When’s the last time you made a cold call and bombarded businesses with pitches to peddle your catering? Did it work? Maybe the voice on the other end was anything but warm. Make no mistake—the drinks you serve are refreshing, your appetizers simply delicious. But those impersonal sales pitches and last-minute cold calls you learned to do for your own success (the blanket ideas passed off as good local-store restaurant marketing) may make the climb feel difficult. Maybe it’s time to rethink your marketing plan.
It turns out that a stiff, formal sales performance is not going to work if you want to add schools to your customer base. According to HubSpot, an inbound marketing leader, only 1 percent of cold calls ever land a meeting. The vast majority of business-to-business (B2B) decision makers don’t ever respond to them. School administrators crave a local catering partner who can minimize hassle and handle everything from fundraisers to school lunch programs. Here’s how to market your restaurant locally—and how to effectively reach the school officials who handle major catering contracts.
Step 1: Establish your trade area and define goals
Schools are a match made in heaven for caterers and restaurant operators in residential areas. You hope students and parents will stop in for a meal after the basketball buzzer-beater, or for a post-report card reward. After all, it’s community members like these who make your business a local favorite. But before you begin outreach, determine your audience and goal.
Who is your audience? Before you market your restaurant locally to schools, understand your most common type of guest and the communities they travel in. A school’s specific needs and demographics will help narrow your efforts. Parents whose children attend preschool will have different needs from parents with teenagers in high school, for example, and the needs of public vs. private institutions, or low-income vs. high-income schools, will all differ.
What is your end goal? Do you want to establish goodwill among your neighbors? Or is increasing foot traffic crucial to the growth of your restaurant? For example, a family restaurant might want to become the go-to spot for an after-school snack or a quick dinner. Or maybe it makes more sense to promote your catering services to the entire district. Your end goal should always shape your marketing efforts.
Step 2: Know your customers inside and out
Local-store marketing ideas for restaurants are not always immediately profitable. Marketing efforts sink or swim depending on your ability to build relationships with school decision makers. Use your research to understand who these decision makers are—and what they need.
Don’t skimp on school-specific research: Identify and research the potential needs of students, parents, and administrators to figure out how your business can support a school’s daily needs. Check out school websites or Facebook groups. Research staff or alumni. Public event calendars reveal where and when your services are most needed. Does the athletic department order catering for their team dinners, or do club managers host catered fundraisers? Find out.
Pay attention to key players: Principals might be in charge of a school’s day-to-day management, but they rarely hold the key when it comes to catering decisions. Connect with all kinds of potential customers and influencers, like:
- Parent Teacher Organization/Association (PTO/PTA) members holding meet-and-greets or informative meetings
- Booster Club members planning fundraisers and events
- Student development offices hosting special catered events
- Athletic departments leading team dinners and hosting Away teams
- Executive assistants helping plan multiple events throughout the school or district
Step 3: Build relationships
Mastering tips for how to market your restaurant locally is less about profit and more about establishing meaningful relationships. Local-store marketing ideas for restaurants that feel transactional risk coming off like a sales pitch instead of a solution—and schools are hungry for time- and budget-savers. Become a community partner by doing one or more of the following:
- Sync your calendars: Create school-specific promotions to prove your restaurant is a year-round resource. Circle dates like:
- Teacher Appreciation Week
- Administrative Professionals Day
- Graduation season
- Back-to-school season
- Offer to host a fundraiser: Invite the principal to the event, then go above and beyond by hanging banners in school colors or arranging a parking-lot performance by the school’s marching band.
- Surprise and delight: Catering and food businesses should never show up empty-handed. Engage the executive assistant by bringing lunch during a spontaneous food drop.
- Address their needs: If your research uncovers a school-wide focus on health or a population of students with allergies, show them that your services can help them reach that goal. Remind potential customers that your menus are nutritious, customizable, and diet-friendly.
- Demonstrate your catering chops: Did the office manager confirm the school is open to catering partnerships? Put your catering and delivery services on their radar for the next board meeting, teacher in-service training, or graduation ceremony. Show them that your catering services arrive on time, the staff is professional, and the food is delicious.
Kick off your new strategy with a social media campaign.