Software for the catering industry is continually improving, with companies launching new features that help you run your business more smoothly
By Sara Perez Webber
Think about running your business without your desktop computer, laptop or mobile phone. If that sounds daunting, it’s because so many of the tasks a catering company completes every day—from employee scheduling to delivery logistics to calculating food costs—are completed with the help of software created for the industry. And while technology has no doubt transformed the way a catering company operates, industry software companies—like the four profiled here—continually develop new features that add even more functionality, leaving you more time to focus on your clients.
At Caterease Software, “we basically sell time,” sums up Susan Koschalk, director of marketing. “Throughout a caterer’s day, so much time can be wasted on mundane, repetitive tasks that are streamlined in every version of Caterease. We offer familiar, user-friendly tools that resemble Microsoft Office programs caterers use every day, to make it quick and easy to get up and running with the program.” Koschalk notes that Caterease—which was first launched in 1991, and boasted record-breaking sales in 2016—features tools that eliminate repetitive data-entry and avoid costly human error, and gives users the ability to work on multiple parties at one time, moving from one to another effortlessly. “Caterease takes the work and worry out of managing events, and saves hours of time in every busy workday,” she says.
The different versions of Caterease Software include:
- Express, a complete catering solution offering slick data-entry tools and wizards to do everything from adding a new customer to booking a party, choosing menu items, designing and emailing custom event prints, posting payments and more.
- Standard, which includes all of Express’ functionality as well as employee scheduling for events, automatic and scalable ingredient lists, packing lists of required equipment items and a host of other tools.
- Professional, which offers all of the features available in the other versions, with an added focus on saving time. This version features tools that allow caterers to generate emails in batch, manage shifts for multiple events simultaneously, and share custom screen layouts and custom queries with all users. It allows “caterers to accomplish more than they’ve ever dreamed possible with minimal effort,” says Koschalk.
The recent release of Caterease v16 for Microsoft SQL offers “literally hundreds” of new features and enhancements to the program, according to Koschalk. In addition to multiple tools that streamline the daily workflow, the new options include a custom web form builder to capture leads from a caterer’s website; all-new PCI-compliant credit card processing functionality; a host of enterprise-level tools and reports for corporations with multiple locations; a powerful mobile app for unlimited users on iOS and Android devices; and a variety of other handy features and interfaces.
“Caterers in today’s busy atmosphere simply can no longer rely on multiple Word documents and spreadsheets, let alone the antiquated paper-and-pen method of managing parties,” says Koschalk. “Catering software like Caterease makes it easy to manage the details, letting caterers make one change, one time, and having it instantly reflected on all related prints, reports and other documentation. Additionally, Caterease pays attention to all of the various moving parts of today’s complex events—warning of conflicts or other areas of concern—so caterers can pay attention to what matters most: their customers.”
Culinary Software Services
Based in Boulder, Colo., and founded in the mid-1990s, Culinary Software Services (CSS) offers two software products designed to help caterers save time and money: ChefTec and CorTec. Representatives from CSS will meet with businesses individually to determine which product is best for them. In general, ChefTec is designed for companies with one location, while CorTec “bridges the gaps between different businesses,” explains Kevin Paider, training manager.
ChefTec is available in three versions:
- ChefTec: For chefs and foodservice owner/operators needing recipe and menu costing, inventory control, and purchasing and ordering.
- ChefTec Plus: The company’s flagship product, providing foodservice operators additional tools for monitoring costs and tracking inventory. ChefTec Plus offers all of the basic functionality provided in ChefTec plus perpetual inventory, sales analysis, theoretical inventory reports and multiple profit centers.
- ChefTec Ultra: Meets the needs of complex operations such as large hotels and conference centers with individual profit centers. Includes the Production Management Module, the HACCP Information Module, as well as the ability to move recipes between profit centers.
Both ChefTec and CorTec feature the following:
- Inventory Control: Monitor usage, waste and inventory on hand to keep costs under control. Use a mobile handheld for seamless physical inventory taking and receiving.
- Event and Function Costing: Scale event and function menus in minutes. Instantly re-cost events based on fluctuating numbers or budgets.
- Interfaces: Interface with Caterease and import Banquet Event Orders (BEOs) from Caterease directly into ChefTec.
- Purchasing and Ordering: Automatically generate event orders based on shopping lists. For multiple events, combine shopping lists into one order for all events.
- Nutrition Analysis: Generate nutrition information and allergen alerts for any specific dietary restrictions.
- Event Management: Generate events and functions, create event checklists, print off event quotes and invoices for customers. Generate production sheets for single or multiple events.
The latest versions of ChefTec and CorTec, released in June, include a Menu Engineering feature that combines the ability to look at recipe/menu sales and profit margins to chart and graph items into categories. “This feature provides critical information on winners and losers to help prepare future menus,” says Paider. “It plots everything out to tell you which items are making you money and which aren’t selling as much. It helps you determine if you want to continue offering certain items, and makes your offerings more profitable.”
