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Most Profitable Catering Foods to Help Grow Your Bottom Line

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Justin GuinnAuthor

Profitability is a key measure of success for catering businesses — which means success can come down to balancing costs vs prices.

You can secure all the catering events in your area if your prices are super low. But if those low prices don’t leave any room for profits, what’s the point? On the other hand, you can have the highest prices in town to pad tons of profitability into your sales. But if those prices scare away potential customers, your sales are going to be far and few between.

Caterers have to balance costs and prices for popular and profitable menu items in order to optimize their bottom line.

In this article, we will explore the most profitable catering foods and discuss strategies for analyzing and optimizing your menu for maximum profitability.

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Restaurant Cost Control Guide

Use this guide to learn more about your restaurant costs, how to track them, and steps you can take to help maximize your profitability.

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10 menu items featuring some of the most profitable catering foods and ideas

Here’s a breakdown of what can be the most profitable catering business foods.

  1. Miniature desserts: Miniature desserts like tartlets, cupcakes, and macarons are not only visually appealing but can also be priced at a premium. These small treats can contribute significantly to your profitability.

  2. Seafood platters: Seafood, such as shrimp cocktail, oysters, or smoked salmon, can be a luxurious addition to your catering menu. Clients are often willing to pay a premium for quality seafood presentations.

  3. Customized stations: Interactive food stations, such as build-your-own tacos or sushi rolls, not only provide a unique experience for guests but can also be priced accordingly. Clients appreciate the opportunity to customize their meals, making these stations profitable options.

  4. Upselling beverage packages: Beverages often carry a high-profit margin. Offer premium beverage packages or signature cocktails to your clients, encouraging them to opt for the higher-priced options.

  5. Finger foods: Appetizers and bite-sized snacks are always a hit at catering events. Options like mini sliders, stuffed mushrooms, chicken skewers, and bruschetta are not only crowd-pleasers but also tend to have a high profit margin.

  6. Pasta dishes: Pasta is a versatile and cost-effective ingredient that can be customized to suit different tastes. Offer a variety of pasta dishes such as lasagna, penne alla vodka, or creamy pesto pasta to appeal to a wide range of clients.

  7. Gourmet sandwiches and wraps: Sandwiches and wraps are a staple at many catering events. Get creative with your fillings by offering options like smoked salmon with dill cream cheese, roasted vegetable and goat cheese, or grilled chicken Caesar wraps.

  8. BBQ and grilled meats: Grilled and barbecued meats are always a hit, especially at outdoor events. Offer options like BBQ ribs, grilled chicken skewers, or pulled pork sliders to satisfy meat lovers.

  9. Salad stations: Salads are not only a healthy option but can also be highly profitable. Set up a salad station with a variety of fresh greens, toppings, and dressings, allowing guests to customize their salads to their liking.

  10. Signature specialty dishes: Offering a unique specialty dish that sets you apart from competitors can command higher prices. Consider developing a signature dish that showcases your culinary expertise and creativity.

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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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Analyzing the most profitable items on your catering menu

High profit margin menus typically combine popular, profitable, and high-cost dishes.

Some caters may offer tons of menu options. Others stick to a relatively brief product mix (pmix). Regardless of your menu makeup, analyzing your current offerings can help you improve your menu and ensure you’re running your catering business as a moneymaker.

Achieving consistent profitability can depend on balancing your prime costs — the combination of your labor costs and your cost of goods sold (COGS). Understanding these costs and calculating them on a regular basis — because they change — is the first step to a profitable menu.

Once you’re able to consistently measure profitability (plate cost vs avg price of menu item) and popularity (total sales) of each of your menu items, you can conduct menu engineering. The process of menu engineering takes these costs into consideration along with other key menu factors, such as guest psychology, menu design, and more.

The end result should be an understanding of which menu items contribute the most profits, based on their sales frequency and average profit margin. These findings can help show restaurant operators menu price insights as well as when to remove menu items completely from your menu.

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Catering Opening & Closing Checklist

The beginning and end of a shift can be frantic. Use this free PDF checklist to set your catering staff up for success.

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Optimizing catering operations with the right blend of tech and service models

Offering the right catering foods can make a significant impact on the profitability of your business. Incorporating these most profitable catering foods into your menu may help encourage more profitability from your sales.

Here are a few other ways to optimize your catering profitability via cost breakdowns, menu analysis and catering-specific technology.

Adjust what goes on the plate or in the chafing dish

Calculating plate costs can show you exactly the costs and profit margins for individual portions. It’s the combination of recipe cost, portion costs, and individual ingredient costs. It can help catering business owners see exactly how each component is contributing to the overall profitability of a dish or drink — making it easier to achieve an ideal balance between portions and profits.

Remove popular items that’ve lost profitability

If plate costs become too high, catering operators should be careful not to fall into a trap of sentimentality. Underbelly Hospitality Group realized that the cost of chicken had risen dramatically, fluctuating between 30 and 40 percent higher than usual. Rather than sacrifice the quality or portion size of their famed, crowd-pleaser wings, they pulled them entirely.

Leverage granular reporting within your catering software

Invoice processing automation is an automated tool that digitizes critical invoice line-item data. Having this ingredient pricing data readily available can simplify your ability to calculate COGS, monitor price fluctuations, and take action on the COGS side of your ongoing ingredient cost breakdowns.

Just like with invoice automation for food costs, payroll and team management tools can help automate and simplify labor cost calculations. You likely don’t have time to manually calculate individual payrolls — and you definitely don’t have time to add all that up to get your cumulative labor costs. An easy-to-use payroll and team management software gives you transparency and visibility into fluctuations in your weekly labor costs, tip pooling breakdowns, payroll taxes, and deductions. 

Where to go from here

There are some catering software options you can implement to help manage your business and encourage greater profitability.

Toast Catering & Events is fully integrated with the Toast point-of-sale (POS) to help caterers and restaurants seamlessly manage large catering orders and event planning. 

The platform supports customizable banquet event orders (BEO), fulfillment tools, and lead management functionality. It pairs with Toast Invoicing — a digital invoicing tool — to provide even deeper support for the multiple lines of service many restaurants are running today.

Toast Payroll and Team Management, as well as Scheduling, powered by Sling, work together to uncover valuable labor trends so you can make better decisions.

xtraCHEF by Toast empowers you to drill into line-item level detail for every ingredient on each of your supplier invoices.

Together, these tools can automate and simplify the process of creating restaurant cost breakdowns.

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DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.