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Posted On July 22, 2015 by Susan Pupa

Building Catering & Event Partnerships

Gaining customers is one of the most important pieces to building your business. “Duh,” you’re probably thinking. Of course you want and need customers to grow your business. Who else will be ordering and eating your food? And you’re correct – the customers will be eating the food in the end, but there’s another group of people you have to consider attracting – partners. “Partners,” you say, “what kind of partners?” Partners are open entities, meaning they don’t have their own on-site catering staff, that can refer you as a caterer – vineyards, breweries, museums, bakeries, and the list goes on and on.

These partners can help build your business just as well as customers who come straight to you. In fact, they may actually bring you more business. Many times, the first thing people planning an event do is choose their venue first, usually looking to figure out if they have to find a caterer at all or if the venue provides one. People who click with a venue’s event planner will likely listen to their suggestion on caterers. They value the venue’s expertise. By building partnerships with these establishments you can become top of mind as a catering option. People who may have otherwise never heard of you and had to rely on internet searches hear firsthand from a trusted source that you are the caterer they should have.

Building these partnerships can be a little tricky. First, you should establish if you are a good fit for the venue. If you are a high-end caterer serving $15 a piece hor d’oeuvres you may not be the best fit for a laid back beer garden with picnic tables and polished concrete floors. You may look more into museums, historic plantations, or vineyards. Now, here’s the tricky part; once you’ve established that you would be a good fit for that particular venue you can do one of two things – go the casual route or the business route. Depending on the venue you can casually go into on your own on a Tuesday in a I’m-totally-not-here-on-business kind of way to have a glass of wine or browse the paintings. On your way out ask to speak to someone for event management. This way you can: A. Make sure you do have the same style. B. You can say that you enjoyed your visit and would be interested in working with them in the future on an event. If you get the chance to speak with someone, keep it short, offer your business card and ask if you could have a more formal meeting another time.

If you have a connection to the venue you can go the more business route. Ask for an introduction from a friend if that’s a possibility. If you’ve previously met the event manager you can put in a friendly phone call or send an email to request a formal meeting to speak more in depth about opportunities to work together. Upon your meeting, provide them with price sheets for your services; let them know what your expertise is in (barbeque, high end catering, southern, seafood, etc.). This approach is more direct but can still be friendly.

Our greatest tip for building partnerships is to be friendly and genuine. To establish long partnerships you have to establish solid relationships. Being reliable, professional, and friendly will take you a long way in building your partnerships. These people can help grow your business if you develop a positive, reliable relationship. Go forth and find friends, or at least good business partners.

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Posted On July 17, 2015 by John Cohen

Tips for New Caterers

Being a new caterer can be hard. Well, not “can be,” it is hard. No matter how much you plan, there are experiences you haven’t had yet which makes it hard to plan for them. We’ve known a lot of new caterers, though, and we’ve heard a lot of new caterer’s stories. Here are a few tips we’ve gathered from our first go ‘round caterers.

5 new caterers software tips

 

Image credits: The Noun Project – Paone Creative (Lettuce), Arthur Shlain (plates)

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Posted On July 9, 2015 by John Cohen

Optimize Your Website for Mobile Use

Have you ever been on a website where the font was so small you had to pinch your fingers in and out on your screen to make the font legible? Or have you been to a site where you can actually read the words (yay) but you have to scroll both up and down and left to right (boo)? This seems simple right, scrolling left to right, what’s the big deal? Well, much like the turn in the 2000’s where people slowly stopped using Flash in exchange for HTML5 on their websites; people will start bouncing out of non-mobile optimized websites. Once people realized they didn’t have to double click into websites or listen to annoying music play while they scrolled for content on a black website with lime green font, they didn’t. They moved to cleaner websites that were easier to read and access. That’s exactly what viewers are doing now with websites when it comes to viewing them on mobile. If it’s not easy, they move on.

