The Right Fit: Determining if Potential Clients Are Right for You

As we kick into high gear for wedding and gala season we know many of you will be running off to a grand event, or two, this weekend. Some of you may be loving all the new business you’ve been getting and a few of you may be starting to feel a little overwhelmed, wondering why you said yes to so. many. events. If you are the “so. many. events.” person you should be patting yourself on the back for growing your business. Many caterers dream of having so many inquiries they have to start saying “no.” The question is, how do you know when to say no and when to pull out the pen for them to sign on the dotted line?

Think back to the first days you opened your catering doors, what was your goal? If you’re like most, the goal was probably pretty general and along the lines of “get people to book me for catered events.” As you’ve grown through the years and have catered hundreds, if not thousands, of events you’ve picked up on some knowledge about the industry, the type of events you want to work, and the clientele you want to work with. Use this knowledge! In the last two years, what were your most successful events? Who were your clients? What menu did you prepare? Find the common thread between the events you enjoyed and what made them successful. This is your niche event market.

Finding a niche market is great for your catering business plan. If making amuse-bouches for black tie events makes your heart flutter then stick to taking clients on the gala end of catering inquiries. If you enjoy backyard barbecues and working in a more relaxed environment, then focus on attracting the catered-cookout crowd. Working in these niches helps showcase your style and helps you become the preferred vendor of choice for these style events. People can always tell when others are doing what they love and your clients will be able to see your enjoyment and confidence in your catering.

If you’re making a transition from general catering to niche catering, the first step will be turning down business that does not fit into your specialized catering market. We know, how could anyone tell you to turn down business?! It’s going to be hard, but to grow in the event area you want you’ll have to say “no” to an event or two. There are several ways to determine if the client inquiring for your services is the right fit for you. Start by getting ahead of the inquiry. Tell potential clients what it is that you do upfront on your social media and website. If you are a pitmaster and love barbecue style weddings, say so and say it in detail. Keeping your language general keeps your business general.

Another great way to pre-qualify clients is to have them fill out an inquiry form online. If people want to inquire for a quote or a meeting, have their inquiry accompanied by a form with details about their event: style, food type, and total guest count. You can take it a step further and have a preset menu the inquirer can select from for their quote with a comments section in case they have questions. This tells them upfront what you offer and can help them determine if you’re a good fit for their event as well. This may seem counter intuitive, but if you are in demand this will save you time on the front end if people self determine they aren’t a fit for you.
Once you determine if an inquiry should turn into a client, set up a meeting to discuss details. This can include anything from defining the menu to making sure you all have the same ideas about the budget. Make sure you are getting paid what you are worth! If a potential client seems a little taken aback by your pricing, you all may not be a good fit for one another.

A good way to soften the rejection of turning down an event is to create a referral network. If you know fellow caterers who are in a similar niche but have different strengths (budget, crowd size, etc.) connect with them and ask if you all can use one another for referrals. It’s a lot easier to tell someone you aren’t a good fit for them if you can give them another option.