Building relationships is critical to building a catering business. And that is where LJ Morris comes in, Bridge Catering’s sales and marketing arm. “I don’t just leave my customers in the hands of anyone. I want to know that it’s right.”
At ezFoodFest Atlanta, LJ shared her views on catering customer service, from starting to building your catering business. All while launching a new corporate catering dish. Here, LJ reveals what makes a good caterer, and to how to build and retain your customer base with customer service in mind.
So, what makes a good caterer? What skills do you need?
1. Know your area
When delivering a catering order, timeliness is crucial. Be familiar enough with your delivery area to avoid traffic without using a GPS. Knowing the most efficient route to your destination is invaluable.
2. Be detailed oriented
“Everything is about the little details. Every little thing. It makes a big difference.” Unlike in a restaurant, with a catering order, you can’t send food back if you’re unhappy. This means customers are more likely to share their disappointment with others. You may not see a return order if there is a mistake, and you lose referrals.
3. Care about appearance
Your food is the star of the show, but you should still look professional. And don’t forget to smile. “People underestimate how important it is to smile.”
4. Enjoy working with people
“You have to enjoy people and be willing to work with them. Especially the lady or the man in the office placing the order.” Make their life as easy as possible and make them look good. It’s their job on the line.
5. Follow through
“Catering is a business of trust with the client,” says LJ, “call back the day after to make sure everything was good.” If things went well, you may get another catering order. And if your order has a mistake, you have a chance to fix it. “If you turn around and make yourself shine, making that mistake okay, people are very impressed and they will remember you… If you make it right, you’ll have a customer for life.”
6. Prepare yourself to always “be on”
“With catering, you don’t get a second chance. [Your customer has] got to have the best experience ever right then. So they can’t know if you’re having a bad day… There’s no leeway.”
What techniques have you used when building a catering business?
“I set goals during the week to do 50 cold calls,” says LJ. She picks a group, like accountants during tax season, searches online, and starts calling. She never calls too early though. “If you call them too early you’ve made them mad and you will never get them back.” Some companies are offered a complimentary tasting. “And people love that,” she says, “if they were on the fence about a sale, usually they’ll go for it.”
LJ even markets in her personal life. “I’ve got my cards on the back of my phone. Everybody’s got birthdays, graduations, they’ve all got personal things.” You never know who will need catering at work too.
How do you keep your customers coming back?
Retention is built on creating relationships and catering customer service, which LJ finds to be the differentiator for Bridge Catering. This means listening to customer’s needs, checking they have everything, and always following through. Plus remembering birthdays, anniversaries, and any other life events her clients have. But she doesn’t stop there.
LJ starts each Monday with a text to every large company in her contacts. Each text wishes her contact a “good work week” and checks on their catering needs. She says, “it does two things: it starts them off on their work week and it reminds them of me,” keeping them happy and coming back for more.
Looking for more advice on building a catering business? Read Portrait on a Plate’s tips for opening a catering business.
Start gaining incremental catering orders today.