There’s no doubt the catering industry is competitive — and that can make it hard to grow your business and increase your bottom line. So, how do you stand out among the masses and build a catering program that will have people booking your business for any event? 

We chatted with Kevin Caples, special events coordinator at Arbor Catering in Chicago, to get the scoop on how he grew his catering business and became a powerhouse in his city.

1. Get creative with your marketing

Traditional marketing, like print ads in local publications or e-newsletters, can help spread awareness for your catering business, but they’re initiatives that a lot of companies already implement, which won’t help you stand out from your competition. Being creative and thinking outside-the-box when it comes to marketing will help you feel more authentic to your catering clients.

“One of the things we’ve done in the past is, because we have a beehive area on our rooftop, we’ve harvested the beeswax and had that made into lip balm,” said Caples. “We find little things like that to do, and that revolves around who we are. We’re really creative, and we like for it to be our own signature instead of going out and contracting a firm. I think it resonates with people better when they know it comes directly from us.”

2. Host tasting events

Sure, you probably know how to market your catering business through newsletters and social media. But, have you hosted tasting events? Building relationships with potential catering clients in person will allow them to see your presentation skills and try out your delicious menu items. The first step of hosting a tasting is to create a list of potential catering leads, like corporate prospects and engaged couples. Reach out to them with a fun, designed email and let them know the details.

Once they arrive, you can give them an introduction of your catering services, and then dive into the details of every menu item. Remember to have any brochures, takeaway menus, and business cards ready for your guests as they leave. To get the most out of your tasting, you can even offer a discount for the first event they book with your catering company.

3. Build trust with your clientele

To be successful in the catering industry, you need to get people talking about your company. To do this, you need to build trust with your clients.

“One of the things that we’re always challenged with is being able to convey what we do and where we come from,” said Caples. “Our approach is unique from other catering companies. We’re flexible, so we’ll start with what the vision is for the client and what they’re trying to accomplish.”

When catering clients meet with Caples, he likes to get to know them by asking them how they envision their event. The small, customizable details come second for him after he gets a feel for his client’s expectations.

4. Don’t lose out on walk-in customers

While you may take most catering orders over the phone or via your website, we bet there are a few customers who still like to visit your business in person to book their event or party. Train every member of your staff to handle catering requests that happen in-store, and prepare them to answer any questions that may come their way about your catering program.

When every team member is able to help walk-in customers book catering orders, it will keep your business organized and running efficiently. Remember that while not everyone who walks through your doors is looking to place a catering order (especially if you’re a restaurant), there’s an opportunity to turn your regular diners into catering clients.

5. Reward customers who refer others to your business

While repeat business is great, acquiring new catering clients will help grow your business and build your brand. One great way to do this is to leverage your current customers with a referral program. Email or call every customer after their catering order is delivered to see how everything went and how they enjoyed it. When you reach out to them, ask them to send you a referral. You should also create a page on your website dedicated to your referral program that makes it as easy as possible for current customers to submit a referral.

Remember: it doesn’t have to be expensive to make an impact. A simple $25 gift card for every catering referral that’s submitted (and actually turns into an order) can make all the difference.

“We have a list of past and ongoing clients that we reach out to [for referrals] whenever it makes sense,” said Caples.

6. This one menu item can make a difference

The menu item that can help you boost catering sales? Everybody knows and loves it: the sandwich. That’s right — simply having sandwiches on your catering menu can help you reach new clientele during times you wouldn’t normally be booked (like office lunches).

While having sandwiches catered in bulk does offer its fair share of challenges (how do you keep the bread from becoming soggy?), the rewards of reaching new casual customers are worth it. Plus, this key menu item will put you in line with the big players like Panera Bread and Jason’s Deli.

7. Make it easier for yourself with software

If you’re keeping track of all of your catering orders with sticky notes or Google Calendar, know that these manual processes may be holding you back from making your catering business a success. Catering software, like Tripleseat, not only streamlines the way you accept catering orders, but it can save you time and energy so you can take on more customers and increase your sales. With digital BEOs, a lead form, and the ability to accept credit card payments online, cloud-based software can power your business. An added bonus? It will help reduce miscommunication between your team members, so you can get every order right.

“[Event management software] has helped us pretty massively,” said Caples. “It helps with organizing and communications between ourselves and our clients. When our clients are able to view proposals and submit payments online, the workflow is just way easier.”

Start with these ideas, and watch your catering sales grow

If you want to take your catering business to the next level, follow the simple tips above.

“Really focus on what is driving that desire to do the thing that you’re doing,” Caples said. “As it relates to catering, figure out what area is the most passionate for you, and then go deep and develop it. Do as much reading and thinking and talking about that one thing because if you can speak from a place of passion, you can offer a perspective that no one else if offering because you’ve done the work around it, and that’s so valuable.”

Tripleseat provides you with all of the features and tools you need to organize your catering and events business. Not yet a Tripleseat customer? Schedule a demo to learn more.

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on the Gather blog and written by Holly Edwards.

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