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Understanding Your Catering Brand

The focus of re-opening in the hospitality business has been on the restaurant industry where main street shops and chains have been operating through take-out and delivery by serving a limited number of guests. The return has been slow, steady and manageable. However, what does the pipeline look like for caterers?  How are companies going to get back to the business of weddings and serving social gatherings such as picnics, employee appreciation and community events? 

When the time comes, caterers will be eager to get back to creating memories and serving a particular need in our society to gather in large groups. With dramatically reduced corporate business through networking, conferences and domestic travel, the saturation of caterers, and not just independent off-premises caterers but also hotels, banquet halls and other venues, will all be racing to capture the other events consumers may want to have. 

Capturing a limited number of events will be harder as competition between the remaining caterers will be challenging. What will it take for caterers, especially in larger more saturated markets to stand out and have a chance to regain some of their previous revenue levels?

There are several strategies to think about.

Provide transparency

As consumers gain confidence and make the decision to engage a caterer, they will be in a position to accept more than one proposal. Caterers have the opportunity to create a differentiator by being fully transparent. The days of “burying or hiding” expenses in proposals or adding ambiguous service fees to make up sales for undervalued and underpriced services such as food and beverage are over. By showing all of your expenses and detailing the specifics of your offerings allows you to level the playing field. Let potential customers really know what they are getting for the price you are proposing. 

Sell the relationship

Now more than ever, the personal relationship built with each client to understand their needs is first and foremost. Listening and understanding exactly what they need and can afford is the first step. We as caterers can’t decide what we think they want; our job is to sell our understanding of the business and the value of that expertise. This is something that can’t be listed as a line item on a proposal.

Less not more

Caterers and event planners are in the industry of making special moments occur. As we transition into the next phase of the catering industry, just having an event can be special. So why sell upgrades when white linen and china can do. Reducing your companies’ offerings and trimming down the complexity and number choices will lead to better margins. The concept of less is more, makes you ask the question, what can I take away and still make it great? Are three excellent choices better than five or six mediocre options. Caterers have in the past leveraged the ability to a sell a range of services from event design and rentals to staffing and food and beverage. Focusing on executing streamlined quality options will allow companies to focus on their preferred services. Caterers now have the ability to focus on what they really enjoy doing and do it well.


Caterers have an opportunity to work with other companies and partners that specialize in other event services. If the industry partners on shared production spaces, centralized and shared staffing, rental partnerships and beverage services, the industry as a whole can come back collectively verses driving away other companies that are in the same position of trying to survive.

Companies that are in a position to come back, will do so with a focused and compassionate plan to provide great hospitality and service one special event at a time.  


John Reed

Owner, Custom Culinary Solutions, Chicago, IL

John Reed is a professional chef with over 30 years’ experience. He is the owner of Customized Culinary Solutions, a culinary consulting firm located in the Chicago Northshore area. He works with restaurant, catering, and foodservice companies to provide the highest quality food possible. His contributions include menu and recipe development, emerging concept development, and transition management for companies introducing culinary and production software programs. His company specializes as an on-demand culinary department supporting out-sourced culinary project management.

An active member of the ACF, he has earned certifications as a Certified Executive Chef, Certified Culinary Administrator, and American Academy of...