Monthly Archives: April 2013

Starting a Catering Business


Catering is a complicated business. Everyone has their own idea of the perfect party, event or celebration. Should we have an open bar with generic booze and draft beer or a cash bar serving fancy label, top shelf beverages? Fresh fruit, shucked oysters or both? Should we rent a chocolate fountain? Or an ice sculptor? Hire a Band or DJ? Black tie or business casual? Should we engage a limo service for transportation? Formal invitation only or bring a friend or two? These are just some of the questions that set the tone. Prices are a big factor that determines who wins a catering bid but playing to egos can go in your favor too. Let’s face it, there are clients who simply want to be able to say “I hired the best caterer in the tri-state area for my party.” If you are just starting out, you may need to really offer something spectacular, to win over the event throwers who are too scared not to go with one of the big names. But can you blame them? If you were given the responsibility of throwing the most important event in town, would you risk going with an unknown caterer? No one wants to be remembered for throwing the worst party of the year!

Becoming a caterer, catering 101, learning the catering business, managing a catering company,

The way to counter this objection is by first taking a good look at your whole operation and listing all the positives you can come up with. You only need to write two or three flattering paragraphs about yourself or your restaurant venue. Once you really get creative you may find that on paper you and/or your establishment’s story doesn’t sound half bad. You yourself may have been in the restaurant business for some years before you opened your own place. Your chef and cooks may have come from unusual career histories or a personal triumph story which you can capitalize on. Maybe even some of your wait staff, hosts, hostesses or bartenders come from working for some unique past situations or prestigious establishments that you can play up an angle on. Our kitchen manager studied in France for a summer. Our pastry Chef comes from New York City, the cheese cake capital of the world. Just wait until you taste his raspberry, caramel cheese cake. Get everyone’s help in making your list of positives. Then write up a few paragraphs designed to sell your establishment and crew, making them sound like experts. Put this on the inside cover of your new catering menu.

Next draft a quick news release based around those same few paragraphs and stories. Add the part about how your fabulous restaurant is now offering catering. Explain why your catering selections are so special. Enclose a copy of your new menu and mail or email the whole package to the local newspapers and radio stations. If anyone bites and writes a story on you, add the story to your menu, frame the story and post the story all over your restaurant. If the radio station does a shout out, print the best quotes of the DJ on your menu. Now you are building credibility. The next step is to look at your loyal, repeat customers. There may be a local celebrity among them who could be talked into giving you a nice letter of recommendation for the price of a free meal, appetizer or piece of pie. As a last resort, you can cater one whole event for free just to get a great endorsement from someone in your community whose name carries clout. The stamp of approval, from a very prominent figure will pay for itself, many times over, for years and years to come. Be sure to take plenty of photos and post them on display everywhere; your website, YouTube, Facebook, on the menu, and on all the walls.

Anytime you service a party or event, always get testimonials from your happy customers and take some photos of the catering set up for your scrap book. If you have the time, stick around a snap a few photographs of the party in action. Your sales team can use the photo gallery and customer praises to help them close deals. In time, you will become the big name caterer that everyone else is trying to beat out!

Big corporate parties almost always go to the big nationally recognized and reputed catering organizations simply because they have accounts set up with these organizations. But, the decision maker might be persuaded to go with you, the hot new local caterer for smaller department luncheons or when time constraints are short. You can leverage your way in by developing a limited menu so customers can order from you with only a twenty four hour advance notice.  The key to gaining corporate accounts is to get your restaurant onto their approved vendor list. Any order over a certain monetary value usually has to be placed with a pre-approved company. The good news is once you get approved you have very little competition because they only bother to approve a few caterers.

It is very important to know who your competition is. Before you make your menu, collect copies of all your competing caterers’ menus. Study your competition. What are their strengths? Are there any groups of customers who are being neglected? Is there any opportunity to specialize in servicing a certain price range of food? Is there any service points that your nearby competition is neglecting to offer? Many caterers have a minimum order of 20 people. Maybe you could start claiming your piece of the catering pie simply by offering a special menu for a smaller number, like 10 or 12 guests. The idea is for you to bust into the catering business by offering something no one else is doing.

Catering is an art form!

Catering is an art form!

One mention of caution; many beginning caterers try to claim their first customers by being the cheapest. This is a bad mistake. Being different sets you apart enough. Don’t sell your catering business out cheap before you’ve even given it a chance! In the catering business you can scare more people away by being too cheap. Remember you can always lower the price later, if you absolutely have to. Although, I always recommend, it is a better practice to throw in an extra freebee, rather than lowering your price to close a deal. Reputation is everything, in the party supplying business. You don’t want to gain the rep of being the bargain basement.   Yes, throwing in something for free may actually end up costing you the exact same amount but it sounds a lot better to say, “how about if we deliver it all for free, this one time? And, we’ll even set it all up for you.” Or “I can throw in plates, utensils, napkins and even all the necessary condiments for free.” This helps you close the deal and leaves a better impression with the customer than just agreeing to give them money off the food.

Always be on the lookout for networking opportunities. Can you partner with party organizers, event planners, party shops, event venues who don’t have onsite kitchens, entertainment venues, photographers, DJs and bands, transportations businesses, wedding consultants, florists, table/chair, equipment and outdoor party tent suppliers etc.? Make sure all of the above get copies of your latest menus and your business cards.