The big question now: how do we stop them from moving on? Making your website mobile friendly is one of the best ways to keep your bounce rate low. What do we mean “mobile friendly”? Mobile friendly implies that a website is set up to scale to the proper orientation and screen size of the device the customer is viewing your website from. This may mean having a slightly different look by rearranging icons, content, and menu bars. For example, view a website on your desktop or laptop and then try to view that same website on your mobile device. What are the differences you see? Does the menu bar look different; has some of the content moved or even disappeared from the home screen? These are all changes due to building a more mobile optimized website.

Making this change may require the use of an expert. If you choose to hire an expert to mobile optimize your website be sure to check their credentials and ask for samples of work.

If you have recently built your own website or feel that you can venture this update on your own, Google provides several tools to help you create a mobile friendly version of your website, including a tool to check if you are already mobile friendly. Hey, you may not even know it! If you’ve used websites like Wix or Squarespace to build your website recently, they have built in tools to help you design and organize your website specifically for mobile. Often there is a way to toggle between phone, tablet, and desktop size views at the top or to the left of the screen.

While this may seem like a backburner change, it should become a priority. People shopping for catering services may be leaving non-mobile friendly sites for those that are easier to use. With more than half of people accessing websites from their mobile devices it is important to view this change as an investment, as the use of mobile will only continue to grow. Don’t be left scrambling to catch up. Invest in your business by keeping up with technology.

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Posted On July 1, 2015 by John Cohen

Catering for the Fourth of July

It’s just a few days until our most patriotic holiday. Let’s give a big shout for the red, white and blue! Fourth of July cookouts can be anything from a high end not-so-casual event to a down-home comfort cookout.

Many times these events include food cut into stars and lots of little flags combined with dishes made of whip cream, blueberries, and strawberries. Not every dish has to be dusted with shapes or food in the patriot color scheme, though.  Themed events are a great time to let your creativity shine.  We know that catering isn’t just about the food anymore, either. It’s about the style you bring to an event. Here are a few ideas to help inspire your Fourth of July events.

A Rustic Fourth

The rustic look has been in for a while for weddings but it can be carried over to other events as well. Think of it as catering for our great forefathers. No overly fancy serving dishes but no paper plates either. It’s your in-between a Hampton’s celebration and neighborly backyard barbeque; the middle ground between fine china and Chinet. You can mix patterns of red, white, or blue without having to include stars or stripes. Use more wood and less ceramic for centerpieces and leave tables exposed when styling a buffet or table.
Style: Mixed floral prints, wood and lace, exposed tables, flowers, handwritten signs

Mini Pies

Photo Credit: Colin Cowie Weddings
Wood and Lace Table
Photo Credit: Celebrating Everyday Life
A Modern Picnic

Jazz up the typical cookout with a modern feel. Bring white frames with graphic designed images for labeling food or stations. You can also wrap beverages in graphic labels and buy geometric printed hotdog boats instead of the good ol’ white paper boats.
Style: Geometric prints, san serif fonts, simple patterns, clean lines, printed signs

hot dog station

Photo Credit: Hostess with the Mostess

hot dog and soda

Photo Credit: The Idea Room

The Classic Patriot

And for those who just can’t say no to a good red, white, and blue extravaganza you can have a classic July 4th decorated event. It’s a simple mix of large white elements like buckets or lanterns with flags of all sizes throughout the tables. Don’t forget your U.S.A themed foods – blueberry and strawberry fruit trays and firework colored cocktails.
Style: Simple large décor, no food labels, red, white and blue, flags galore, fresh flowers

Patriotic Table

Photo Credit: MODwedding

Have a happy and safe holiday!

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Posted On June 25, 2015 by John Cohen

Why Caterers Want Wedding Coordinators

Have you ever been prepping for a wedding with your team and suddenly a bridesmaid rolls up to you, frantic, because the bride happened to peak out the suite window and can see none of the tables have been dressed or set? Did she think that was your job? How about standing around after dinner waiting to be paid? You don’t want to interrupt the champagne toast by tapping on the bride’s shoulder for payment, but you’d also like to go home. Who do you turn to? Let us guess what those events had in common – there was no wedding coordinator. Are we right? We thought so.

