Top Catering Sales Strategies for Growing Your Catering Business
It’s no secret that growing your catering business (whether it's on-premise or off-premise catering) requires bringing in new customers and growing sales within your existing customer base. That part is not rocket science. But sorting through the myriad event sales strategies that are out there and then trying to decide which ones apply to your business can be quite a challenge. Whether they are called catering sales tips, catering sales manager tips, hospitality sales tips or hotel catering sales strategies, it seems that everybody has a secret formula. But which catering sales strategies really deliver? And which ones help nudge customers to pick the right caterer (you, of course)?
Our list of the five top catering sales strategies is, sadly, not a magic formula (not-so-surprising hint: they all require work and follow-through). But if you’re serious about growing your catering business, your overall sales strategy will almost certainly include each of these proven tactics. Let’s dig in.
Build Partnerships With Other Event-Related Businesses
A caterer doesn’t operate in isolation. Your catering business is part of an elaborate ecosystem. Your first catering sales tip is to identify the players in that ecosystem whose interests overlap with yours, and start connecting.
For example, your wedding catering business most likely overlaps with florists, photographers, DJs and bakeries. Those are the obvious ones. But it also overlaps with formal wear and table-and-chair rentals, as well as travel agents who book things like group trips to Vegas for bachelor / bachelorette parties. Plus many others—ice sculpters, anyone? Get to know these players and figure out which ones you are happy to recommend, and who you are happy to be recommended by. There are many ways to cross-promote: offer mutual discounts; display their literature at your place of business and make sure they have yours on display, too; and co-sponsor an ad in the local community guide.
If you don't operate a venue, one critical offsite catering sales strategy for catering companies is to connect with the event venues themselves. There is no better partnership to be had then with the venues themselves. If they trust you and recommend you, you’re in. Also, when contacting venues, find out if they have a “preferred vendor” list and find out how to get on it.
Get Customer Referrals From Existing Catering Clients
Our second catering sales manager tip builds on the first. Partners are a good source of referrals, but your catering customer base can be equally effective. Make sure that all your repeat customers know that they can earn nice discounts off their next event or even fabulous gifts and prizes (Amazon gift cards, one of your scrumptious desserts, etc.) by sending new business you way.
Some customers are worth developing as loss leaders simply for the referral business they can provide. Government agencies churches and other non-profits often fall into this category. And don’t forget about your local Chamber of Commerce. They can connect you with all the local businesses, government agencies and civic organizations likely to be holding events. And they can tell you when new businesses are coming to town.
Leverage Social Channels
An important event sales strategy for your catering business is the effective use of social media. Social campaigns can include efforts as simple as one-off Instagram ads (or Instagram stories of your recent events) or as elaborate as managing a dedicated YouTube channel. Building a social media community via your Facebook page helps to cement customer loyalty (see below.) Online social coupon groups can also be highly effective for some varieties of catering.
A good hotel catering sales strategy is to leverage the social footprint the hotel already controls. Here’s a hospitality sales tip that has caught on generally within hotels: reach out to guests after their stay and ask for a review at one of the social review sites. This is an especially good catering sales strategy as it directs customers to a single channel and encourages (without asking for) positive reviews.
Give It Away (Free Catering Samples Work!)
This catering sales tip takes the loss-leader approach mentioned earlier to the next level. Host a tasting event for targeted decision-makers (event planners, party planners and others) and let them see for themselves, not to mention smell and taste, what you have to offer. Or, for a really hot repeat-business client, you might consider providing an entire meal for free. Obviously, this is a strategy that is best used sparingly and with carefully targeted prospects.
On the lower end, another possibility is to host a booth at a Chamber of Commerce or other civic event and allow folks to stop by and try out the goods. Or just pack some extra food with your drivers each time they make a delivery. They can leave cookies or other goodies with nearby businesses and collect a reward if any of these become customers.
Develop Customer Loyalty
Our final catering sales strategy is to make sure your existing catering clients stay with you. Keep track of who is coming back for more and make sure that they are rewarded, via discounts or other perks, for their repeat business. When appropriate, cross-promote with your broader hotel or restaurant customers. Target the customers you have not heard from in a while. And, as stated above, make sure your customers know it’s worth their while to recommend your services to colleagues, friends, and family. All told, this series of on- and off-premise sales tactics can help you boost both corporate sales and private parties.
Note: This is where a solid event CRM solution can come in handy, with automated reminders that notify you to reach out to past customers on trigger dates (say, an anniversary of the last time they hired you, before their next annual meeting might be happening, etc.).
...And Don’t Forget the Basics
While not a catering sales strategy in its own right, focusing on the basics can make all the difference between the failure and success of the strategies you do deploy. You need a solid catering marketing and sales plan and a well-defined branding and positioning strategy for your business. Are you B2B or B2C? What is your target niche?
To make any sales strategy work, you will need a good website with an attractive design and fresh content (you were probably already aware of this, but image makes a huge difference in catering sales). To increase sales, you need reliable tools and processes for managing email, cold-calling, and walk-ins. You need a top catering software package to manage the details. And you will need good printed materials such as menus, brochures and fliers.
BTW, some caterers and restaurant group sales managers swear by discounts as an effective sales tactic, but here are some tips on why you should be careful when using discounts for your events and catering services.
If your catering business is lacking in any of these areas, it’s time to get to work on filling the gaps before you begin deploying your top catering sales strategies.