One interesting bit of collective memory among off-premise caterers: remembering the first truly big party that you ever catered.

Often if this topic comes up over drinks at the end of a long day, some twinges of embarrassment might be in evidence.  The first time I ever did a party for more than 1200 people, I was just glad to have made the sale. As I recall the sirloins were a little overcooked, and some of the staff was out of uniform – but despite all of this the event was a big success.

The big event is an important milestone in the life of any catering company. Often, it can be a turning point in establishing the reputation of the caterer as one of the predominant players in their market.

There are two kinds of big events – the big in dollars/numbers event, and the big in importance event.  Sometimes, but not always, these are the same. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to be able to work on many of both types of events. As a consultant, I’ve been able to observe the process of selling large events from both sides of the table.

A question that we are often asked is how to break into this market, and how to close the sale on the large event. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to either question.

If many of the large events in your area are galas, the best approach we can suggest is to climb the charitable event ladder. This means taking on the smaller events for your local charities, with the expectation that you will sooner or later be given the opportunity to bid on the local fundraising galas. This is an effective approach even if you really hope to break into the large scale corporate event market – the first company I ever managed provided small scale catering services for a local plutocrat businessman, but it was only after he watched us successfully execute a charity fundraiser that he finally let us cater his own large events.

If the large events in your area are corporate or convention related, then that requires a strategy to raise your visibility in these markets.

Another method is to do your best to get close to the other vendors involved, principally party planners and florists. Often their endorsement will carry a great deal of weight with the decision makers – since they wouldn’t put their relationships with the large event at risk unless they are sure that you can get the job done well.

Most importantly, make sure that you have the key relationships in place with the local venues that are of the size and prestige to host these big events. Be aware of where these events are held year after year – often they like to move around from venue to venue, which can help create an opportunity for you.

How pricing relates to closing the sale is even trickier. One rule to keep in mind is that the importance of discount pricing is more important when pursuing the large in numbers event, as opposed to the large in importance event. This is providential, since for the large in numbers event the economies of scale will often compensate for the discount you need to offer to make the sale.. Of course, if you are unquestionably the best caterer in your market, the large event business will beat a path to your door. We have seen this happen time and again. Stick to the fundamentals of your business, and eventually you will get the opportunity to work on one of these high value events.

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