In fact, helping to generate cost-effective events is one of ChefTec’s and CorTec’s biggest benefits, says Paider. “Our software helps connect the dots between events and costing, so you can see what you’re offering, look at what it’s going to cost you to do a particular event, and make decisions,” he says. “It’s tying it all together and putting a bow on things and making it easier to understand where your costing and profitability lie when generating events.”
Fusion by Synergy International
Bill and Chris Marsh spent many years working in the catering industry before launching Synergy International in February 1991. Today, the company’s software products for catering, events and party rental are used by businesses around the globe. “If you come to us, we have a solution that will run 80 percent of your business right out of the box,” says Chris Marsh, founder and president.
Synergy’s most popular bundle for caterers and foodservice management companies is Fusion Enterprise. This suite of tools “enables companies to have a single unified system within which they can perform the majority of their business’s day-to-day needs,” says Chris. The software performs such tasks as tracking a sales inquiry—whether it’s a web form or phone call—through to final accounting; the creation of the event; the costing and profitability; staff scheduling and coordination; the equipment inventory and beverage management; delivery logistics; the design of sophisticated and artistic catering proposals with integrated image management; and more. Fusion also allows users to financially analyze food and labor costs, inventory and production, and to perform menu management. It integrates with QuickBooks and Microsoft Dynamics GP accounting software.
“Fusion was originally, and remains primarily, a rich desktop interface connected to the Microsoft Cloud backend,” says Chris. “However, we have recently launched three iOS and Android apps to provide mobility connectivity to our clients.” The apps—which seamlessly integrate with the Fusion desktop client so that there is no disruption of workflow when switching between using the mobile and desktop apps—include:
- Fusion CRM, which allows sales teams to maintain customer relations while they are away from their desks, giving them the ability to add or call customers and prospects, as well as manage their daily schedules.
- Staff Check-In, which allows employees to update their time clock from their mobile phones, while allowing managers access to the scheduled employees for their events and the ability to communicate with them in case of any staffing issues.
- Delivery Driver, which allows drivers to check on their scheduled deliveries and sign off on their completion, as well as upload photos of finalized deliveries. The app provides complementary information for managers to ensure that they can maintain control over the day’s deliveries.
“We have enabled companies to move from a paper, Word and Excel system to an extremely automated workflow, and have continued to offer new technologies to complete this transformation and continue it beyond the traditional at-the-desk management system,” says Chris. “This has allowed our clients to increase their sales while decreasing overhead costs and reduce errors that prevent events from being a success. In general, the shift to software such as ours has made the catering industry better able to focus more energy on perfecting their crafts without requiring as much time and effort spent, ensuring that each event is prepared to the customers’ satisfaction.”
Total Party Planner
John Cohen, founder and president of Total Party Planner, grew up in his family’s catering business in Buffalo, N.Y. After earning a degree in engineering and computer programming, he created a simple software program to help his parents run their business. The software evolved as his parents’ business changed, and they increasingly relied on it as a key organizational and reporting tool. In 1997, Cohen created Total Party Planner (TPP), and the company he launched—Computica, Inc.—began selling it to other catering companies in 1998. The program is now used by thousands of caterers in more than five countries.
“Catering has evolved from the standpoint of running more efficiently and profitably from automation,” says Cohen. “Systems are putting more time into a user’s day and putting those same users where they belong: in front of their clients, creating amazing menus, or simply having more time to do the things they love.”
Total Party Planner organizes all details of an event, including the ability to set up custom proposals, view a calendar of events, create invoices, track clients, calculate food costs, hire staff, create a packing list, manage rentals, build recipes and more. While originally developed as desktop software, TPP is now developed exclusively for the web, and TPP released a mobile app two years ago. The latest release of the mobile app allows users to create the details of an event while on the road.
Additional functionalities have been added to Total Party Planner in the last year, including:
- Web to Lead, a lead-generation form that goes directly from a catering company’s website into Total Party Planner. Whereas previously a lead would come in via email or some other system, like Constant Contact—and someone would need to input it manually—that last step has been eliminated, saving time and reducing the chance for error.
- Credit card processing with Authorize.Net and OpenEdge, so users can manually process credit cards within TPP without leaving the site. They can also send a link to their clients to pay online through a secure payment portal. Payment is automatically reflected in TPP.
- The ability to accept electronic signatures (unlike all the other updates, there is a small licensing fee charged for this service).
- A redesigned event view with a modern and clean look, making it easier for users to find what they’re looking for.
Expect Total Party Planner to continue to add more functionality, especially to its mobile app. “Caterers are running more and more of their core business on the go,” says Cohen. “With the release of iOS and Android phone apps for catering, caterers are able to see relevant data in real time on site at their events—or beforehand for planning. Technology is evolving to even allow leads to be identified immediately and bookings to be made from those same mobile devices.”