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Catering Menu Ideas: How to Build a Catering Menu for Your Restaurant

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Molly MendolaAuthor

Successful restaurant owners and operators can be incredibly creative in expanding their businesses (and menus!) into catering and events.

Catering can help restaurant operators generate extra revenue — and the ability to review all job requests and set prices can help enable catering and events to hit certain profitability levels that typical restaurant service can't always achieve.

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The Benefits of a Catering Menu 

Your goal as a restaurant owner is to attract and retain guests, creating dining experiences that keep them coming back for more. One way to entice both new and existing customers is with a catering menu.

As of 2021, catering is a $15.4 billion industry, and is expected to grow 8% in the upcoming year. 

A typical full-service catering company will see a profit margin of 10-12 percent, while a normal full-service restaurant will see a 4-7 perfect profit margin. If your restaurants’ profit margin went from 7% to 10% with a boost from catering events, wouldn’t that justify introducing a catering menu to your full-service operations? 

In this article, we'll talk about:

  • How to create a catering menu

  • How to come up with catering menu ideas

  • How to price a catering menu 

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Restaurant Banquet Event Order (BEO) Template

This free BEO template can help your restaurant optimize incoming catering requests and streamline documentation.

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How to Make a Catering Menu

Step 1: Match the Catering Menu With Your Restaurant

It’s important for the catering side of your restaurant to mirror similar quality and pricing of your original full service menu. 

Chef Avery Ritcher of Black Tie Catering Company offers a set menu based off of the Maine harvesting seasons. It’s her philosophy that “each chef, when catering, is striving for a creative and memorable dish so that the guest will remember, enjoy, and come back for their next event or meal.”

Make sure that your catering menu fits with your restaurant’s overall brand and concept, and stays true to what you do best. Your catering menu likely won’t include your full (regular) menu offerings – so focus on the items that are popular, profitable, and easily scalable. 

Step 2: Know Your Numbers

Below are some metrics to take into account when building a catering menu. These are crucial for this new revenue stream to be successful.

  • Cost per Plate (Total Food Cost ÷ Total Guests Served) 

  • Cost per Person

  • Number of Guest

  • Labor Hours

  • Profitability

You can determine profitability of your catering venture by adding the cost of food, labor, and materials (heaters, food trays, tables, etc.), and subtract that from your gross revenue. Keep in mind that time spent prepping for and working the event should factor into labor cost.

Gross Revenue - Food Cost - Labor Cost - Materials Cost = Profit

These metrics and equations are crucial for the restaurateur to be aware of, in order to make profit from the catering sector.

Step 3: Set Up Your Schedule

Offering catering year-round will ensure the best catering revenue.

Wedding season is the busiest time for catering, but there are other events that happen outside of May through September! If offering catering services stands to help your servers, disseminate your brand, and add another revenue source for your restaurant, why limit that to just one season?

That said, catering takes time and resources that your restaurant may not be able to afford. If you only end up doing one or two events in the fall and winter, it’s possible those numbers don't justify offering catering throughout the year. Test it out, and determine what's best for your restaurant.

Catering Menu Ideas

When it comes to menu structure, the most popular options are:  

  1. Buffet style

  2. Plated and served

There’s also a wide range of themes to consider when creating a catering menu. Here are a few ideas and examples to get you started.

An Offshoot of Your Current Menu

Nothing’s wrong with sticking with what works. If your customers regularly return for certain dishes, they’ll likely be pleased to see them included on your catering menu. 

Cassie's Pizzeria in New Jersey offers a catering menu that largely mirrors their main menu, except the dishes are sized to feed crowds. 

Seasonal, Farm-to-Table, or Rotational Menu

If your restaurant sources farm-fresh ingredients or closely adheres to the seasons, this should be reflected in your catering menu. Just remember that this requires you to frequently rewrite your catering menu, so if you’re looking for a lower maintenance option, this might not be for you. 

Guest Request

Guest feedback is crucial to any new venture. 

If they want to see your restaurant's take on a specific dish or cuisine, and you feel you can meet their needs, take a shot at it!

How to Price a Catering Menu

Since catering volume is so large, menu pricing is a little different to your normal day-to-day restaurant menu cost calculations.

By gauging costs from the regular restaurant menu, you should be able to price catering menu items profitably, but not too aggressively. 

A markup of three times the cost of food is typically appropriate. Anything higher can send your customers running. 

Keep in mind – customers are usually prepared to spend hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars on catering, so make sure that you’re pricing fairly but also comparably to what the market will bear. If you’re not making a profit, it’s likely not worth the time and effort. 

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Menu Engineering Course

Take this course to make the most of your menu. Learn about menu psychology and design, managing your menu online, and adapting your menu to increase sales.

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Let's Get To It!

Catering can help bring in a new revenue stream and grow your business, without drastically adding to expenses.

Create a menu according to  menu engineering best practices. For catering menu templates and more information on how to design a catering menu, check out our Catering Menu Templates.

Related Catering Business Resources

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Catering Menu Templates

Use these catering menu templates as a starting point for your menu design or to give your menu a refresh.

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