Marketing Tips for Catering Businesses: Old School Meets New School

catering business marketing graphic

In a crowded industry such as catering, marketing is extremely important, but not all marketing is created equal. You may feel as if you need to be a digital marketing expert to compete in today’s economy, but the truth is a mix of both digital and in-person marketing activities can be most beneficial for caterers and small businesses who often take a DIY approach. Below you’ll find 10 catering business marketing ideas, but before you begin, start with some tried and true strategising to help focus your efforts and resources. Create your catering marketing plan in four easy steps.

4 steps to create your catering marketing plan

1) Layout and document your marketing goals

No matter if you’re just starting out or have an established catering business, detailing goals for your marketing efforts will help you determine what marketing channels and costs are appropriate. You’ll want to document your goals so you can refer back to them periodically to see what channels are and are not performing, and make adjustments as needed. When setting your catering marketing goals, but sure they are SMART goals:

S – Specific

M – Measurable

A – Attainable

R – Relevant

T – Time-bound

For example, a non-SMART goal would be “get more customers.” Translating that into a SMART goal could be “increase the number of inbound catering quote requests by 10% every month.” This goal checks all 5 criteria of being “SMART,” but you’ll also need a way to monitor monthly inbound quote requests while also seeing what channels are bringing in those leads. Attribution of where your leads and sales come from is just as important as your initial goal setting, as there’s no use setting goals if you can’t monitor if you’ve achieved them. Without SMART goals and proper monitoring, catering businesses could end up wasting their precious marketing dollars.

2) Narrow down your target market 

Theoretically, caterers’ target market is anyone who likes food, but this isn’t specific enough to help determine how you will reach and communicate to those who are actually purchasing your catering services. To begin narrowing down your target market, try listing out the following details about your ideal (if just starting out) or most common (if well-established) customers (note that you may have or want multiple target markets, but to start out try to define your top 3 or less):

  • General age range
  • Where they are located
  • Frequency of orders
  • Type of catering/events they order
  • Specific dietary requirements
  • Any feedback you’ve received
  • Services requested
  • Order amount (item and dollar amount)
  • How they heard about you

Once you’ve defined your key target markets, you can start to understand how and where they get their information and tailor your marketing activities accordingly.

3) Define your competitive advantage 

Chances are you’ve gotten into the catering industry because you can offer customers something others cannot. And that’s how you want to position yourself within your marketing communications. But how exactly do you articulate your “X factor”? Try answering some of the below questions to get your started:

  • Is there anything markedly different about your business? Woman- or veteran-owned? Super specific catering, such as full kosher, vegan or all locally sourced? 
  • Do you incorporate any innovative or sustainable practices? Food recycling or composting? On-site full animal roasts? 
  • What are your unique selling points? Same-day and home delivery? Partnership pop-ups with locally aligned businesses? Loyalty programs?

Once you know what makes your catering business special, you can craft your marketing messages and tactics to reflect and best promote those points.

4) Know your marketing budget and review constantly

Viewing marketing as a key profit centre of your catering business is vital to ensuring you’re staying within budget, spending your marketing dollars wisely and not squandering opportunities. Setting your market budget is an important step, as it will help you familiarise yourself with your marketing ROI and expenditures that fall in that category, such as website development and hosting, sales collateral and branding costs.

How much you decide to spend on marketing is ultimately a personal choice, but there are many reliable resources to help benchmark your business, your goals and your performance so you’re not overextending yourself or stunting your growth. For example, The U.S. Small Business Administration recommends spending 7-8% of your gross revenue on marketing if you’re doing less than $5 million yearly sales. 

Regardless of what your marketing budget ends up being, we’ve put together 10 high-impact marketing ideas that blend together old school and new school strategies so you can set your catering business apart from the pack.

10 catering business marketing ideas to grow sales

Note that these ideas are assuming your catering business already has it’s branding set and assets created, a website and social media profiles.

1) Target local SEO on your website

If you serve only one or a few geographical areas, try adding the names of those locations to your website to increase your organic search rankings for people looking in your area. For example, if your catering business works throughout San Francisco county, try adding “San Francisco Bay Area catering” to the main description on your website. 

2) Make friends with the locals 

Does your target customer frequent local farmers markets? Try setting up a stand offering free tasters of your most popular items and bring brochures or business cards to hand out. Are there tangent businesses, such as wedding/event venues, florists or event rental companies in your area? Try bringing in some free catering to their business to introduce yourself and ask if they’d consider promoting your services if you promote theirs to mutual customers. 

