Your catering business’ success rises and falls according to the number of customers, both new and returning, who book contracts. Because of that, you should consider promoting your services. Promotion attracts customers, increases referrals and produces steady, consistent growth.
You can promote catering services in any number of ways. The ideas that follow — 10 of them — focus on traditional and out-of-the-box. All will grow your business, perhaps so large that you have to start a brick-and-mortar offering or a food truck.
6 Traditional Ways To Promote Your Catering Services
1. Focus on Word of Mouth
Kim Shambrook, Kendall College President and former executive chef of Bespoke Cuisine, a full-service catering company in Chicago, says word of mouth is a caterer’s best tactic. “It’s really effective,” she says. “Catering services are experiences, and most times additional business comes from attendees at a catered event.
“If they like the food, presentation and service, they likely will book an event. So, it’s important that caterers make their contact information available to event attendees. One subtle method is to leave business cards at the bar and with servers and bartenders.”
2. Work with Local Food Bloggers
Sam Kerns, author of “How to Start a Home-Based Food Business,” suggests amping up the word-of-mouth approach by forming relationships with local food bloggers. “A general caterer,” says Sam, “could target recipe blogs and offer posts that include recipes and tips. A caterer who specializes in cakes, though, should target wedding or event blogs.”
3. Build Your (Visual) Image
A catering business is all about presentation, says Walt Jones, Principal/Owner of SEQ Advisory Group, a strategy and management consulting firm. “Every caterer should have three critical promotional items: a well-designed brochure with detailed, hi-resolution, professional images; an active Instagram account; and a YouTube channel showing some of the art that goes into the [food] creations.”
4. Ask for Referrals
Another tried-and-true method is referrals. You should ask existing customers, friends and family members for leads. You never know, pun intended, where they might lead. Plus, referrals cost no money and very little time, making it a perfect tactic for the busy catering professional.
5. Seek Placement on Venue Lists
Kim Shambrook offers another idea: venue lists. “While large caterers tend to fill the lists, smaller caterers can get on them. The key is to differentiate your offering from existing service providers.
“For example, if a catering business is value or volume based, it could be added to the venue list as an affordable option. In any case, any catering business should try to get on the list.
“It’s a smart way to grow catering services because event venues require clients to select a caterer from their preferred vendor list.”
6. Ensure Steady Cash Flow
Most of the ideas shared demand little upfront money, but promotional activities and products can add up. To cover costs, you should ensure steady cash flow, which sometimes takes the form of a business loan. Applying for one isn’t a black mark on you or your catering services; most small businesses pursue financial aid to cover slow months, as well as peak periods.
For example, you might need to hire more servers during the holiday months or require additional kitchen equipment. A small business loan helps meet those demands and grow the business. With an adequate number of servers and the right equipment, you better serve customers, which leads to greater word of mouth and referrals.
Out-Of-The-Box Ideas To Promote Your Catering Company
7. Set Up Shop At A Local Farmer’s Market
Sam recommends using local farmer’s markets to your advantage. “Caterers should sell one of their specialty dishes while promoting their services with banners, flyers and in-person conversation.
“For example, if a cater specializes in lavender and lemon cake, they can sell slices of it. Once consumers taste it and realize how good it is, they may book the caterer then and there or think of them for a future event.”
8. Take Samples To Targeted Locations
Walt’s nontraditional idea complements Sam’s. “Because presentation appeals to the five senses, caterers should get their food into the mouths of clients in any way possible. I strongly recommend taking sample trays to local offices. Admins book lunches and parties, not the CEO, so they’re the ones a caterer needs to convince.”
9. Focus On Niche Market Sectors
Kim also recommends targeting efforts, but in a different way. “A caterer could focus on nonprofits and community foundations by offering more affordable, tax-exempt options. It can be a lucrative tactic since many nonprofit organizations host annual galas and other events.”
10. Form Partnerships With Complementary Businesses
Kim also gets the word on the final tip: partnerships. “It might not be an ‘out-of-the-box’ idea,” she says, “but I don’t think it’s a common one in the catering industry.
“Caterers should look for ancillary event services, such as rental equipment companies and florists, and co-market their individual companies to prospective clients.”
You can grow your catering business through promotion. By focusing on word of mouth, asking for referrals and getting into the local community, you will increase awareness, leads and sales. Which method will you try first? Let us know here or on Twitter.