Making an effective catering marketing plan is essential for the health of any food-based business. According to a small business marketing survey by Clutch, 47% of owners take a DIY approach to making, promoting, and improving on their brand. In order to do this (and do it well), catering business owners need to have a solid plan of attack.
This is especially true for those with limited marketing budgets of $10,000 or less, which is considered small to nonexistent by industry standards. But not to worry! With the right tools and strategy in place, you’ll be able to make and execute a highly effective catering marketing plan.
How to create a catering marketing plan
If you’d like to know how to create a marketing plan for a catering business, you’ll first need to review some big picture ideas. For those who have written their own business plans in the past, you’ll have that information handy for the following exercise. If you don’t have a business plan or are aware that your current one may be outdated, complete the following steps.
Set Marketing Goals
For catering businesses, exposure is key. But exposure can be hard to measure, especially if you aren’t currently using an intelligent business management platform. Instead, focus your marketing goals on what you can easily record, monitor, and assess.
Following this philosophy, most catering businesses successfully use sales targets to determine their marketing goals. Calculate how much you currently make per week, on average. Go back as far as possible to get an accurate picture. Then set both long and short term income goals. As long as you keep them realistic, these goals should help guide your plan.
Find Your Target Audience
Everyone likes food, right? While that’s mostly true, a catering business has to be cautious when it comes to how they spend their marketing budget. Trying to attract anyone and everyone with your marketing is a sure fire way to waste your precious resources.
An alternative to this approach is to get as specific as possible with defining your ideal customer. Whether you prefer to cater corporate events or private parties, remote or on site, gluten-free or soul food, your audience will ultimately determine what you market and how you get the word out.
There are lots of ways to identify the right audience. Create a spreadsheet to collect the following information on each individual customer:
- General age range
- Where they are located
- What event types they typically plan
- How frequently they host events
- Special interests (like vegan or kosher)
- Food services they ask about
- Food services they ultimately book
- Their final invoice total
Feel free to add any other details like hobbies, career experience, or whatever else makes sense for you and your business model. Once you have this data collected, look for patterns. Then use those patterns to construct a target persona and create marketing that they would love.
Determine Your Competitive Advantage
Every business should have that “wow” factor that helps them stand out from the crowd. It’s no secret that the competition is fierce in the food industry. But how you choose to define your business will go a long way towards creating your catering marketing plan.
For catering businesses in particular, there are a few key areas you can choose from to really make your mark:
- Unique selling point. Do you offer home delivery? Or is your catering business a secret pop-up guests can only find through Instagram? Whatever your thing is, push that angle in your marketing.
- Innovative process. Examples of this include creative ways of making your food – think entertaining hydrogen icecream artists or hibachi chefs. Having an innovative process could also mean finding ways to make the same food better, faster, and more cost effective than other caterers.
- A slight edge. While some of the best marketing strategies are focused on you and your business, this one area relies on comparing yourself to the competition. If all your rival catering businesses offer the same three things, is there any way you could add a fourth option? Or improve on what’s already out there?
It doesn’t even have to be food related. A smooth and well organized booking, menu creation, and invoicing process might be just what your target market is craving.
Consider Local Marketing
Small business owners should always consider the customers they can appeal to in their very own neighborhoods. When referring to local marketing, we mean both digital and offline campaigns. There are lots of creative ways to market your catering business locally but here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Update your website’s SEO to include keywords that use your location.
- Form strategic partnerships with complementary businesses like art studios or convention centers.
- Host your own events for locals so they get a chance to enjoy your food and possibly get a discount on their first order just for attending.
You might be surprised at the sheer number of possibilities you have available just outside your front door. Local marketing can be a cost effective way to build your network regardless of how long you’ve been in business.
Refresh Your Catering Brand
If your catering business has been around for awhile it might be time to take another look at your brand. Your overall image might have leaned on certain messaging in the past. But now that your catering business has grown and improved, your branding should follow suit.
Reevaluate elements like your logo, brand colors, digital presence (including both your website and social media profiles), and any other place your business name exists.
Does it live up to current industry standards? Does it make you stand out in a good way? Does it represent where your catering business is going, not where it’s coming from? All of these questions and more are helpful when giving your brand a makeover.
Here are a few ways you can refresh your brand:
- Hire a local graphic designer to update your logo
- Update your website using Cvent Flex
- Add seasonal items to your menu options
- Try putting together a themed package(think classic brunch or avocado toast bar for a Millennial crowd)
- Revisit your mission statement. Rewrite the story of your company to something authentic to this latest iteration.
You might even find you quite like your branding and that it accurately depicts your business as it is now. If that’s the case, don’t change a thing! Just remember to schedule regular intervals for brand check-ins so you’ll always stay up to date.
Establish a Marketing Budget
How much should you be spending on marketing? For caterers and other small business owners, it’s a tough call. Your marketing budget has to include what you spend on day-to-day advertising (like paid social media posts) as well as long term campaigns.
While the choice is deeply personal, the Small Business Administration has provided a good rule of thumb. For most catering businesses, a marketing budget should be 7-8% of total yearly revenue. And if you’re just starting out, keep in mind that this percentage also includes what you have to spend on things like website creation and sales collateral.
No matter what your budget ends up being, there are lots of creative ways to market your catering business. Here are some of our favorites.
Explore catering marketing ideas
1. Join Professional Catering Associations
Catering organizations will often include helpful workshops on marketing, sales, and business management. They’ll also offer unique networking opportunities with potential clients. The three largest and most well known catering associations are the National Association for Catering and Events, the International Caterers Association, and the Association of Club Catering Professionals.