3) List your business on popular directories 

Convenience and accessibility are the queen and king of being able to connect with your target audiences. And unfortunately, not every customer is willing or even able to spend the time to research individual caterers for their needs. So instead, ensuring your business is listed where customers are looking could seriously help boost sales. For example, if you offer wedding catering, listing your business on directories such as Wedding Wire or Honeyfund can help potential customers find you more easily. 

4) Run targeted social media ads and publish your menu on social marketplaces

Do you have mouth-watering photos or videos of your catering? $50 to spend? Then you have what it takes to run a targeted social media ad! Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest have made it incredibly easy for businesses to run paid advertising campaigns on their platforms, even just a simple “boosted post” if you regularly post content to your pages. 

To ensure you’re not casting too wide of a net, take the details about your target market from your marketing plan and enter them into the audience section of your boosted post/ad, such as age range, location and interests. The more specific the better! Choose photos or a video that best represent your catering and add some text that details what you want your viewer to do; i.e. “follow this link,” “online ordering now available,” or “request a quote now.” Then sit back and monitor performance.

To ensure your customers can easily find your services and even purchase them, consider publishing your menu on social marketplaces such as Google Retail, Facebook Marketplace and Instagram Shopping, which is known as “social commerce.” On these platforms you’re able to upload your catering catalogue complete with pricing, descriptions and clickable actions for your customers to move through the buying journey directly on these websites. There are many resources available online regarding how to set these marketplaces up, a simple online search will set you on the right path.

5) Partner with content creators or influencers

In today’s crowded marketplace, customers are increasingly listening to influencers and content creators for their information. Whether it be a social media personality, blogger or podcaster, finding the right spokesperson to feature your business could create quality traction with new customers. But it’s important to find someone who aligns with your industry, services and target market. To find a content creator or influencer to work with, check out websites like BuzzSumo or NinjaOutreach.

6) Run competitions or limited time promotions 

There are many ways and ideas for catering businesses to run competitions and promotions, but it all comes down to how you can best communicate with your target market. For example, if you have a physical store and foot traffic is high during weekdays, perhaps putting out a sandwich board sign promoting your services or competition could work. Or if you have a decent following on social media, you can run a competition for free office catering for any one that follows your account and tags a friend. Growing your brand awareness is an important part of the marketing funnel.

7) Reward repeat business 

Understand how you can not just monitor, but reward repeat business through loyalty and referral programs. Punch cards such as “buy X, get the Xth free” are still alive and well, but adding a digital spin to them could be more convenient for your customers. Additionally, offering discounts to customers who refer business to you can encourage repeat purchases while simultaneously bringing in new business. The power of word-of-mouth marketing should never be discounted.

8) Hit the pavement with printouts

If your target market is located in a geographically close area, take a page out of the old school marketing playbook; create some quality printouts detailing your catering services, contact details and even a promotion to entice customers, and drop them off in residential and/or business mailboxes. Be sure to include a way to track the printouts performance, such as a specific promo code to be used at checkout, so you can monitor your success.

9) Work with a marketing agency or freelancer

The nature of catering is very demanding, so sometimes the best money spent on marketing is bringing in outside help that specialises in it. Depending on the size of your business, hiring a full on marketing agency may not make financial sense, but if it does, make sure the agencies you engage have specific experience in the catering industry, as well as local knowledge of your target market. If you’re looking for a more cost effective avenue, hiring a freelancer to help with specific marketing activities, such as social media management, web design or campaign management could be your best bet. There are many freelancer websites out there, such as Upwork and Freelancer, of which you can compare portfolios, hourly rates and locations.

10) Implement catering software with CRM features

To ensure your marketing dollars are well spent, it could be more beneficial for your overall business to purchase catering software that offers you a complete package in terms of business operations and marketing. Catering software such as FoodStorm can provide you with a catering-specific eCommerce website with website builder features to host your content, blogs and SEO efforts; social media marketplace integration to maximise your reach and sales on all platforms; and customer relationship management tools to monitor repeat customers and send targeted marketing emails such as Abandoned Carts and personalised promotions. All of this in one software can help streamline your operations, simplify your processes and automate much of your administrative tasks.

Taking your catering business marketing to the next level

There are plenty of options and activities your catering business can participate in when it comes to marketing, which may feel intimidating. But by creating your marketing plan and understanding your goals, you will be able to determine the right mix of both digital and in-person marketing efforts. 

Regardless of your strategy, working with the right partners can make or break your catering business. FoodStorm Catering Software can help automate your processes while boosting sales and delighting your customers. Contact us today for your free demo.

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