A solid catering business can be an amazing extra revenue stream for any mobile food business., or even the primary source of income for many concessionaires. But before you bake catering services into your business plan, let’s consider a few of the pros and cons.
Booking a catered event for your food truck or trailer removes a lot of the doubt and anxiety that can surround the food truck business. After all, with a scheduled, catered event, you’re not roaming the streets, looking for a place to park your truck.
You know exactly how much food to buy, so there’s very little risk of being stuck with unsold product at the end of the day. And because most catering events are usually booked in advance, you’ve probably got the money you need to buy inventory and pay employees.
You’ll roll into your scheduled event knowing exactly what to expect from both the event and the person who hired you, and any unfortunate surprises or hiccups in service can hopefully be planned for or prevented. And, depending on the size of the event, catered gigs can mean big bucks: Imagine getting cut a check for $2,000, instead of piece-mealing that same amount of money, $4 at a time.
There are downsides to building a mobile food business around a catering model, as well. First, you have to consider that you’ll be at a different location almost every time you set up for service, which can have its own share of stressors and anxieties.
Before you book a catering gig, make sure you full understand the availability of basic resources like electricity and water, and potentially even wastewater and fryer oil disposal. Most of the time, you’ll need to provide these things yourself, which means investing in a reliable generator and both fresh and gray water tanks for your sinks.
For catered events, you may also need additional staff, in order to ensure seamless service. Remember also that you’ll need to set up and break down before and after each event, which may mean draining deep fryers and water tanks, setting up propane or electrical, or even things like pop-up tents and chairs.
But the biggest barrier to me, when it comes to catered events? I’m generally not willing to take on the stress that seems to go hand-in-hand with catering fancy events. Obviously, different people will approach this differently, but I just kind of…don’t want to be responsible for creating a part of a day that someone is going to remember for the rest of their lives.
Sure, catering a kid’s birthday party is different than catering a wedding with 200 guests, but overall, dealing with huge amounts of money, stressed-out bridesmaids, and the responsibility of delivering a picture-perfect day just isn’t something I’m willing to take on. Your mileage may vary, but it bears consideration.
Once you’ve weighed the pros and cons of using your food truck or concession trailer for private events, how do you get started? The first step is setting up a page on your website dedicated to your catering services. You’ll want to include several high-quality pictures of your food, as well as a few paragraphs about your overall philosophy, as it applies to catering.
Create a Sample Menu
A sample menu or two can help potential customers get a feel for pricing, though you’ll probably want to discuss specific needs, prices, and menu options on a client-by-client basis. You may also want to include a few details about your policies (including how much money is expected up front, as well as what happens in the event of a cancellation), and an easy email form for potential clients to contact you.
Next, make sure you’re advertising your catering services on the food truck itself. A quick “We Cater” sign in the window can do the trick, or details about your services can be integrated into your truck’s vinyl wrap or signage. Your existing customers are your likeliest first catering clients, so make sure that everyone that comes to your window leaves with the knowledge that you can be booked for private events.
Outreach and Partner
If you can find ways to help others through your services, it can be extremely beneficial for your business. In other words, if you’re able to help other people make money, you’ll never need to fret about finding profitable places to vend.
One simple way you can help others is by helping with fundraising efforts of others. There are always little league baseball teams, local non-profits or health care organizations look to raise money for something. If you are able to offer a simple way to share revenue from an event with these groups, you’ve got the foundation of winning business.
Some menus will work better than others for using strategy of course. Things like shave ice, ice cream, brownies, cookies, popcorn, or hot dogs are all low-cost items from an ingredient standpoint. These food items all have enough wiggle room from a margin standpoint so you can comfortably split a portion of the sales.
Some menus of course don’t lend themselves to revenue shares like this. BBQ for example is difficult to pull this off due to the higher cost of proteins. Still with a bit of creativity you might be able to make it work.
For example, chicken wings can be bought for under $2.00 per pound. This creates plenty of room to markup the product and then split revenue with a non-profit or charity. Another creative idea would be for a burger truck to offer grilled cheese burgers at fundraising events. By eliminating the ground beef and fixings, you put a highly profitable spin on the grilled cheese sandwich.
This is an easy sell for vendors to offer. If you know of a charity or other organization hosting fundraising events (spoiler alert: there are plenty of them) and you can make it easy on them to bring you into the event, you’ll have more opportunities coming your way than you’ll ever be able to vend at.
Finally, reach out to a few event planners and wedding coordinators in your area, and ask to be including in their lists of preferred providers. The wedding and event planning business is a notoriously closed-circuit of businesses, all working together and passing clients among themselves. Earn the attention of a high-profile planner in your area, and you ensure multiple referrals for years to come.