Grow your Share of the Off-Premise Catering Market

* This is a repost of an original article posted here.

At first glance a catering business would seem relatively easy to get off the ground. All you need is a working kitchen and a talent for cooking, right? As anyone who’s ever attempted to become a caterer knows, however, the reality is far more complicated. Competition is fierce, and the rate of failure is astronomically high. Even a proven restaurant concept can struggle after foraying into catering.

Why? Because caterers and restaurant operators are oftentimes entrenched in the day-to-day necessities of the business—cooking and presenting the food, meeting event deadlines and providing excellent service. Their time-consuming nature means that the business side of catering is often overlooked. This puts future business at risk, and can leave your event calendar with a multitude of scheduling peaks and valleys.

To combat this, here are five tips for growing catering opportunities and sales:

1) Diversify your community connections, and give back.

Most restaurants and caterers participate in professional and community organizations, such as the local chamber of commerce, in order to showcase their catering at the organizations’ events. However, most caterers are involved with a single group, or a select few. But the more organizations your business joins, the better. You’ll gain more opportunities to showcase your fare and expose your business to members who may have private-party catering needs. Furthermore, many volunteer organizations are in a constant state of fundraising. You can earn exceptional goodwill by giving back a portion of proceeds to the organization, or donating your food to fundraising events.

2) Embrace shameless self-promotion.

Most of us are taught not to brag about our strengths or talents. Such politeness won’t get you very far in growing your business, however. The days of “if you build it, they will come” are long gone, so talk up your catering business with anyone and everyone, from colleagues, friends and family members, to civic groups, schools and PTAs. Talk about any menu additions or changes. Talk about the talents of your team members. Talk about a recent event you catered. But most importantly, talk about the joy and satisfaction your catering brings to your clients and their guests.

3) Train your people to promote, too.

The buck shouldn’t stop with you on the shameless promotion front. Train your staff members to recommend your business, and the appropriate times to do so. Make sure to reward them when their efforts pay off with new business.

4) Employ a third party to develop business.

If self-promotion isn’t your forte, why not let someone outside your organization do the work? Someone has to seek out business and be willing to talk about it. Most people are not comfortable trying to solicit more business through their own cold-calling efforts. However, there are third-party companies that can be hired, trained on your menu and capabilities, and turned loose to promote your catering business, secure appointments for key staff members and raise the visibility of your business within the community. Outsourcing this part of your operations allows you and your team to get back to doing what you do best—preparing and serving food.

5) Leverage social media, review sites and online press releases.

Social media and online reviews continue to grow in their impact and influence in all aspects of commerce. There’s a generational shift happening in the workplace. Younger generations use and leverage the power of online, mobile and social media technology more than the preceding generations—perhaps because they can’t remember life without them. In fact, a recent labor report conducted by the Pew Research Center found that the Millennial generation (adults ages 18 to 34) now comprises the largest portion of the U.S. labor force. Therefore, if your business has yet to harness the full power of social media, online reviews and online press release services, then you’re already behind. Publishing photos of your team, food and events via social media provides instant visibility to potential customers. Positive reviews published on online review sites such as Yelp have become an enormous validation tool for people looking to find a new service provider. And creating and distributing press releases online regarding any news surrounding your business garners media and potential customer attention, and also augments search engine optimization (SEO) for your website.

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