NETWORKING IN THE FILM CATERING BUSINESS
You can ask most caterers, entertainment and otherwise, and most of them will say that referrals are one of the most important sources for business if not the most.
Some tips for networking in the film catering business:
First, it goes without saying that you will more than likely have to live in a media center like NYC or LA to excel in the entertainment catering business. Other major metro areas like Austin, Dallas, Chicago, New Orleans, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Miami get their fair share of feature films and shows, but the bulk will always go to the Big Apple and LaLaLand.
Do a stint with a high profile caterer.
TomKats catering based in NYC and L.A. is a huge company and there are opportunities a-plenty for an aspiring movie caterer to learn O-T-J. This writer did some time with Word of Mouth Catering in Austin, TX, another constantly rising media center. WOM catered gigs for Bill Clinton and, when he was King of the World, Lance Armstrong. The experience dealing with these high profile events and seeing what they do right and wrong is priceless.
In addition to the experience and know how, the leads on these assignments are extremely valuable. This is not a recommendation to actively poach accounts or personnel from employers. Doing so could inspire a Manager to vow to crush you and your business. Catering, however, is a sporadic vocation. That ace action station Chef you worked with on a production may have a clear schedule when you line up your own side gigs. Build a reputation as someone people want to work with or for and be sure to maintain a meticulous data base on front and back of the house talent and prospective clients.
Opportunities can happen anywhere
It is a good idea to keep at least business cards on hand all the time. An overheard conversation in the coffee line could lead to something big. It is a fact. It happens. This writer got a lucrative, year-long gig by walking down Franklin Ave. in Hollywood and bumping into a Director.
There are volumes dedicated to this and there will be follow ups dealing with this specific topic. Further, there will be a seminar at the Chefs Center on “Successful Web and Social Marketing” on February 22nd at 1030AM. If you cannot attend, keep checking this blog for a video of the seminar. Most articles on online networking suggest things similar to maintaining a website: be as extensive about your services while being as economical with your verbiage and web space as possible. Maintain and update regularly. And remember, everything is in writing: be appropriate. It is very easy to toss off an opinion about this or that, but that may not help your online image.
Develop your brand and expectations as soon as you can
Knowing who you are, what you want and where you are going is half the battle. The more you can consistently hammer your message home, the more it will remain in a collective psyche. Of course, like KFC and P&G and countless other brands, leave room to rebrand when necessary.
Have plenty of images on hand to make prospective client’s mouths water. Recently, a prospective artisan took a tour of the Chefs Center of California and when she was asked what she would be making once she signed up, she whipped out her smart phone and thumbed through image after image of to-die-for confections. Caterers used to (and many still do) tote bulky binders around for this sort of thing. Having these images on the ready in whatever form shows confidence and preparation.
Some businesspeople have even put their photos on their cards to help others remember who they are.
Attend (and cater) industry functions and join as many croups as you can
This is the obvious heart of networking. And with any upstart food based business, you will have to give away some food. If you have a clever sample and bringing it is ALLOWED, go ahead and bring it to the WGA, DGA, SAG or USC Film School Event. Participate in pot lucks. Provide the refreshments at the Q&A after the screening. In NYC or L.A., there is a screening with cast in attendance basically every day. Almost everyone in the audience would prefer to see a nice, local logo on the coffee the actors are drinking than a corporate one. Try and professionally and politely bend the ears of the event hosts.
While Directors and Actors are enthralling, Line Producers and Production Managers are more of who you want to zero in on. You may see a whole table of high profile, recognizable celebrities at a bar in Hollywood, but it is usually the people you don’t recognize in the group who are going to be the gatekeepers. Unless an actor is huge and has a real stake in the production, the only thing they might be really useful to your business for is a selfie with you or your logo on social media. Make your networking quality networking by getting to the people who make the catering decisions as directly as possible.
Don’t forget festivals. That upstart energy is palatable at film festivals. Upstarts are attracted to other upstarts and the spirit of a film fest is generally very optimistic. Bring your business cards, fliers, samples and the iPad full of the beautiful images of spreads you’ve delivered.
Look to your own profession for networking opportunities. The National Association of Catering and Events is a good place to start.
This is directly related to the last tip. You get home from Sundance with a full contact list, be sure to follow up with all of them. Hopefully, you can reach out to every one of them with a personal touch.
Also, according to Inc. Magazine, it’s a good idea keep tabs on the contacts you’ve made. Know what’s up with in the film business. Trade magazines like The Hollywood Reporter and websites like Deadline.com can lead directly to a gig. Further, industry work sites like Mandy.com are great resources to find out what really is about to start filming.
Get everything in writing
“Get it in writing” should be in parentheses underneath the Hollywood sign. Once you have your first gig, even if you are doing it for screen credit and nothing else, get a contract. This may not seem directly related to networking, but it is. Part of networking is building a reputation, not just getting juicy leads. Always operating professionally and knowing expectations of all parties and having the documents to back it up will serve a promising film caterer in the long run not to mention build a healthy habit.
Treat everyone fairly and equally
Again, whether you’re at a fest chasing the great white whale of a client or you are catering your first, be it ever so humble indie film, networking is building your reputation in addition to gathering client resources. Be sure to make genuine effort on dietary requests. Don’t forget all the staff you need, like dishwashers. Little things like that will serve tremendously. The abused Production Assistant may have just met his great white whale of an investor for a production of their own and he or she might want you to sign on the dotted line that very day if you have, like the Toltecs say, been impeccable with your word.