Yesterday I had a consult call with a pizzeria franchisor interested in helping her franchisees increase catering sales.
She asked me the silver bullet question: “Where can I get a list of all of the catering buyers in our markets?”
The short answer from me was, “There is no silver bullet. The list does not exist. Someone has to call each business to find the qualified catering buyers.”
The long answer to building a catering list can be found in another article. In this article, we look at some proven strategies for growing sales.
How to Increase Catering Business? Learn to Sell!
Nothing takes the place of selling and hustling. My most successful catering clients all have one thing in common: someone sells!
I didn’t generate over a million dollars a year from ezCater, Google Ads, and my good looks. Every day, I hustled to close catering sales.
For those of you who lack the motivation to sell or to hire someone to sell, let me offer a list of seventeen no-cost strategies to sell more catering.
Though not a silver bullet, consistently applying this list will result in noticeable catering sales growth…unless your food and service suck.
In that case, nothing will help you.
17 Must-Have Strategies to Grow Your Catering Sales
In full disclosure, everything on my list is built into our catering software, but you can do it all yourself without our software. CaterZen just makes it simple and provides an all-in-one solution.
Now on to my list and more catering sales for you!
1. Proposals That Sell
Back in the day, most of my catering proposals were created with Word and/or Excel. A simple cover letter was the extent of my marketing.
Today, thanks to very low-cost full-color graphic designers, you can create a myriad of marketing graphics to incorporate into your catering proposals.
To name a few:
- cover graphics
- customized letterhead
- frequently asked questions
- pages of pictures highlighting different catering options
I have a client using our catering proposal templates who always includes a sheet full of pics of what they do. This often prompts upselling and cross-selling.
2. Follow Up On Proposals
The fortune’s in the follow-up.
How often have you called a business for a quote and never received a follow-up call?
I was doggedly persistent with my follow-up. For larger events, I offered up free tastings.
All this takes is a simple calendar reminder. You’ve invested resources to make the phone ring; don’t drop the ball at the one-yard line.
3. Rebooking Reminders
What are you doing to get that large holiday party back the following year?
After each large event, I would photocopy the catering sheet and place it into a January-to-December file folder. This was my tickler system to proactively reach out to rebook events before the client could think of anyone else. This no-brainer and super-simple strategy to execute brought me in tens of thousands of repeat catering sales each year.
The best way to save time is by automating the rebooking reminders.
4. Mystery Shop Phone Calls
I promise your phones are the weakest link in your catering business.
When I first opened my restaurant, I would mystery shop my competitors via phone, posing as a catering buyer. From kitchen workers who could barely speak English to managers who asked me to call back to speak to answering machines, each call seemed to be handled by a sales prevention department.
Over the years, some of my consulting clients have asked me to mystery shop their business numbers. Most have failed miserably.
Only those trained to take catering calls should be taking them. Whether you buy a telephone mic or use the phone recording system in CaterZen's catering software, you need to monitor what happens on your catering phones. A missed upsell or pissed-off prospect could be costing you tens of thousands of catering dollars a year.
5. Upsells: Online Ordering, Phones & Forced Options
How would you like to increase your catering sales by 10-20% instantly?
The strategy to employ is upselling. You can incrementally build your catering sales a number of ways:
- upgraded entrée and side choices
- extra sides
Many of these upsells are highly profitable. Are all your team members taught to suggestively sell these items? Does your online ordering interface have an upsell module built in? Well, ours does.
We can also set up your catering menu items to have forced options that act as upsells. For example, a client orders a catering package with an entrée and two sides. We can create an option called “Dessert?” with drop-down choices of all the desserts available to add with pricing, and we include a “No Thank You” opt-out.
At the very least, this forces your team members to consider a particular upsell before they can complete the order. At its best, this is a prompt for everyone to ask about dessert.
If you’re using a paper order form, include upsell questions in the form. Force a “Yes/No” response to be checked by employees. This way they are acknowledging they attempted to upsell.
