Catering is a great way to expand your customer base and increase sales. Even a small banquet room can do a tidy business, especially during the busy holiday and wedding seasons. Much of establishing a catering branch of your restaurant is similar to opening your restaurant – you need to have a menu, decide who your target audience is, and plan a marketing strategy to reach them.
Creating a Menu
The first step in establishing catering as one of your restaurant services is to write a specific catering menu. Even before that, you should get your hands on a copy of your competitors' catering menu. Check out their prices and menu items. Next, choose items you'd like to offer.
Some menu items are standard fare for catering menus, like crackers and cheese and crudité and dip. Along with these classics, you can add your own signature dishes; the ones that will set you apart from your competition. As you decide, choose dishes that will be easy to prepare ahead of time, in large quantities.
Stuffed chicken or haddock, pasta with sauce are all items that store well. Once you have your menu written, post it on your website and Facebook pages. Keep printed copies handy in your restaurant and distribute them around town at local businesses and chambers of commerce.
Establish Your Audience
When I catered, I also had a small banquet room that sat about 70 people. At its peak, that room would be filled four to five days a week, sometimes even six. We did everything from business lunches, to all-day meetings during weekdays.
In the evenings, we would turn the room for a rehearsal dinner (which can be as lucrative as a wedding, if done properly) on a Friday night, turn it again for a small wedding or a class reunion on Saturday, and a turn it yet again for a baby shower brunch on Sunday morning.
Even though none of the events were huge, they added significant sales to the restaurant. We did this by targeting a variety of different groups, from business people to families, to out of town guests looking for a local place to host an event. Word of mouth helped tremendously, and we had a lot of repeat businesses from the same groups, year after year.
Link up with other local businesses that could benefit from your catering. For example, if you want to offer small, intimate wedding receptions, partner with a local bed and breakfast to offer package deals for couples and their families.
Social Media Promotion
At each event, be sure to snap good quality photos of the buffet, plated meals, table settings, and of guest enjoying themselves. Pictures speak louder than words and you can use them as a savvy marketing tool on your social media sites.
Build Pinterest boards around weddings, parties, luncheons, etc. Tweet about upcoming events or reminders for patrons to book their special events early, as dates go fast. The bonus of social media is that it’s free.