2. Team Up with Content Creators
Content creators include but are not limited to social media influencers, bloggers, and podcasters. All of these groups have their own brand and subject matter focus. Partner up with those who best align with your own marketing efforts so you appeal to a whole new group of people who might be interested in your catering services.
Here’s how to find the right people to promote your brand:
- BuzzSumo. This simple search tool lets you look up influencers by topic or domain and is best for finding content creators both on and off social media.
- Klear. Find influencers for any niche on Instagram, YouTube, and blogs.
- Podbay.fm. Although they primarily function as a way to listen to podcasts from all different platforms, Podbay ranks podcasts based on popularity by genre. Look for food related shows that frequently plug catering services in your region.
3. Monitor Online Review Sites
Yelp, Wedding Wire, and Cater Cow are just some of the websites where real customers go to review your business. Make sure that you address all reviews (both positive and not so positive) in a respectful and friendly manner. Also take the time to edit your profile so that it looks as clean and up to date as possible.
4. Add Your Company to Online Directories
There are directories that focus on vegan caterers, caterers by area, online catering food ordering, you name it. Take some time to add yourself to all the ones that offer this service for free. The more places your business name exists online, the better. Especially if you can control your audience’s first impression of it with informative descriptions and organized info.
Here are some online catering directories you should consider:
5. Use Social Media
Although it is time consuming, social media is always a great option for catering or any other small business type to get their name out there. Just be prepared to make a large up front investment for things like setting up your profile, finding accounts to follow, and doing the daily grind of interacting on the platform.
For catering businesses, make sure you at least consider adding a profile to each of the following sites:
- Facebook. Connect with friends, family, and acquaintances to book events with people who actually know you. Have them leave a review on your business page and share updates about your latest menu options and highlighted events.
- Instagram. Photos and videos from parties where your delicious food is on display will help more people discover you. You can also geotag each post to make it more discoverable for event planner near you.
- Pinterest. Event planners are a major source of business for caterers. And event planners in every industry love Pinterest, which is why sharing content on this platform can help you get more eyeballs on your brand.
- LinkedIn. If you’re more interested in winning over corporate clients, be sure to create a company and personal page to interact with B2C and B2B prospects.
Social media is a great long term approach to marketing. Here are a few social media ideas for event businesses that you could apply to your catering business.
6. Live Event Marketing
In addition to hosting your own tasting event for locals like we mentioned earlier, you can always join forces with other businesses to show off your goods. Wine stores, paint-on-pottery venues, and jewelry boutiques can be found in most neighborhoods. And chances are they’d love the opportunity to attract new clientele with a catered gathering. You can even use their testimonials for your marketing kit.
7. Upgrade Your SEO
You should make your website as search engine friendly as possible. It will help you get closer to the top of search results and get more eyeballs on your page. Starting a blog filled with reviews from past events, cooking tips, and featured services is just one of the many great ways to build your SEO. You should also consider updating rich snippets, web page metadata, and your keyword density on various areas of your website.
8. Try Video Marketing
Video marketing is a highly effective and visual way to show off your delicious menu. Make mouthwatering recipe tutorials or share practical advice clips on how to choose the best catering company for your next event. When it’s finished you can promote your content in email newsletters, on your website, and on social media.
9. Make Your Website More Effective
Your catering website is more than just a digital business card. It’s a powerful sales tool. Every element of your site should be focused on converting prospects. Give them lots of ways to book your services with well placed CTAs. Clean up your digital presence and make it easier for new clients to work with you using our event website optimization ideas.
The key to choosing an effective catering marketing idea is to do what’s right for your unique business. Also keep in mind that it’s okay to experiment. Once you find something that works, stick to it and discard the rest.
10. Focus on repeat business.
According to RJ Metrics, businesses make 300% more of their income on repeat customers than they make from one off or first-time clients. So if you’re just getting started with your catering business, try one of the following tactics to get (and keep) your customer base:
- Offer a discount when customers pay deposits for more than one event at the same time. The standard discount rate for catering special offers is 10% off.
- Create segmented email lists based on both order frequency (once a year/holidays/etc.) and occasion (corporate luncheon/birthday parties/etc.). Send each group a customized message with free event specific tips they’ll find useful. Also make sure to time the emails out properly (three to six months before the annual New Year’s party, one month before their next birthday party, etc.).
- Host a party for your most loyal customers. Treat them to free drinks and let them sample your newest menu items. Give them exclusive packages or discounts if they book their next event with you that same evening.
Final Thoughts: Catering Marketing Plan
Making your own catering marketing plan can be intimidating at first. But as long as you continue to educate yourself on the process, you really can’t go wrong. Here are some additional points to consider:
- You have lots of options. Money and time are the resources that determine how you market your catering business. But regardless of how much you have of either, there are lots of ways to get your name out there and attract new clients. A little creativity and some elbow grease can go a long way.
- Choose a mix of both digital and in-person strategies. Having a presence both on and offline will help you reach a greater number of prospects faster. Just make sure the monitor the progress of all your marketing efforts on a regular basis and make tweaks where necessary.
- Your network is your greatest marketing resource. Which is why tactics like local marketing and strategic partnerships are so important. For catering businesses, it’s all about who you know but also who knows you.
Regardless of how you choose to create your catering marketing plan or what catering marketing ideas you go with, keep in mind that it’s all about bringing people together to enjoy delicious food and good company. Remembering this will help alleviate some of the pressure and allow you to craft a truly stellar marketing plan.
And while you’re at it, don’t forget Social Table’s Event Catering Software!
Maria is a freelance writer specializing in B2B SaaS, technology, and events.