Working with a wedding coordinator, or providing full coordination as part of your services, is not just a big help for the bride and groom, but it is also a big help to all of the wedding’s vendors. The coordinator at a wedding, or any event, is often the one who sets expectations, helps the vendors know where to set up, establishes a timeline, and takes care of payment and tips at the end of the reception. Really, you want a wedding coordinator just as much as the bride and groom. Now, we’re not saying never take a wedding that doesn’t plan to have a coordinator. Just know what to expect from a bride without one.

What does that mean, exactly? Glad you asked. Brides usually aren’t fully aware of the difference between a wedding coordinator and a catering manager. To her, a caterer serving dinner means they handle everything that goes along with dinner. That may be true for some, but not all caterers provide full event services including the setup of tables, linens, decor, placement of china and flatware, plus serving staff and clean up. If you are the first vendor interaction a bride has had, be sure to set the standards up front. Let her know exactly what services you’ll be providing, what your payment breakdown will be (all at once or spread over a deposit and final payment), if and how staff should be tipped, and who the point person should be at the wedding for any questions. You should also request the same information from the couple as to not interrupt their special day. All of this information can be provided to the client and your staff through the reports generated in Total Party Planner catering software.

There are many caterers that have figured out a great system – partnering with a wedding coordinator. Many caterers have found it beneficial to establish relationships with multiple coordinators. Outside of the organizational skills they have and their help the day of the wedding, partnering with a coordinator brings many opportunities. Finding someone you trust means having a reliable source that can push business your way. If they have a bride who has yet to find a caterer, you are the first she suggests. Working with the same coordinator also means you are familiar with their style so the execution of the event is smooth and should we say it, maybe even flawless.

So how do you begin working with a coordinator? First, try to find someone you have a natural connection with. If you get to work a few weddings this season that have coordinators, see if you “click” with anyone. It’s better to start from a natural place than to force a relationship. Second, determine if you can become a preferred vendor for them. You can offer to also have them a preferred vendor. Whoever gets the bride first will suggest the others services. Some caterers even offer discounts to brides working with their coordinating partners. This can help drive business for you and for the coordinator. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal to us!

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Posted On June 16, 2015 by John Cohen

Catering Marketing Mix Check

It’s June! Who can believe it? Seems like the year is just flying by, right? June is important for many businesses though, especially catering companies. June kicks off one of the busiest catering seasons of the year – summer wedding season. June is also a good time to do a mid-year Marketing Mix check. It’s a time to review your success over the past six months, re-access your goals, and plan for the next six months.

You may be thinking, “What is a marketing mix?” A marketing mix is the combination of marketing efforts made by a brand or company focused on your product, price, place, or promotion and the tactics being used to reach customers. A good marketing mix will be just that, a well-planned mix. As a business owner, you want to be sure you have a goal in mind and that you are placing advertisements or creating marketing efforts to help achieve those goals.

Let’s look at an example. Looking back at 2014, you may have received fewer event bookings around Christmas in 2014 than you would have liked. During the events you did cater, you may have heard many guests commenting that they “have never heard of you, but your food is great!” This should stem two goals for you; building brand awareness and booking more holiday catering events. After determining your goals, determine what types of marketing would help you achieve each goal independently. Is your target market on Facebook or are they heavy Instagram (who just opened up advertising to more than just a few big-gun brands) users? Do you have a low number of reviews on Google or Yelp? Have you recently updated your website to include content about your ability to cater for holidays? Ask yourself these questions (and many more) then select the marketing outlet to resolve those questions and create a timeline to implement over the next six months. If we were you, we’d suggest focusing on building your brand recognition June through October with a mix (dependent on your audience) of website content updates, Facebook advertising, and SEM. Then late October through December we’d focus on highlighting your holiday catering abilities through Facebook advertising, SEM retargeting, and print ads in local publications that focus on holiday planning (they could include articles on buying the right gift, what to make for Thanksgiving sides, or anything related around holiday planning.) This mix reaches multiple, different audiences as well as focuses on your two different goals.

