Who are your potential catering clients? There are 3 broad categories of potential catering clients that you should look at in your catering business: social, corporate, and cultural.
Social catering is the kind that people are apt to think of when talk turns to “hiring the caterer.” Until recently this kind of catering was almost exclusively for very special events such as weddings, bar mitzvahs, and anniversaries. But increasingly people are using caterers for smaller and more informal parties. Caterers these days are called upon to prepare breakfast, lunch, or supper, as well as cocktail parties and buffet dinners for just about any occasion.
Social catering calls heavily on a person’s interpersonal skills, since it is the most intimate form. Clients are entertaining their friends, often in their homes. Frequently the events are important family events, and the client is interested in planning the party with the caterer. Many people find this aspect very rewarding because when the party is successful it means a great deal to the client. Keep in mind, however, that it can be a lot of work dealing with the concerns of the demanding customer.
Social catering is also the area that most often calls upon a caterer to exercise his or her creativity. I caterer must be aware that his clients are aware of current trends, and want to be at their crest.
Many caterers find the challenge of preparing their best and most innovative dishes for clients exciting. Others, however, prefer the relative safety that is expected in the second area of catering, the corporate.
Today, corporate catering is booming. Businesses large and small are increasingly hiring caterers to provide the food for advance ranging from board meetings to corporate conventions. Traditionally corporate catering was largely limited to office Christmas parties, but in recent years attitudes have changed and the market is growing rapidly. Caterers are also able to provide services that businesses cannot, such as valet parking, decorations, flowers, bar service, cleanup, and equipment rental.
Corporate catering and social catering alike can be done to fit most budgets, including inexpensive, moderate, and lavish. Common corporate events for caterers include breakfast, mid-morning breaks of coffee and fresh pastries, in-house working lunches, and more elaborate gala banquets and company picnics. They can also include ground-breaking and a ribbon-cutting ceremonies, product introductions, grand openings, VIP receptions, open houses, and potential events.
Corporate catering tends to be less personal than social catering. Since corporate parties rarely involve serving a clients emotional needs (as at a wedding or family celebration), corporate dates usually offer the caterer more latitude and require less creativity. Often the contact is made with a public-relations director, or administrator, or in small businesses with the office manager, boss’s assistant, or owner. The tendency is to leave more of the details of the party to the caterer, as planning of special advance is often in addition to other duties.
There is generally less interest in innovative dishes than with well-prepared, basic popular foods. One primary difference between social and corporate catering is that corporate parties are usually larger and the logistics are more difficult. That difficulty is often counterbalanced by the fact that corporate clients are generally less concerned with price and private clients, and more concerned with having the party done nicely.
The third distinctive area is cultural catering, and it is a mix of social and corporate. Cultural catering involves museums, orchestras, ballet companies, artistic and cultural foundations, and charities.
We all read about the fund-raising dinner dances for their local orchestra and cocktail parties and art show openings, but cultural catering also includes catering the lunch room for volunteers working at a charity book sale, or providing refreshments for working meetings. This is a natural area for caterers, especially since it provides high visibility. Many of the events are written up in newspapers which can offer valuable publicity.
Cultural parties are not personal like social parties, yet they aren’t strictly business either. The organizers of the events are often volunteers who themselves entertain, so there is about a 50-50 chance you will meet up with a client who will understand your job and leave you to do it or a semi pro who elects to interfere at every opportunity. Cultural groups often have limited budgets, like many social clients, yet like corporate clients, they are often less concerned with the truly imaginative meal than that the overall look be correct and appealing.
Each of these three main categories has its desirable aspects and its irritations. But most important, each has a need for good caterers. You may want to develop your business focusing on one group more than another, or you may find in your area the need among one is greater than the others; a mix of clients is probably best, at least starting out. But in the beginning, you will probably be happy to have any client, no matter what kind.