6. Details/Notes On Clients
Building relationships with catering clients is one of the keys to catering success. Add in a healthy dose of key information, and you are now a valued business partner.
Do you have a place where key pieces of information are kept on catering clients? Food allergies. Sales history. Reminders. Remembering to always include a gluten-free option for the company president helps your client look like a hero with their team.
Whether you keep note cards on each client or use our highlighted notes feature (visible from the CRM record or while taking an order), this information makes you look much more professional than any potential competitor.
7. Offer Invoicing/House Charges
No one likes the idea of lending money out. That includes invoicing clients for catering awaiting a check, or worse, being in the collections business.
When I had my million dollar-a-year catering profit center, we had an average of $25,000 in outstanding accounts receivable. That’s a whole lot of money.
Helping your catering buyers to not have to track down a credit card or get a check cut makes their life infinitely easier. All things being equal, a catering buyer will choose the caterer who gives them terms. Is it a little painful? Yes.
With our Accounts Receivable and Collections module, it’s a lot easier. Invoices can go out automatically each night. Clients can click to pay invoices via credit cards or mail you a check. Factor in the cost of borrowing working capital to float these receivables, you come out cheaper than paying 2.5% or more for credit card processing fees.
In fourteen years of extending credit, I maybe had $1,000 go uncollected. That’s a small price to pay to attract and keep catering clients.
8. Order Confirmation (Day Before)
“I called and canceled the order earlier in the week. I spoke with a woman.”
How many times has your driver shown up with a catering order, only to be told this? When pressed, your client can’t remember the name of the person they talked to. Their failure to properly cancel an order makes you eat the cost of the prepped food and your driver’s time.
Are you calling and/or emailing all catering clients the day before to confirm orders events? If not, why?
At a minimum, order confirmation helps you avoid biting the cost of a catered meal. At most, you have an opportunity for last-minute upselling.
Our built-in phone module allows your team to pull up a list of all orders/clients for the next day and start making confirmation calls. Our autopilot email order reminder system sends out a confirmation email along with the catering ticket. This serves as a day-before reminder. No longer can catering clients claim they canceled their orders!
9. Delivery Communication
Before Uber, I refused to call a taxi to pick me up from home. There was no telling whether the cab would show up within the promised twenty minutes or two hours later. You can’t base your transportation needs on unreliable methods.
Then came Uber. With a simple smartphone app, I could see my driver in real time. I knew exactly where they were and how long until they arrived at my front door. My pain point was eliminated.
Are your catering delivery drivers calling your clients to let them know that they’re on the way? Are they communicating an estimated delivery time?
Thanks to smartphones and apps like Waze and Google Maps, your driver knows their arrival time to-the-minute . Your catering clients avoid the stress of “Where’s my order?” and you are saved getting those inquiry calls.
Our catering software comes with a driver’s app that allows your catering drivers to text or email a link for real-time driver tracking on a map. This newfound peace of mind will keep catering clients using you over and over again. After all, peace of mind is just as important as great food!
10. Niche Marketing - Working with Client Groups
If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know I’m a big believer in the riches in niches. Within your catering client universe lies hidden niches of untapped catering sales potential.
With a good catering CRM (database), you can add clients and prospects to a group or groups. This allows you to pull up and see all members of a group at once and export the list for mailing or emailing.
At my restaurant, we used niche marketing practically every month. Black Friday mailings to major retailers landed us anywhere from $6,000 to $12,000 in single-day catering windfall sales.
CaterZen’s catering software allows you to export client groups into lists to mail yourself. We also have an email marketing tool with pre-written templates for many niche promotions, as well as the ability to create a sales letter or postcard and mail any group via a third-party mail service.
The best part of niche marketing? Your competitors are too lazy to do it!
11. Thank-You Note
In college, one of my professors taught me the importance and value of sending a thank-you note. One is so rarely sent, so receiving one is like a surprise gift under the tree on Christmas morning.
