Catering's large check averages represent the best chance of making up for lost sales during this economic recession. And four walls marketing — showcasing your services to the customers that walk in your front door, drive by your location and order your takeout — is the most effective way to promote it. Have a graphic designer create signs, banners, table tents, box toppers, bag stuffers, staff buttons, washroom signs and catering menus to place strategically around your restaurant. Multiple points of contact with your catering message will get the word out that you cater.
Create a catering display table with your chafing dishes and/or platters and snap a color food photograph of what may be typically served. To turn your catering display table into a source of hot leads, place a fishbowl on the table for a “Win A Free Office Catering For 10” giveaway. Make sure to follow up with all the qualified leads.
Catering business can be broken down into niches. Holiday parties, training luncheons, pharmaceutical meetings, sports banquets, picnics, safety lunches, bereavement meals and golf tournaments are a small sampling of catering niches to target. Focus on companies with 500 or more employees. My list consisted of around 100 companies, so I call it my “Top 100.” To create your own “Top 100,” go to www.ZapData.com  and rent a list of businesses based on demographic data you select.
Send your top 100 a one-page letter with the header: “How To Make Sure Your Caterer Makes You Look Like A Hero.” A follow-up phone call pulls 300 percent better than the letter alone. In my case, I booked over $45,000 worth of catering business within the first nine months, and most converted to repeat customers.
Each year there is a fresh batch of prospects to target. In the spring each school has a graduation, be it eighth grade, high school or college. A good mailing list broker can rent you a list of parents of high school seniors. The odds are fairly great that a large part of the list will have some type of graduation celebration. You will get the highest ROI by focusing on building your catering business with niche marketing.
What are you doing to lock in repeat business? Here are some ideas to get you thinking.
Thank You Letters
The two most powerful words in the English language are “Thank You!” It's about the little things. We all want to be appreciated.
Do you have a system in place to remind you it's time to call your holiday party clients before your competition? Consider a tickler file, a type of calendar reminder system.
The same marketing principle that revolutionized the airline industry can increasing catering sales. Giving your repeat clients a rebate in gift certificates is sure to build loyalty.
Why not encourage and reward referrals? If you have a list of clients you want, pass the list around to your better customers and see if they have a contact in that company.
Do you have a system in place to identify catering customers who have stopped ordering from you? Whether you pick up the phone or send a letter sequence, do not allow this group to fall by the wayside.
Your average catering customer spends much more than your dining room customer. Sending out a birthday card along with a gift certificate will put you ahead of your competitors.
Newsletters are a great way to stay in touch with your customers. By entertaining them with articles, jokes and contests, you earn the right to promote your latest specials. Remember: Out of site. out of mind.
Michael Attias helps restaurant owners increase their profits by adding or expanding their own catering profit center with coaching, consulting, speaking, educational materials and software through his company RestaurantCateringSystems.com . Reached him at [email protected] .