Since traditional advertising isn't an effective way to find catering clients, you'll need other, more creative ways to tell people what you do. Corpening and Barber kicked off their business with a party where several hundred people, including friends and business contacts, sampled their talents. "We got three orders that very night, and were off and running," Corpening says. Carlino sent letters to companies telling them he could cater parties or business functions. Albanese publishes a newsletter and has a web site. You should also get the word out to social halls and event planners who can make referrals.
As their companies grow, many caterers develop offshoots of the core business. Albanese and her 34-year-old sister, Lorin Laxton, company vice president, have developed software for caterers, while Corpening and Barber have written three books, Smoothies: 50 Recipes for High-Energy Refreshments, Wraps: Easy Recipes for Handheld Meals (Chronicle Books, $15.95 and $14.95 respectively, 800-722-6657) and Simplify Entertaining (Reader's Digest, $17.95, 800-310-6261).
Despite the challenges, most caterers thrive on the adrenaline rush each day holds. "Even though I've been in business for 10 years," Albanese says, "I still get excited about going to work in the morning."
Where can you market your catering business, anyway? Here are a few prime targets:
- corporate functions (including conventions, business meetings and training sessions)
- parties on tour boats, buses or trains
- beach parties, lobster-bakes, clambakes
- birthday parties
- bar or bat mitzvahs
- golf tournaments, fun runs, charity sporting events
- corporate jets
- hotel openings, book signings, barbecues
- grocery stores and gourmet specialty shops
- other caterers
Ready to get started as a caterer? These resources can help:
- Consultants: CaterSource, (773) 975-8446 or http://www.catersource.com , can refer you to cooking schools, information sources and potential mentors.
- Membership organizations: National Association of Catering Executives, (847) 480-9080; National Caterers Association, (800) NCA-0029.
- Cooking schools: Peter Kump's New York Cooking School, (800) 522-4610; Florida Culinary Institute, (800) 826-9986; Scottsdale Culinary Institute, (800) 848-2433.
- Books and publications: Most caterers rely on consumer-oriented books and magazines for ideas. Top titles include Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites, by The Moosewood Collective, Bon Appetit magazine, Food and Wine magazine and Martha Stewart's Living magazine.
Pamela Rohland is a freelance writer whose work appears regularly in national and regional publications.