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Market to the right people
The centerpiece of Milk Street Café’s grand catering success stands its “Brownie Points” program.
Aimed at corporate administrative assistants, the lunchtime decision makers in many company offices, the 10-year-old program allows participants to accumulate points redeemable at any number of Milk Street Café’s local partners, including spas, hotels, and florists. Administrative assistants also get a free lunch for themselves when they place any order over $200.
Eager to make the administrative assistants look competent in the eyes of management, Milk Street provides an e-mail confirmation of each order alongside its arrival time. The details help ensure a winning situation.
“They make one call and we take care of the rest,” Epstein says. “That level of responsiveness and service is absolutely critical.”
Indeed, marketing to those with decision-making power is a key part to attracting private party or catering business.
With the 200,000-square-foot Anaheim Convention Center nearby, Bruno Serato, owner of the Anaheim White House in California, has fostered a working relationship with center personnel spanning 25 years. With 10 private rooms and an award-winning reputation, Serato provides the environment many convention groups seek.
“The business accounts will spend money and return, which is precisely why you go after them,” he says.
Serato’s eatery will also hold B-to-B events, such as convention cocktail hours, to further entrench itself in the minds of prospective clientele. He also regularly hosts charity events, which showcase the restaurant to a broad base and build community goodwill.
“These types of events move us to the top of the list for future events,” Serato says, noting that professional parties have sparked wedding rehearsal dinners, retirement happy hours, and baby showers.
Seek opportunity and openings
Opportunities to attract private party and catering business remain abundant, albeit for those with strategy and purpose.
Some operators send personalized notes to area nonprofits; others reach out to sports teams and clubs at local high schools and colleges, most of whom have end-of-the-year banquets. Many operators interface with other businesses that host large groups and need good-quality food, such as bowling centers, park districts, and universities.
Schroeder belongs to her local chamber of commerce as well as Travel Portland, which markets the Rose City’s travel profile. Both organizations field frequent requests for private event space and catering. In many communities, groups such as Kiwanis, Rotary, and the Lions Club assemble for regular meetings.
“Be an ambassador for your brand and get involved,” Standlee says. “Being active will help generate business.”
Other groups often in need of private dining space or catering include pharmaceutical companies, marketing firms, associations, and insurance carriers. Though they potentially can be touchy, some eateries will even host political gatherings, a particularly apropos subject as the 2012 election season nears. Though donors may not be able to donate directly to a candidate, they might finance a fundraising event.
Inside the restaurant, train wait staff to sell catering and private party space, particularly to groups of six or more. Also, advertise private party and catering capabilities in the dining room with table tents. Extend that communication to the restaurant website, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
“Generating private party or catering business is so often a matter of planting seeds,” Standlee says. “People need to know you can do this, so make a point to tell them.”