Jan 21 2019
Jim Rand
5 Minutes to read
This article is part of a series called “Getting Off-Premises,” which examines how to build an off-premises business.

4 Secrets to Creating Demand for
Your Catering Business

Jim Rand

By Jim Rand, catering practice leader.

This is Part 4 of our four-step FEED formula for building a successful catering business. (If you missed a step, start here.)

The hope is that if you build a catering business, customers will come to support you. But will they? As you probably know, you need to take matters into your own hands. Here’s a primer on four ways to get on your target customer’s radar and build demand.

1. Develop the Right Marketing Tactics to Reach Your Target Customers

Some people have little patience for a 30-second ad, preferring the apps on their mobile devices. For others, banners and ask-me buttons may work best. While there are different marketing tactics to create demand for your catering, you need to determine which approach is suited to your target customer (read more here). Let’s discuss the options:

  • EmailMine your point-of-sale system to build a targeted email list of prospective customers.
  • In-store materials: Point-of-purchase displays, banners, window clings, table tents, and buttons can be marshalled to say, “We cater!”
  • Social media: Post mouthwatering photos of your catering and elegant branded packaging on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. LinkedIn is thick with prospects who need business catering.
  • SEM and SEO: The cost to get someone to visit your website is exorbitant. But if the math makes sense, you can pursue customers with pay-per-click advertising, called search engine marketing (SEM). Or, turn your webpages into Googlebait with search engine optimization (SEO).
  • Print collateral: Brochures, mailers, and other print marketing materials can be handed out at events and during delivery runs.
  • Traditional media: If your restaurant is big enough to afford big-budget print, radio, and television commercials, make sure they mention your catering services. Use a line like, “Catering now available. Visit www.smithscatering.com.”

2. Hire Talented Salespeople to Reel in Catering Customers

Hire salespeople to sell, not ops people

Multi-unit operators should hire professional salespeople who can qualify leads, close deals, and make sales. Operations people rarely work out in sales roles. Finding strong candidates may be tough since there’s only a shallow pool of catering sales pros. But you can always hire salespeople from other industries, then give them catering-specific job training. Once trained, they can apply their sales know-how to the catering business.

Set goals and hold staff accountable

Salespeople are competitive but need clear goals coupled with accountability. Incentivize them with immediate and long-term bonuses to keep them motivated.

Track sales activity

Using customer-relationship management (CRM) software, managers can track the performance of each salesperson: the numbers of weekly calls, qualified leads, and sales closed.

Want to succeed at growing your catering business? Here’s a primer on four ways to get on your target customer’s radar and build demand.

3. The Secret to Creating Demand? Do Less, Outsource More, Forge Partnerships

If your catering volume is significant and spread over multiple store units, consider outsourcing workers to handle phone calls. While expensive, call center workers ensure you never lose a customer when your phone line is inundated.

Next, if you offer online ordering, push customers to order online. As pizza chains shifted to online ordering in the early 2000s, those companies reported that productivity soared since employees were answering fewer phone calls.

Here are things to keep in mind with these strategies:

  • Online ordering and call management can boost sales, so plan to manage that growth ahead of time.
  • Tackling delivery on your own takes a lot of work. So, consider using a third-party service to handle your catering orders.
  • Outside food-delivery services can cut into your profits, and not all companies do a good job. Practice your due diligence when researching options, reviews, and costs. Evaluate those businesses anonymously and have your catering delivered to your house to gauge how well those companies serve customers in the real world.

4. Loyalty Programs and Enhanced Experiences Attract Customers

If you play your cards right, you can earn the brand loyalty of even the toughest customers. Make sure your employees connect with customers, take down and deliver orders correctly, and enhance the experience. We often size up customers based on their smallish one-time orders but overlook the fact the long-term loyalty of a single customer can put thousands of dollars into a business.

Avoid saying no—it could cost you future business

Sure, a $50 cookie order can seem measly, but that customer could be an admin assistant for a Fortune 500 bank who places catering orders all the time—and who might never call you back.

Implement a loyalty program

Reward repeat customers with discounts, freebies, and reward points. Customer rewards apps, like LevelUp and Punchh, track customer purchases on mobile devices and sync with your back-of-house (BOH) system.

When you show customers you’re interested in their business, that’s the surest way to generate demand.

Want to capture more online catering orders?

Try ezOrdering

Jim Rand

Written by:

Jim Rand

Jim Rand has over 40 years of restaurant-industry experience. Jim serves as Operating Partner of Off-Premises Sales at Act III Holdings. From 2016 to 2018, he was Vice President of Off-Premises Dining at P.F. Chang's. Prior to that role, he served as Vice President of Catering at Panera Bread for nearly a decade. A respected voice in the restaurant industry, Jim works to provide the very best solutions to help restaurants grow their catering businesses.

Posted in: Food at WorkRestaurant

Tagged with: Budgeting, Finances, Getting Off-Premises, Marketing, Order Experience, Order Prep, Staffing