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Make Your Catering Marketing Plan Reality

Catering Marketing Plan Success

You’re sold on the idea of starting up a marketing planning process for your catering company. Or you think it’s time to improve the process you already have in place. What can you put into your catering marketing plan to turbo-charge its (and your) success?

Catering Advertising

Cheryl Bennett, general manager of Main Event Caterers, says that advertising can be a good tactic, with a good return on investment—but she urges catering companies to focus on targeted advertising. Mass media advertising, she says, costs a lot of money without attracting many customers. Main Event advertises in publications for specific event venues. They also advertise in bridal and corporate magazines read by their target markets and invest in premium listings at very targeted websites like

There’s also online marketing. For example, Bennett’s company has upgraded its website as part of its marketing program. This involved working with outside professionals to achieve the right look and feel. Search engine optimization strategies were applied to the site to make sure that potential new customers could find Main Event Caterers online.

Main Event also lists itself on any free website it can find that has something to do with catering. “There are also really good targeted websites that will let you list your information for a pittance,” Bennett says.

Catering Marketing Through Face Time

Equally important and effective are techniques that allow for face time—those that remind potential customers of you and make it more likely that they’ll think of you the next time they’re looking for a caterer. These include events like bridal fairs and tastings and professional and networking society memberships.

Small business owner Sonal Goda points to the importance of face time in boosting business, especially when companies are just starting out. “In the beginning, more of your marketing should actually be what I would call prospecting, which is face-to-face or phone methods—things that require more time than money,” she says. “These methods have a much higher rate of return than marketing to people that you don't know. Make a list of the types of people that have been hiring you, then start figuring out how you can connect with that set of people in person.”

Bennett reports that Main Event participates not only in bridal fairs, but also in fairs for market segments like attorneys and architects. These segments regularly have conferences and meetings requiring event coordination and planning, and so they invite vendors in to showcase the services they can provide. “We also participate in event venue open houses,” Bennett says.

“Most catering companies will do occasional group bridal tastings,” Bennett says. “I think one of the things that has helped our business grow is we have taken a similar sort of event and reached out to the corporate community and the venues and we have created a similar type of event just for those people. We’re bringing in and wooing the venues that haven’t been referring us as many clients as they once did.” Bennett recommends this technique to other catering companies. “You might only be having 10 or 20 people at a time, but those are good, really qualified leads.”

Catering Professional Groups

Bennett suggests investing in membership in professional groups like the International Special Event Society (ISES) and the Special Event Site Marketing Alliance (SESMA). ISES is a society with a membership of more than 7,200 special event professionals (and professionals in affiliated fields like catering) around the world. SESMA develops cooperative marketing programs that promote its members’ special events sites to meeting/event professionals and wedding planners across the country. Caterers can join as associate members.

Main Event is also part of Destination DC, an organization that markets DC as a conference and event site to people, companies and organizations. Bennett suggests that caterers join any local destination management organizations near them as part of their marketing program. “Both SESMA and Destination DC have great classes that they offer,” Bennett says. “There’s a lot that you get with the membership. Joining these sorts of organizations and utilizing their expertise is another form of marketing.” Bennett also suggests that catering companies also invest in memberships in their local chambers of commerce and boards of trade.

Goda suggests that caterers—and anyone in business—think thoroughly and honestly about their interests, preferences and limits on time and money in deciding on tactics for their marketing plans. “You’ll be exposed to a lot of ideas if you’re looking for ideas,” she says. “It’s important not to get too caught up in feeling like you should do things. The best idea is the one that you’ll actually do.”

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