Corporate Catering Business: How to Find and Close More Leads

Corporate catering gigs are the ideal food truck revenue source. As revenue streams go, catering is a huge part of successful food trucks because you understand going into an event how many covers you will serve, and exactly how much money you will make. It is up to the food truck owner to execute and minimize waste.

Corporate catering is nearly identical, except in two key ways. Many corporate catering gigs turn into repeat business. Businesses are often less price sensitive than individuals meaning each event can be more profitable.

Imagine if I told you that you could have clients that make up a large portion of your income and contributed to your income stream in regular intervals. You would be able to plan all your monthly vending around these customers and essentially they could cover all your expenses before you tackled local events, regular service, and other food truck sales. That’s the power of securing corporate catering clients.

When S’wich It Up first got started, we met a high profile real estate agent doing a large pet adoption fair. Building a connection with a local real estate agent led to two major benefits for our business.

First we became the go to food truck for animal nonprofit events, which turns out there are a lot of. We also became a go to for real estate professionals. This manifested itself in many different ways: we catered open houses, private dinners, office meetings, etc.

As we catered real estate events around the city, we continued to be introduced to an even wider network of people that discovered our catering services. Things began to naturally snow ball as we gradually became a popular catering option for folks in the real estate industry.

s'wich it up
The S’wich It Up Food Truck in action.

How to Build Your Own Corporate Client List

Now the idea of getting a lot base of corporate catering leads all sounds simple and it is. But the process of developing this business requires a lot of work too. Like any catering event sale, securing these high-value clients means building a relationship that meets the needs of your customer first.

Building a corporate catering business is all about who you know. In order to reel in corporate clients, you need to establish a relationship with someone in the organization first. There are a variety of ways we’ve had built these relationships over time.

Sometimes you will meet an employee during one of your normal shifts, or at an event. In this scenario, an employee will ask you about catering options and ask questions about how you operate your business. This means they are interested in what you do, and enjoy your food. Your job is to find out what they do, who they are in the organization, and what needs they have that you can help solve. Sometimes this employee is a decision maker, and sometimes they are not. In either case, you should get their contact information and follow up with them within one business day (if not immediately). Show them that you are responsive and customer oriented.

Believe it or not, a lot of really successful food truck owners don’t rely on daily service to cover much more than their expenses. Often serving lunch at a park or other other venue is intended to do nothing more than to break even.

The same goes for large city events too. While you want every daily service to be profitable, each time you go out to serve your food is another opportunity to advertise your catering business and meet more people.

As a result, it’s critical you deliver great food and customer service even at smaller events. You never know who is going to be eating a your truck that could end up being a major generator of business down the line.

Imagine a long line of corporate catering gigs like this one!

In a really lucky turn of events, S’wich It Up secured a gig doing a catered lunch shift at a conference for sound engineers in the movie industry. We quickly showed that we were one of the most professional food trucks in town and very responsive to our customer needs. So, people in the movie industry started booking us to cater their shoots.

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Similar to the real estate agent, folks working in the entertainment industry got to know us and began referring us to their friends. It’s important to understand the different networks that exist in your city and find a way to break into those communities. Typically, people know other people that are just like them. For example, real estate agents know other people that do real estate. Doctors know other employees in the healthcare industry and so on.

We happen to own a food truck, but a caterer or restaurant owner can follow the same process to attract more corporate catering leads in the exact same way. If you are a caterer try doing some events at weekend farmer’s markets to get your name out. If you are a restaurant owner, offer free meeting space in a banquet room to a local non-profit that key community members are involved with. If you add value to others, you’ll ultimately get more business in return.

How to Actively Generate Corporate Catering Leads

You can also be more active in your client recruitment process. One way to do that is to work high profile events and conferences where you will interact with a lot of businesses. Not only will you be reaching a large audience of consumers, but many of those customers are working booths for organizations which are staffed by key employees (outreach or marketing managers) that have pull within the organization. Because this type of service is an event, these clients offer you double duty: you can cater their office for events, activities, meetings, AND you can secure more public events.

For example, many nonprofits host events within the realm of their nonprofit (mostly fundraising and awareness type of events). By participating in these events, you associate yourself with these causes and they invite you to vend at their next event. Additionally, other businesses participating invite you to vend at their events as well. And now you are on your way to cornering the market within that group.

You can be even more active in your search for corporate clients, by being direct. You can network at events like the ones described above by speaking directly with employee participants and asking them what their catering needs are, discussing services you offer, and how you can help them over their current choice. Being even more direct, you can directly reach out to local companies (cold-calling) and try to discuss their current needs and how you can best their current option.

Each of these methods aren’t meant to be an end-all be-all path to securing clients, but are meant to illustrate the spectrum of engagement from totally passive to completely active. There isn’t one sure tactic to building a client list of corporations, but by diversifying your tactics you can build a well-rounded portfolio of clients that can prop your income streams and propel you to the next level of catering.

Doors up on the food truck.

Be Responsive and Friendly When a Catering Prospect Calls.

When a catering prospect calls or emails, you should be take two key actions to help close the deal:

  • Responding in a timely manner. Within 24 hours would be ideal, whenever possible.
  • Be friendly and interested in the customer that’s reaching out to you.

This may seem too obvious to state, but you would be surprised at the number of other caterers and food truck owners that don’t return calls. I’ve heard on more than one occasion in my area that the business owner is “too busy” to respond to prospects that aren’t serious.

The problem with that mentality is that it leaves a bad taste in the mouth of anyone that calls or emails your business. Imagine if you called a plumber to come to your house and they didn’t respond to your call or email. Would you try to get back in touch with them or would you simply call the next plumber you find in Google. You’ll probably move on to the next guy and not give it much thought.

There’s a deeper issue that goes beyond a prospect simply calling another caterer. If you don’t call the person back, it’s essentially telling the prospect you don’t care about them. If you aren’t able to call them back when there’s a catering inquiry on the line, how can they be sure you’ll follow through with a catering event either? And why would they ever refer you to other people in the future? Bottom line, it’s a bad impression for people to have about your small business when you don’t return calls and emails.

In conclusion, the last thing that you need to understand about building a dependable list of corporate catering clients will take time. The key is to being consistent on whatever client building approach you decide to take. While the advise is simple, providing great food, customer service, getting your name out there in local events, and being responsive to customers is always what yields the best results in the long run.

About Support Staff

Brett Lindenberg is the founder of Food Truck Empire and Food Empire Pro. Brett's mission is help to entrepreneurs start and grow profitable food businesses. Since 2014, Brett has interviewed over 100 entrepreneurs on the Food Empire Pro podcast and written hundreds of blog posts on all aspects of food business. Brett has been quoted in media outlets like Entrepreneur Magazine, CNBC, and The Washington Post.