So why did we pick to focus on building the brand recognition first? As the old saying goes, you have to walk before you can run. It is much harder to book events if no one knows who you are. Customers are more likely to select a catering company they have heard of or one that has positive reviews over a company that appears to have never catered an event before. After you build your brand and the trust of the customer you can start to work on building recognition of your services.

Your goals may be different than our example but the gist of our advice is to gut check where you are. It does not aid you to advertise blindly. Determine where you are and where you’d like to be as a business. Use your marketing mix to achieve your goals. Our suggestion is to be consistent with your look and feel through your marketing mix. If you use stock photos use the same style of stock imagery – don’t use one image on a white background and another of a soft lit, uniquely photographed event. Consistency builds your brand and makes your recognizable.

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Posted On June 9, 2015 by Susan Pupa

Google Plus for Catering Businesses: Part 2

Now that you’re up to speed on why Google Plus is important and how it can grow your catering business, let’s get you a page! If you missed part one you can view it here. If you are a recently established catering company this will be piece of cake (see what we did there) for you. If you are a long standing company that has never used Google Plus it may be a bit trickier.

First thing’s first, for all business to have a Google Plus Business page you need to meet the Google guidelines. This ensures that you are a business. If you do not meet the Google guidelines (aka you work out of your home and don’t have a physical address) you can create a Brand page instead. Great, now that we’ve established the ground rules let’s set up your page.

Newly Established Businesses

What do we mean by newly established – you came about in the last 12 – 18 months. You are what some people would still consider an infant. If you are newly established, chances are you have not had a page “claimed” for you yet. You will need to create a Google Plus for Business page. First, you will need to create a personal Google account if you do not already have one. From there you will be able to select Create Google Plus from the Pages Menu on the right of the screen.

Second, you will need to select your category of business. Most you can probably select “Local business or store.” Google will want to verify this so they will then have you input your business phone number to establish your location. During this step you will confirm that the information Google populates is correct and fill in what is missing. You will then input your external email address and select who your website content is appropriate for. At this point Google may ask you to verify your business one or two ways, which could include a phone call, postcard, or email.

Once you’ve verified your business…boom! You have a Google Plus page. But, wait, you aren’t done yet. Skip to the It’s Up, Now What section to find out what to do with your page after setup.

Established Business to be Claimed

So you’ve been business for a few years (or decades) and have not claimed your Google Plus page. What does this mean? Shorthand – it means Google already knew you were a business and set up a page on your behalf when they came out with Google Plus and you have not raised your hand to say “Hey, that’s my business!”

How do you tell if your page has been claimed already? First, Google yourself. If your business comes up with a different address you can select “This Doesn’t Match – Add My Business.” This will bring up a page where you can fill in the correct business information. Note, this not creating a Google Plus page. If the business comes up and is the correct address and info you can click on that business to view their Plus page. In the lower right hand corner you will see “Manage this Page.” This allows you to claim your Google Plus page. From there you will need to follow the verification process to get a code from Google so that you can edit your page. Once this is complete you can start using your Google Plus page, adding content and users, requesting reviews, and interacting with customers.

It’s Up, Now What

Now that your page is up or claimed make sure that it is successful. This means filling out the page with information that will be helpful to potential customers. Fill in your business description and contact information. Your description doesn’t have to be overly elaborate, make it simple. Be sure to categorize your business as well. Don’t limit yourself to one or two categories but don’t over-do it. Pick a handful of categories that you fall under, for example, Catering, Weddings, and Events. You do not need to file yourself under Food or anything that is not specific.

