Catering is a wonderful way to expand the reach of your food truck business. According to industry reports, catering is a $7.1 billion a-year industry, and a lot of food truck owners in the United States are joining in. Note that these food truck owners, who are focused on catering events, from office parties to weddings, are covering as much as 25 to 50 percent of their business model from catering alone.
For food trucks, catering can be done either on-site (some commercial kitchens provide a separate dining facility for their renters) or off-site, with your truck pulled outside of the event area. One unique advantage of expanding your food truck business into catering is that your startup costs are very low.
Note that since you already have everything set up for your mobile kitchen, the only issue you will have is finding clients who are interested in using your catering service.
You will a have to first study your competitors, including local grocery stores and delis, to analyze the various items they serve and how much they charge. You will also have to make sure you price accordingly, especially if you offer items that are difficult to find anywhere else in the area.
You should also learn how not to give out anything for free. If you give something away for free, clients will always expect freebies. As you train your food truck staff to behave in a certain manner, you are expected to train your clients to pay for your services and value your talent.
Although you can offer a discount for a charitable event, always make sure you cover all your costs and some of your time. Also put in writing what services you are going to provide for a client and what the client is going to do for you. Don’t rely on a verbal agreement.
To further cement and protect your reputation, you have to know your limits. Note that saying no to a prospective catering job that you are not equipped to do or turning down an event on a day when you are already booked is better than doing the job poorly.
Also, to make sure your customers understand that you offer catering services, create a special catering flier with a menu, and have your staff mention your catering services to people who visit your truck. Make sure you keep your menu simple and always remember that most of your jobs will come from people who have eaten from your truck, so use your current menu as the basis of the meals you cater.
If a customer wants you to expand your menu, ensure you discuss the additional items he may want. Having a rotating menu comes in handy so you don’t have to create items you may not be familiar with. If you are thinking about offering catering services to supplement the time your truck is not busy on the streets, you should be aware of some common mistakes beginner caterers have run into over the years.
How to Set Up a Food Truck Catering Business
Catering is a natural extension of your food truck business, but it is still totally different from your normal food truck business—which means that you are going to need some extra business planning, additional licenses and permits, and train your employees in new procedures. Here are steps you will be required to take.
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1. Educate Yourself
It is very advisable you spend time learning about the rules and requirements of catering. In some cities, you won’t need to do much differently than what you are already doing for your truck—but in many places, there will be a number of different permits and licenses to obtain. Nonetheless, start out with local government offices like your city’s Small Business Administration, Health Department, and Chamber of Commerce.
Also remember to contact your local food truck association as many of these organizations will also provide information on catering services for food truck owners. You can also see if your city has a local chapter of caterers who may be able to provide you with resources on getting started or recommend some business options for you to consider.
Also check out larger groups like NACE—the National Association for Catering and Events and The International Caterers Association. Catering can be a lot more complex than it appears on the surface, and these two organizations offer tons of valuable resources for catering professionals at all stages of their business.
The next step is to spend time considering the exact kind of catering opportunities you are most interested in pursuing. Have it in mind that most food truck owners will serve all types of events so they can get as many clients as possible—while others prefer to focus on one type of client, such as weddings or corporate events, so that they can offer very streamlined and tailored services.
However, note that each route can be a great strategy for your food truck business, but you have to extensively consider which option you will enjoy most and which option has the most income potential for you.
3. Know What You Want to Offer
Once you have identified the type of events you want to serve, it is time to start considering what you will offer and how much you want to change or keep the same from your current menu. Note that catering opens up a lot of new options that are not normally viable for street food truckers, but it can also present a world of new challenges.
There are three main concerns you will need to balance: your responsibility to your clients, what people want, and the pace of catered events. Always remember that as soon as someone signs a catering contract with you, that person is no longer just one of your truck’s customers—he or she is your client, and that means you have a much greater responsibility to them.
So, before you develop your catering plans, you have to consider what your potential clients and their guests will most likely want from your truck. A fundraiser with 200+ attendees where you are serving all night long may be similar to the downtown lunch rush or to a festival, where you need to have plenty of streamlined processes in place to deliver orders as quickly as you can.
On the other hand, a kid’s backyard barbecue – style birthday party with 25 guests who will meander over and order snacks from time to time will be a lot more flexible and low – key.
To get your catering business off the ground, it is still a great idea to start working on potential packages, prices, and contracts now. Note that setting catering prices can be fairly challenging if you’ve never served an event before, so it is advisable to look at prices from other restaurants, caterers, and food trucks in your area to see how their prices compare to their regular menu prices.
Note that most caterers offer pre – designed catering packages to their clients. This approach makes the work a lot easier so that he or she is not overwhelmed by having too many choices. You probably don’t need to outline an actual contract until you are a little further along in the process of starting your catering business, but you should be thinking about what types of considerations you will need to make and writing up (or asking your lawyer to write up) a draft.
Indeed there are tons of ways to advertise everything you can offer as a caterer, but the strategies you take will be a little different from the tactics you typically use to promote your truck’s regular street stops.
- Advertise to Your Current Fans: You can start by letting your current fans know that you are now offering catering services through social media posts, an update to your Yelp page, and inserts in your to – go bags!
- Professionally Printed Materials: Have it in mind that professionally printed materials are one of the most important elements every caterer should be able to provide to his or her potential clients. They include pamphlets, brochures, or even folders with all of your different packages, prices, and contracts enclosed inside.
- Connecting with Event Organizers: Another great way to market your catering services is to connect with event organizers and facility owners in your area. Start by meeting with local hotels, event spaces, and festival organizers and asking to be put on their preferred vendor lists.
- Word of Mouth: Word of mouth advertising is still renowned as one of the best ways to market your food truck business, and it is also one of the most effective ways to market your brand new catering offering. So it is imperative to make a great first impression on your earliest catering clients so that they’ll be happy to tell their friends and family members how much they enjoyed working with you.
Without doubt, catering can keep your food truck business booming when there are not many street sales, and it enables you to expand your clients and reach newer customers than ever before. If you are ready to take your truck to the next level, you should definitely consider expanding to catering.
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