Unlike restaurants, most catering businesses don't have the luxury of a storefront location where they can hang up a big sign and let everyone know they are in the neighborhood. Only large-scale catering companies can afford this kind of space. Most caterers work from home or from a shared commissary kitchen, and they spend most of their time split between the kitchen and the event venue.
Marketing your catering business becomes problematic if you do not have a private location. How do you brand your business if you are rarely in the same place at the same time? There are a few ways to do so. Follow these steps to develop a catering marketing plan that can be implemented without the need for a storefront or private business location:
Step 1: Design a Catering Logo
Whether you design your own logo or hire a graphic designer, having colors and graphics that can be associated with your catering brand is the first step to creating a solid marketing strategy. The logo should be easily recognizable, even from a distance, and make sure that it cannot be confused with someone else’s logo.
Step 2: Build a Catering Website
Before you do any kind of advertising, you need to have a website up and running. This is because whoever your advertising reaches, they'll most likely look you up online first. You need to have a professional and attractive-looking website to encourage them to hire you as their caterer. Make sure it has appetizing, colorful photos of your food, a list of your menu items and an explanation of the services you offer. Note on your website that you offer free food samples to interested clients to pique interest. Be sure to list your contact info so that any potential customers can get in touch. >> Learn more
Step 3: Create a Press Release
Write up your own press release to inform the local media that you are opening your catering business. Make sure you include your contact information and list your web address. The press release should include information on your personal history, your education, your experience in the culinary industry and why your business stands out from the rest. Include as many interesting anecdotes or character descriptions as possible to try to make yourself and your business seem newsworthy. Be sure to write the press release professionally and in third person. Send your press release to community bulletins, the event section of local newspapers, culinary magazines and bridal journals.
Step 4: Tell Everyone You Know
If you are starting your own catering company, chances are you have already provided food or planning for some kind of event, or at least you have friends and family members that know what an awesome chef you are. Now it is time to pull those favors you have been collecting.
Make a list of everyone you know with their phone numbers and emails included. Contact everyone with a catering marketing letter that tells them about your new business. Send them a link to your website. Tell them that if they know someone who is getting married or someone who works at an office, you want to cater their wedding or next corporate event at a discount. Ask them for a reference.
Step 5: Print Your Catering Logo
Now it is time to start stamping your graphics on all of your disposable catering supplies and marketing materials. Create your own letterhead with your logo and contact information at the top. Print your logo on paper catering menus that you can hand out or place in hotel or convention center lobbies. If you often do drop-off catering where you leave behind disposables, print your logo on the napkins, the lids of the food pans and the bags that you drop them off in. You can also make your own merchandise, like hats and t-shirts, and print the logo on there. Be sure to print your website URL on all of these items to encourage more online visitors. >> Learn more
Step 6: Pimp Your Catering Ride
No matter what kind of catering operation you are running, you will need a vehicle to transport your food. Why not turn that station wagon, van or trailer into an advertisement on wheels? Contact a printing and decal company to get your catering business’s logo and name on your vehicle, as well as your business phone number and website’s URL.
Step 7: Go Mobile
You now have a conspicuous catering vehicle, a stand-out logo and plenty of custom-printed disposables. If business is not booming for you, it may be time to hit the streets. Even if you do not have any contracts yet, you can still vend at local festivals or events and compete in nearby competitions. Purchase or rent a tent and some portable cooking equipment. Buy vending space at local farmers markets, outdoor flea markets, music and art events or culinary festivals. By doing this, you can create brand awareness with hundreds or thousands of passersby, and hopefully draw customers that are interested in contracting with you in the future.
Step 8: Advertise
Many caterers choose to skip this step. Advertising is not the most reliable marketing strategy, but it is something you might want to consider. Once you have all the other foundations of your marketing plan in place, you can begin to advertise. Do not pay for ads in the city newspaper or on the radio – these mediums tend to be expensive and their target market is too broad. Instead, advertise in bridal and event-planning magazines that have the same target market as you.
Step 9: Work on Public Relations (PR)
Once you have catered more than a dozen events and are satisfied with your service, food and initial marketing techniques, you should think about helping the community. Volunteer to cater for non-profit fundraising events pro bono, or donate food to a local soup kitchen or fellowship. You can provide children at a local school with free baked goods for their bake sale, or offer to cater their awards ceremony. The more you get involved with the community, the more the local people – and the local media – will begin to notice your presence. Once you have a featured profile in the food section of a newspaper or on the local TV news station, your catering business’s name and reputation could start to spread like wildfire. However, make sure you do not go overboard with the donations, and try to cater for fundraisers and charity events that are likely to attract attention.
Step 10: Look for Lucrative Partnerships
If your business grows enough that you are getting several contracts a week during peak season, you may be able to form profitable partnerships. Talk to local hotels, event centers, country clubs, convention centers, banquet halls, museums and theaters. See if you can become the preferred or even exclusive caterer for the people who hold events at these venues. Show the venue manager how it can be a mutually beneficial relationship. As an incentive, you can offer to recommend them to any of your own clients who are looking for an event space. If that doesn't work, you can even offer them a portion of your profits from any clients that they refer to you.
Once you have followed these steps, you will begin to attract more and more business. If you follow all of these steps and your business is still not thriving, you might want to rethink your concept, menu or service. Or, consider adding a “wow” element to your business. For example, if you cater social events, you could start offering pyrotechnics, flair bartending, fantastical décor, costumed buffet runners or other unique elements. This is bound to attract some more interest. Eventually, the ideal result is that you can sustain your business through word-of-mouth, PR and partnerships alone. If so, you will have to spend very little money on marketing in the future.
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