Entertaining at home: 5 tips for marketing your restaurant’s catering

Although we’re starting to see restaurants open their doors as stay-at-home restrictions lift, we are entering a new normal. And that new normal entails:

  • Fewer nights of eating out and more of staying in
  • Fewer business lunches out and more in the office (including home office)
  • Fewer celebrations at venues and more outdoor garden parties

All of that “fewer and more” is not only the current reality, but also predicted to continue well into 2021. COVID-19 is rapidly and drastically shifting behavior more to small-venue options, whether that be patios, backyards, neighborhoods—you name it.

It’s critical your restaurant is prepared to meet consumers’ needs via catering options now and into 2021, because many have already gotten started and are now only continuing to refine.

Certain restaurants, for instance, have begun to offer family “meal pack” options. In the communications promoting these packs, restaurants highlight their economical value for the family or group of friends looking to take a night off cooking but not break the bank (see email examples from Maggiano’s, Panera and Texas Roadhouse below). According to our recent consumer research “Consumer Sentiment During COVID-19,” while the majority of consumers are cooking at home, between 14-26% are opting for meal kits right now, with Gen X leading the trend.

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It’s high time to boost your catering marketing efforts. But marketing to the everyday consumer party planner in 2020-2021 isn’t just about setting yourself apart from other restaurant brands offering similar options. You’re also competing against typical item-based take-out and home cooking (our data shows over 80% of consumers are cooking at home).

But when you leverage advanced data and put it to work effectively, you can sync up with customers looking for what your restaurant provides. The following five tips will help restaurant brands find and connect with the right individuals as they’re planning their next home-base gathering.

1. Adjust to each person’s journey

Effective year-round marketing for restaurant catering is all about crafting relevant messages unique to each person’s needs during the planning process. For these customers, restaurant catering options are just one aspect of the larger planning process. As you get closer to the upcoming event or holiday, planners may become increasingly busy and stressed, making it difficult to cut through the noise with marketing tactics.

Finding the right opportunity for inserting your restaurant catering message is all about understanding each individual’s journey. For instance, when you know that a certain consumer makes an uncharacteristically large grocery store purchase every year the weekend before Labor Day, you may have an opportunity to connect. That context tells you the person has an annual holiday party for that weekend—why not offer personal messages with the promise of making it easier to entertain by catering in?

Similarly, if you know they frequently order from your restaurant for everyday take-out, why not highlight your family-style catering options (perhaps in an in-email menu, as seen in Goddess and the Grocer’s communications below) as a holiday approaches? Knowing more about the individual, their relationship with your brand and historic spending behavior allows you to personalize across that person’s planning journey.

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Most marketing teams struggle to achieve this level of personalization. However, gaining access to years of transactional data and consumer profiles makes it possible to identify these opportunities and capitalize on them throughout the year.

Learn more: 5 building blocks of identity management 


2. Scale your marketing efforts

Access to advanced transaction-level data is only the first step toward effective marketing for at-home catering options. Once you have granular insights into thousands or even tens of thousands of ideal guests, what exactly do you do with them all?

Delivering personalized messages to each individual target customer is critical. While true 1:1 personalization hasn’t traditionally been seen as a scalable tactic for many marketers (oftentimes settling for extremely small cohorts—but even in a cohort of 50, you have 50 different individuals), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning make it possible. Between the consumer profiles you have for your own loyal customers and the third-party insights you access, you get a strong foundation to run AI and machine learning algorithms that deliver the right messages to the right customers at precisely the right moments.

3. Create always-on digital media campaigns

You have the data and the automated systems to scale your personalization efforts. But how can you maximize the effectiveness of your engagement strategy? When it comes to digital media, putting all of your eggs in one basket with a single vendor, like Google or Facebook, could lead to missed opportunities to engage consumers that spend more time on other platforms and in other channels. You also can’t assume that everyone you want to reach is only available on a few specific platforms; again, personalizing to the journey means each individual’s journey, not just where you think your audience is.

Creating always-on digital campaigns means connecting with customers everywhere they go digitally. That includes your website, relevant news sites and publishers, in-app environments, at home on their TV, on streaming services, and any other touchpoint you can think of.

Effectively marketing your catering options isn’t about mastering a handful of channels. Rather, it’s about orienting your marketing around the customer and their preferred channels. That’s what will get your brand and services to cut through the noise of competing marketing messages around the holidays.

4. Take advantage of deeper loyalty data

Transactional data isn’t all that matters when crafting a digital marketing strategy for your catering services. If you’ve already built out a solid customer loyalty program, you have an additional layer of insight into the needs, preferences and behaviors of customers. When you take advantage of this data, you can start focusing your marketing messaging on the specific types of meals a customer might prefer around certain holidays.

For example, do you know that one of your best customers frequently hosts a Mother’s Day event? Leading up to the holiday, don’t just send messages with generic catering offerings. Connect on a deeper level and offer brunch services with some of the foods you know that customer frequently purchases.

This same principle applies to all kinds of aspects of the catering process. Do you already know about a customer’s dietary restrictions? Is there a specific type of food you know the customer always avoids? Tap into your loyalty data to take the personalization process a step further to best meet customers’ needs.

Get the whitepaper: Catering to customer cravings


5. Customize the message

It’s crucial to remember that all the messaging in the world won’t capture revenue opportunities if what you’re offering isn’t the right fit for someone’s needs. Why market catering options to guests that have never dined with you? Why market catering options to guests that don’t entertain? These are just two examples of how marketing dollars can be wasted when you’re simply looking at audiences and not the individual.

The reality is that many current and potential catering customers will have a variety of needs based on their individual preferences and buying habits. Consider the following scenarios:

  • If a customer is an avid at-home cook: they probably want to make all food items for entertaining themselves. But it doesn’t mean they can’t be swayed with the right message. Your marketing should reflect add-ons and sides to complement the main dish they’re likely making themselves and focus on easing their day-of cooking burden.
  • If a new-to-your-brand customer entertains often: they probably already have a few go-to catering options. This is an opportunity to entice them to try your brand instead, and your marketing message should highlight a discount for first-time catering orders (like the recent $100/$50 catering option from Pinstripes below).
  • If you’re talking to a loyal takeout customer that orders a lot of individual items on a regular basis: this is an opportunity to talk to them about catering instead. Your marketing message should focus on getting their favorite dishes in larger quantities for at-home entertaining or just for economy of scale for their regular orders.

Connect with guests looking for what your restaurant can offer during this unique time

As takeout and delivery become more of the norm for every restaurant brand, finding the right distinction for catering options is more complex. If your restaurant brand owns your online ordering system, you likely know more about your customers than ever before. However, if you use a third-party for this service (as many restaurants do), you likely have fewer insights on individuals’ ordering habits. But not all is lost.

Data should be the foundation of your marketing strategy, where you use your own first-party data coupled with third-party insights to truly understand each individual’s habits inside and outside of your brand.

As difficult as it is to adapt to this new normal, it also gives your restaurant new opportunities to deepen existing customer relationships and establish new ones. This is an important time to meet customers’ needs by boosting your catering marketing efforts, and it starts with understanding who they are.

Catering is just one side of a restaurant’s offerings. As you prepare to open up (or maybe you have already at limited capacity), learn what steps you can take now to build a revenue recovery plan for your restaurant brand’s future in our e-book Recovery mindset: A phased digital media approach for restaurants.