You should then update your profile picture. We suggest a picture of your company logo. This will help reinforce brand recognition. If you’d like to display pictures of your event setups or dishes you’ve created, share them on your page. This is the place where people can interact with you. Fill your page with content so people can get a feel for the type of business you are.

 

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Posted On June 2, 2015 by John Cohen

What is SEM?

Digital Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Search Engine Marketing, aren’t they all the same thing? Well, no not exactly. They all do occur on the internet so they do have that in common. Out of these three marketing terms, we’re going to tackle Search Engine Marketing (aka SEM) since it is the toughest to understand.

We’ve already taught you one of the most common confusions about search engine marketing and you probably didn’t even know it. It’s the acronym. People often confuse SEM and SEO, because everyone in the marketing or digital business uses the acronyms instead of the full words, which are confusing on their own. The most simple definition of Search Engine Marketing – paid results that show up based on keywords down the side of a search page and in the top two spots of a search page, often labeled “paid” or “sponsored.”Search Engine Marketing can be broken down into two types of ads – Search and Display. Search Ads are those that you see on a Google, Bing, or Yahoo results page after you enter a search. For example, if you searched for “pizza Trenton New Jersey,” we would bet good money that a Papa John’s Pizza ad would come up on the top or side of your organic search results. If you were to click on one of these ads to take you to the Papa John’s website the company would then pay for that “click.” If you did not choose to click on that Search Ad the company would pay nothing but you would be counted as an “impression.” Display ads are those images that you may while you’re on other websites. Display ads are commonly paired with Remarketing Ads, which we covered in a previous post.

So, how do you utilize Search Engine Marketing for your catering company? First, build a set of keywords (similarly to how you would have done to optimize your website) that you want to bid on for your search engine ad buying, such as Google Adwords. Second, choose a budget for each month. If you have a peak season, such as January to April when people are newly engaged and looking for wedding caterers, you may want to consider higher budgets in those months. Adjust the budget for lower search months, such as May through August, when people aren’t necessarily searching for vendors to book but are instead actually having their weddings. Lastly, be sure to track your results. There are online tutorials for Google Adwords that you can take to understand how to read you analytics and how to bid on keywords.

If setting up your own Search Engine Marketing seems overwhelming you have a few options. There are large companies that focus just in SEM that you can hire to set up and monitor your online marketing. It is also likely that you have a local company of a few people who can install and run your Search Engine Marketing. Both of these options should provide you with a report at the end of each month to show your progress. The last option is to use a local news station to set up your SEM. Most news stations now, such as your local NBC station, have great digital marketing and SEM capabilities. Just remember, you’ll have to adjust your budget slightly to cover the convenience fee you’ll be paying to not have to learn this yourself, which is well worth the money if you aren’t up to speed on all things digital.

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Posted On May 27, 2015 by Susan Pupa

Google Plus for Catering Businesses: Part 1

In the last decade we’ve seen quite the uptick in online social sites. Every time you turn around you’re probably being told which new social media you need to become a part of – Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and the list goes on. You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Not another social platform to keep up with. Why do I need Google Plus, seriously?” Well, let us tell you what the difference is in Google Plus and why you should claim your business page.

Google Plus, is a social media platform, but it is more than that. Google Plus is actually a social platform, a review website, and even an extension of your website. This nifty little tool can help you communicate with customers, sure, but what it can really do is help grow your business. “How,” you may ask. Remember when we talked about SEO and how important that was for your website? Well Google is the one (main one) who decides if your website should show up first on page one or dead last on page 100. Google determines the algorithms that scan websites to pull them for key search terms. On top of that, Google has started implementing other tools that are popular among customers and are highly influenced by your Google Plus page, such as the Carousel, which you may have seen last year or the new 3-Pack that has started showing in 2015 for local results. The 3-Pack not only pulls you up as a search result at the top of the screen, it also provides your rankings and displays images you have posted on your Google Plus page. That’s a lot more stimulating that reading “Brown’s Catering & Desserts” in a list of search results, isn’t it?