Make sure you do a Google search to see what online ‘Catering Directories’ service your local. With so many people searching online these days, you need to get your restaurant’s name added to all the local lists of caterers that are out there! Now-a-days, it is always a good idea to have a good mix of online promotions as well as off line promotions.

Remember you can’t be everything to everyone. Don’t spread yourself out too thin. Choose a few niche markets to go after then become an expert at serving those particular niches.

For some great restaurant and catering business advice check out this great resource:

To find out who the best wedding caterers are in the Philadelphia area go to:


Ways to Increase Catering Sales

The best way to increase catering sales has always been through networking with as many businesses in your neighborhood who share the same customers as you do. That virtually means partnering up with any business in the towns you service that are not a competing caterer. Wedding planners, florists, event planners, party supply stores, costume shops, photographers; all sell to or service people who are your potential customers too. The idea is that by joining forces and working with another business who shares your target customer, together you can both benefit in a number of different ways.


First off you can each swap customer lists which will double your list of customers with no effort at all. This means that if you have 5,000 customers who you send your menus and coupons out to each month and a photographer has a list of 5,000 customers, instantly you now both have 10,000 customers to send your promotions to. That is a huge jump. But, now imagine how big your customer list will grow if you swap lists with five noncompeting businesses, each with five thousand customers on their lists. 5 X 5,000 = 25,000!

Catering Sales Ideas
There’s a big difference between sending out 5,000 menus and coupons and sending out 25,000 menus and coupons. You are going to get a lot more business back from the 25,000 mailing! Now, if you were mailing your promotional materials out yourself, it would cost you a bundle to mail 25,000 envelopes. But, when all five businesses put their promotional materials in the same envelope, you each pay only for mailing your original 5,000 envelopes plus just a little more to cover the additional weight of the others’ materials. While each of you benefits because 25,000 envelopes are getting mailed each with your menu and coupons in it as well as the other four businesses marketing items too!

Now, if all five of you decided to join in on taking a newspaper add out together, you could purchase a whole page at a discounted rate then divide it up into five equal parts and you would end up paying a lot less for your portion than if you tried to buy the same size adds individually!

Whenever I’m working on advertising or marketing campaigns, I always try to exhaust all my free or almost free ideas first, before I start considering paying for advertising. This is because there are so many free advertising and promotional ideas which only take a little time to implement and they are quite effective. So it is silly to start right off the bat, paying for news, radio or Television advertising when half the time you get little or no return on your investment anyway. There is no reason to start worrying about marketing budgets when you have promotional ideas that take just a little effort on your part to implement for free.

One free idea that is very easy to do is simply for all five collaborating establishments agreeing to post each other’s marketing materials on their premises. You give them each a pile of menus with coupons stapled to them and they give you a stack of their promotional literature with their coupons. You can each set up a small area or display table for interested parties to take the literature they are interested in. Or you each could simply place a set of each of your four partners marketing materials in your customers’ bags at the check out counter.

Think of your Collaborating businesses as partners. You all are looking to gain the same thing; additional business. You are all also seeking low cost marketing ideas. You all are promoting to the same customers, let’s say newly engaged couples, just for an example. You are the only caterer in the group. There’s only one photographer in your group, one tuxedo rental company etc. We’ve talked about how you can use your combined buying power to get discounts from advertising venues. We’ve discussed sharing each other’s customer lists and displaying each other’s marketing literature in each other’s place of business. Now, let’s take it up a notch. Let’s plan to put together some marketing events in which all of our businesses will take part. The events will specifically target newly engaged couples who are gathering information about planning their wedding.

1. Your newly formed group can promote total package deals. One low price for all our services! Planning a wedding is hard work. You will be taking away a lot of stress by offering the solution of ‘One Stop Shopping!’ All it takes is for all the businesses involved to sit down and put together a few attractive package deals.

2. You can take turns hosting an event on each of your premises, switching each month. Or you can all share the costs of renting a hall to throw your shindig in each month. Everyone can set up a booth or table with all their marketing literature. There would be a flower shop booth, a DJ spinning music for the affair as well as giving out his or her business card. You, as the group caterer can show off your catering hors d’oeuvres give out samples tastes, put out a small buffet if you can handle the costs, as well as display an array of photographs of past events you’ve catered with testimonials from all your happy customers. The photographer can have albums highlighting his masterful photographs displayed on a table with business cards and contact info. He can set up a small studio type booth for snapping a few quick free give away photos of the circulating love birds who attend the show. Wedding dress and tuxedo establishments can put on a quick fashion show or bring brochures and samples of the hottest new wedding outfits. You can each take fifteen or so minutes to formally address the crowd from a podium promoting your goods and services. (Remember, any target market can be substituted here for this technique, just pick companies to partner with who specialize in serving the same chosen niche.)

As a caterer, you have many niches that you can market to. Pick one niche at a time to specialize in that is best suited to your interests and particular neighborhood situation. Build up your contacts related to that market niche. Do your homework. Network, then form partnerships with the very best, affiliate businesses in your area, who service that chosen niche. It will defeat your purposes to associate yourself and your catering business with businesses with bad performance records or faulty reputations. Once you’ve conquered one niche then by all means tackle the next niche.