Sending them after a catering builds up loyalty like nothing else (assuming you deliver on food and service). A handwritten note has the most impact. I had my office manager write them daily. Even if you keep some note cards by the couch, knock them out while watching Game of Thrones.
If you can’t manage to get them out consistently, then you’ll want to use the autopilot thank-you letters in out catering software. We set up the design and templates, and the notes go out to a third-party mail house. With no minimums to mail, this is a great way to invest a little to make a big impact.
12. Loyalty Program
Loyalty clubs have been around forever. I’m guessing the first one was a simple punch card. The airlines have been using loyalty programs like their frequent flyer clubs for years with great success. Personally, I fly Southwest Airlines whenever possible and carry two of their credit cards to convert personal and business purchases into miles. As a result, I earn more tickets each year than I can use and have had a companion pass for years.
Years ago in my restaurant, we created a Pharm Rep Rebate Club. We gave 5% of a pharm rep’s net purchase back in gift certificates. In those days, before our software was built, a manager would write the rebate on one of our business cards. I had one pharmaceutical rep who saved them up to pay for his family reunion.
Everything else being equal, a catering decision maker would rather do business with a company rewarding their patronage. Our system will allow you to assign a percentage of all net catering sales to be rebated to your catering client. I have some clients giving away 5% of the sale. The really aggressive operators are giving away 10% of the net catering sales. This is a great way to build market penetration quickly. I have seen some of my clients experience double-digit catering sales growth by pushing our catering loyalty program.
13. Birthday Program
I know a lot of restaurants - many of my clients - who have birthday clubs for their dining room customers. The returns are high and it fosters goodwill.
Why do so few restaurants use this winning promotion on their catering clients? On average, a catering client spends more than a dining room customer. I can tell you personally, only one of my vendors and suppliers sends me a birthday card. It’s Southwest Airlines.
Imagine how your best catering clients will feel when you send them a letter wishing them a “Happy Birthday!” and give them a ten, fifteen or twenty dollar gift certificate. It’ll make a huge impact!
CaterZen has this powerful marketing promotion built in. We help you word the letter, choose a birthday certificate amount proper for your establishment, and set the buying criteria. For instance, you may wish to only send birthday letters to catering clients who’ve spent at least a thousand dollars in the last twelve months.
This promotion not only gets them to bring in more customers to your restaurant, but it also helps you build relationships in person. Even without our software, buy some birthday cards in bulk and keep up with catering clients’ birthdays in your database. Once a month, send out the cards and receive a lot of goodwill.
14. Reactivation Calls
Our ultimate goal is to have a never-ending circle of repeat catering business. A client orders from you, then you keep communicating, then they order from you again. In a perfect world, you just want that cycle to keep going on forever and ever.
However, sometimes that doesn’t happen. You need a system in place to reactivate lost catering clients. For most operators, customer reactivation is reactive. One day the light bulb goes off, and they say, “You know, it’s been a while since so-and-so ordered from us. What happened to them?”
That happens usually two to six months after they’ve ordered. It may be too late to get them back. Most of us don’t have a memory good enough to remember every catering client and who has fallen through the repeat-ordering cracks.
The real money is not made on the first catering. It’s made because of repeat catering clients.
It’s imperative to have a system in place to identify and reach out to your inactive catering clients. On a very basic level, you could create a spreadsheet with all your catering clients and update their last order date at the end of each day. Once a month you could sort the spreadsheet and reach out to anyone who hasn’t ordered in 30 or 60 days. You could use any time frame you feel is relevant to your business and choose to reach out via mail or a phone call.
To help our members not lose clients, we’ve developed an autopilot customer reactivation campaign. Our system will automatically mail out up to three reactivation letters via a third-party mail house.
We also have reports and a VoIP phone system that will allow you to pull up inactive catering clients for outreach calls.