 

Google 3-Pack Example: Catering in Richmond, VA

Another sweet little way Google has integrated Google Plus – Gmail. This means anyone that you send an email to, whether it’s a one-to-one email or a email blast, the recipient will see the option to “Follow” your Google Plus page on the right-hand side of their screen. That is, if you have a Google Plus page. On top of being able to use these tools from Google, your Google Plus page can help your catering business rank better as a search result. Content that you share or post on your Google Plus page is given it’s own URL (website address) and may result differently than items on your website. Therefore, when you may not have resulted before because that content wasn’t on your website, you now have another opportunity to show up as a search result.

Lastly, Google Plus provides you with a place to direct people to leave reviews or to encourage people to see your reviews. Unlike Yelp, you are also in control of your address and your contact info. You can edit the info here, unlike on a Yelp listing, which has been created on your behalf (and takes quite a bit of time to change should the information be incorrect.)

Hmm, Google Plus is starting to sound a little better, isn’t it? So let’s recap, Google Plus can: help you rank better in organic search results, allows you to speak directly to customers, and allows you to keep track of your reviews. Now that we’ve convinced you (hopefully) to setup your Google Plus page, we’ll show you some tips and tricks for claiming your page and how to best utilize it on next week’s blog. Tune in soon!

 

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Posted On May 20, 2015 by John Cohen

Dodging Weather Disaster at Catered Events

Happy wedding day bride-to-be! It’s a gorgeous, sunny spring day outside and…wait, no. Oh, no. Is that a rain cloud? Panic swells inside of you (and the bride-to-be.) As the bride (or hopefully the wedding or venue coordinator) is rushing to change the placement of the dance floor, reception, and ceremony, you should be calm and collected. There are a few things you can do on your own to prepare for any impromptu weather situations.

For Umbrella Weather:
While you as a vendor know all- to-well that it is better to have a tent than not, many couples are opting for a tent-free wedding these days; some even with no backup plan for inclement weather. Should this be the case you can swoop in as the prepared caterer you are with your genius idea for rescuing your menu from its watery doom.

Option one: Purchase inexpensive white (plastic) table clothes and table clips. In the event of a random storm you can quickly cover the food that is laid out already with these at least semi-rain resistant covers. Simply place over food and secure with table clips.

Option two: Invest in personal popup tents. Simple, white popup tents can help you cover any outdoor prep areas and your staff so you can keep things moving if you’re still in the prep stages.

For Paper Fan Weather:
Besides rain, unexpected extreme heat may be the worst weather condition to stumble upon. You’ll probably find yourself encountering this issue mostly in the spring or in the fall. While this will affect the bride and her guests, it will most likely affect you and your staff the most. After all you are the ones wearing heavy chef coats, slaving over a hot stove.

Option one: Keep sealed (baggie’d) cold clothes in a cooler for your staff. No one wants to eat food served to them by an extremely sweaty man clearly sweating through his dress shirt. Cold clothes will help refresh your staff and keep you all from having heat strokes.

Option two: Like the rain, personal popup tents can help keep your staff cool and the food you’re preparing cool without involving too much effort, like stringing out extension cords for fans.

And for those involved with an icing covered food…
Option three: Bring ice chests to put the cake/cupcakes/pies/chocolates or anything else that can melt and will be served later in the evening. Even if they chests are empty and you don’t have ice they will help keep the items cooler than simply sitting outside. This will also make their transportation easy if you can find a tiny space in an on-property building.

We always suggest you contact the venue of the event you are catering yourself to confirm a rain (or extreme heat) plan. If you’ve worked with this venue before you may not need to do this. However, we highly suggest it for event spaces you’ve never seen or never worked with before. This will help limit the stress for both you, the bride, and the venue.

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