another alternative that would go with margaritas. Luckily, my nephew assured me that everything goes with margaritas.

First, I looked at Chipotle. But as much as I like Chipotle, the choice offered in the store translates into confusion for event catering. Too many decisions to make and not enough bundling confused even me…and I’ve planned hundreds of parties and events.

Then I looked at my “go to” restaurants:

♦ Mimi’s Café has great “Party Packs To Go,” which serve 4-6, and the entrees include a choice of salad (easy to understand, simple to order, a great size and a great value), and they have brownie bites for dessert. Sadly, they don’t offer appetizers or curbside carryout. NEXT!

♦ California Pizza Kitchen does an amazing job. They have appetizers, a dessert platter and even offer pizza, sandwich and pasta combos that include a choice of salad and a cookie platter—all of which can be picked up using curbside carryout. Sadly, it’s on the other side of town. NEXT!

But, at the end of the day, as my party got bigger and bigger, I ended up calling Pizza Hut because even though I had to make the salads and appetizers, Pizza Hut offers pizza, pasta and chicken wings (a crowd-pleaser among the 20-something crowd) at a reasonable price and they deliver. The takeaway for me, as a consumer, confirms the key drivers I have heard in focus groups for years. Make it:
♦ CONVENIENT. Curbside trumps carryout and delivery trumps curbside. There are chains trying to crack the carryout business with fancy entrances and lavish in-store displays, but at the end of the day, running errands in your sweat suit, in inclement weather or with kids in the backseat, consumers will often pass by their favorites for the sake of drive-up convenience.

♦ COMPLETE. The more people can picture you as a complete solution to their problem (saving them from additional running around or cooking), the more competitive you can be.

♦ A SURE THING. The more guests believe in your brand, the more they trust your consistency.

♦ WORTH IT. The result exceeds the sum total they put into it (time, effort and money).

The Corner Bakery did an experiment last holiday season…following people in a grocery store and talking with them about whether they thought it would be less expensive to make their party food themselves or to get it from the Corner Bakery. You guessed it…people thought it would be less expensive to make it themselves when, in fact, the opposite was true given ingredients, portions and waste. Diana Hovey, Corner Bakery Vice President of Marketing, said that consumers were shocked by the number of ingredients they had to buy and how much it ended up costing them.

The more restaurateurs can make the case that we are not only the easiest alternative, but also the best value, the more restaurants can capitalize on catering (even if customers end up putting it on their own service ware to make it seem like their own).

It used to be that guests at your party would ask for your recipes. Now, as a friend of mine did last weekend, they will ask, “Where did you get your salads?” Catering has become a part of our everyday lives. Research confirms that more and more, consumers are using restaurants for their party/event solutions. And, increasingly, restaurants are getting really good at it. When it comes right down to it, the secret lies in being, in Michael Hammer’s words, “easy to do business with”—convenient, complete, reliable andworth it, because the easier you are to use, the more likely people will be to use you.

So, for the wedding shower/Mother’s Day/graduation season, check your touch points to be sure you’re ready to get your share of the pie.

Until next time, I’d love to hear your thoughts.