Most great catering marketing has nothing to do with fancy ads. It’s just common sense systems you can have running over and over again, preferably on autopilot. Catering client reactivation must be part of your marketing arsenal.
15. Monthly Emails
An E-newsletter, or electronic newsletter, offers a big opportunity to stay in front of your prospects and clients. Just like it’s important to send a snail mail catering newsletter, you should reinforce client communication through an email message like a newsletter or monthly promotion.
Please don’t make the mistake of overusing and abusing this permission-based media. Emailing once a month - no more than twice - is acceptable. Emailing three times a month or more makes you a pest. Clients and prospects will either delete your message without looking at it, or opt out of your marketing altogether.
Of course, you can send emails in small batches via BCC in your email program, subscribe to a third-party email marketing service, or use the built-in email marketing module we include in CaterZen software. You can send text and/or HTML messages via a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor. You have the option of sending the email to a single contact, selected contacts, all contacts, or a specific group in the CRM database.
We have even added a library of email templates ready for you to quickly customize and send instantly or schedule for future delivery. There’s no longer an excuse to forgo emailing. It is no accident that our clients doing the highest volume are the ones who consistently market to their catering clients and prospects.
16. Day After Follow-Up Calls: 1-3-5-7
The second follow-up strategy to use with a client after an event is a callback. Whether you pick up the phone after your lunch rush to check in with your lunch catering clients, or first thing the next day, a real live voice makes a difference.
You’ll want to call and ask how the event went. Solicit feedback, both good and bad, so you can improve your operation. If you identify a problem, do whatever is reasonable to fix the issue and make it right with your client. The money is not in one-off events. It’s in building a herd of happy, repeat catering clients.
If you’re not using any catering software, take a copy of the day’s orders and use that as your callback list.
A very successful caterer out of Atlanta taught me her callback formula. She called a client after the first, third, fifth, and seventh orders. It was often enough to nurture a new client, but not too often to appear burdensome.
After seven orders, the relationship is well-developed, so the client will have no problem calling if an issue arises. Our catering software has an Outgoing Call List report tied into an auto dialer that allows you to call catering clients after their first, third, fifth and seventh orders. It models the formula above. A follow-up phone call is so basic, yet most people fail to be consistent with this strategy. Isn’t it worth spending a few minutes a day to lock in the annuity of a repeat catering client?
How many of your buying decisions have been made because of a friend’s referral? Electronics, cars, movies, restaurants, and vacation spots are just a small sample of purchases you may have made because of a friend or trusted colleague. What your friends and trusted business colleagues say is just about the absolute truth in your mind.
There are a couple of techniques to generate catering referrals. The first is to ask. Whether you send a letter, email or pick up the phone: ask!
Being a big believer in systems, I believe you should create a marketing system to regularly solicit catering referrals from your clients. CaterZen sends out marketing letters for you and rewards clients for their referrals.
We’ve taken the loyalty club and put it on steroids. It’s modeled on the old MCI Friends & Family plan.
This letter lets your catering clients know that they can earn a percentage of catering sales made by friends, family members and business colleagues referred to you. You can make the percentage reward any amount you want. It can also be larger or smaller for any specific client. The letter explains the program and includes up to three offers they can pass on to their referrals.
When the referral uses the offers, they get a special deal on their first catering order with you. Each offer has a tracking code key connected to the person making the referral. This makes sure they get credit for all future referred sales. By rewarding a referral, you increase your referral activity. I recommend sending out a referral type promotion to your catering clients quarterly.
Need help with implementing these catering sales strategies?
Our goal at CaterZen is to help successful caterers become more successful. Any one of these seventeen “Catering Multipliers” can help you grow your catering. Added together, they can cause your sales to soar.
Whether you do it yourself or use our catering software to make it more systematized, turning your back on these strategies will cost you lost sales you’ll never get back.
If you would like a free, no-obligation trial or demo of our software, we'd love to show you firsthand how our catering software and systems can supercharge your catering business. Let's explore the profitability of working together.
To your catering success!