“So long as you have food in your mouth,” said the novelist Franz Kafka, “you have solved all questions for the time being.”
Indeed, nothing compares to the level of connection that happens over a meal. The revelry of sharing food and stories is at the heart of what it means to be, and grow as, a human.
I spoke with Alex Lorton, co-founder of Cater2.me, about their mission to deliver curated meals to companies everywhere.
Their inspiration came from San Francisco’s local farmers markets and a rapidly growing food industry. Their philosophy of their work lies in the belief that “a good team meal is fundamental to bringing people together to build culture around a common table.”
By working with local vendors, including food trucks, farmers’ market vendors, private chefs, and restaurants, they create the opportunity for teams to taste the city in which they work. However, delivering meals isn’t Cater2.me’s only duty. As much as they care about what’s on the menu, they also care about the entire customer experience.
With employees in nine different cities, menus changing, and meals being delivered left and right, how do they do it?
A Unique Angle for Building a Great Team
Similar to the notion that all great support teams wear three hats, Alex provided a fantastic perspective on what he looks for in the hiring process.
“We do look for people with some experience in dealing with customers. It doesn’t always have to be customer support. We have people from all sorts of backgrounds: camp counselors, hotels, personal assistants, consultants, etc.
We’re looking for people who understand that great customer service is something that goes outside of the 9 to 5. It’s about being there for the client 24/7.”
With a team that has diverse past experiences that entail the ethos of helping people, it sets the tempo for their interactions with customers.
Culture and Collaboration
“One of our defining characteristics is that we really try to be as collaborative as possible,” Alex said. “Our team is spread out. People are in different cities. We try to ensure that everyone is talking as much as possible, sharing best practices, sharing examples of situations, and getting feedback for events that didn’t go well.”
A company like Cater2.me is comprised of individuals with many different roles, like account managers, a client sales team, a vendor sales team, marketing, and more. To grow and iterate, feedback is lifeblood.
“We have local team meetings every week. In these meetings, we bring up pertinent examples so the team is really dialed in. Everyone’s saying, ‘What examples have we encountered recently that we think are worth sharing and extrapolating out to the team?’” Alex said.
All of this collaboration champions not just the communication within the team, but also how they obtain feedback from customers. Emails are sent to customers asking for feedback about their meals.
“We’re very proactive about improvements. One thing that we train account managers on is to really read the meaning behind the given feedback,” Alex explained. “Feedback for one meal may be pertinent to all future meals. It could be as simple as, ‘Oh, this meal was a little too spicy for us today.’ Is this an isolated comment, or is this something to leverage for all future meals so that we really target what’s best for that group?”
Once the feedback is recorded, it goes through their internal system and then through Help Scout to the account managers to ensure it gets a response. Not only does this feedback merit a reply, it has to be a timely one.
“I think one of the key components of customer service is understanding that people want to be heard,” Alex said. “Even if it’s simple as, ‘Hey, this was great, thanks for sharing it.’ I think everyone wants to know that there’s someone on the other end who’s reading it, taking it in, understanding, and paying attention.”
Proactive gestures take little effort but yield a worthy outcome—a happy, satisfied customer.
Making Whole Company Support Personal
“Our client sales team, vendor sales team, marketing, finance, accounting—everyone has to be ready and able to properly interact with our clients,” Alex said.
A company’s first point of contact is typically customer support, but for Cater2.me it starts with the client sales team. They’re the ones actively canvassing for clients, responding to inbound requests and informing them about the entire process.
“This isn’t just a transactional sale. It’s not about getting them to order and move on. We want them to know that the sales person is part of the client support team,” Alex explained.
Once a client is on board, they begin setting up meals with Cater2.me. Account managers ensure that expectations are met; the finance team is responsive about billing, invoicing, and being flexible with payments; the vendor sales team, which goes out and discovers restaurants and food trucks, is busy building relationships.
Because culture and collaboration are indispensible in Cater2.me’s business, they ensure that their partners reflect it as well.
“Because we aren’t delivering the food ourselves, we don’t have that physical presence. We make sure that our partners are living up to those same standards as well. It’s a really comprehensive, holistic way of thinking about customer support and its influence from beginning to end,” Alex said.
Sharing food is a fundamental component to building relationships. For Cater2.me, this stretches beyond their clients. They form relationships with the vendors, too.
“Vendors are a huge part of what we do. We are constantly interacting with our vendors, almost acting as a consulting service, to help them get better at all aspects of catering. We are also getting feedback from our clients on a regular basis, and we share this insight with the vendors to better serve our clients in the long run. We share potential ideas, better service standards, and more,” Alex said.
Like a culinary master who meticulously picks her ingredients to create a savory, unforgettable experience, Cater2.me has built a unique team, unified by passion and culture, which has championed extraordinary service that’s reinventing the way teams eat, and in turn, bond.
Thank you to Alex and the team at Cater2.me for sharing these ideas.