How to Book More Catering

The last time we talked about strategies for recession-proofing your hotel, I sang the praises of Open Selling Guidelines. Open Selling Guidelines are your hotel's rules of thumb for what sales people are allowed to book without asking permission, and they are my holy grail.

Maybe I'm a touch melodramatic.

Nope. Open Selling Guidelines are totally my holy grail, because they set your sales team free to book business without having a ton of meetings and conversations and taking for-freaking-ever to get back to a customer. (If you don't have these, y'all, make some or call me.)

I can talk about Open Selling Guidelines for days, but in my excitement I tend to leave out an important part of the story. My first job in a hotel was as a Director of Catering, and I remember how annoyed I got when the group sellers got all the attention. And yet, here I am, forgetting to talk about catering.

Catering revenue - not the F&B revenue that comes with your group business, but pure catering with no rooms attached - is a secret weapon for filling revenue holes and making up for shortfalls in rooms revenue.

What I see in almost every hotel we work with is that there is no strategy or process for opening up event space in enough time to fill it.

Put another way, catering "free sell" dates need to be reviewed more frequently, and the catering leader needs to push for more availability. Because many event sellers are measured on consumption rather than future bookings, they don’t always pay attention to anything further out than the next 30 days. Your hotel is missing revenue opportunities as a result.

Here’s a formula for driving more catering revenue:

  • Identify your group ceiling. How many group rooms do you need to book in order to maximize the rate on your remaining transient rooms?

  • Identify your transient protected block, or how many transient rooms you want to hold for business and leisure guests. This is the same as the group ceiling. How many transient rooms do you want to hold back each night for non-discounted booking by individual travelers?

  • Once per quarter, audit the business on the books. Are all of your events definite? Are you holding more space than you need for a group? Do you have “all space holds” in place for a citywide? Block anything you need, and release the rest.

  • A note on citywide all space holds: Once your space is released by the citywide planner, it’s yours, so don’t be shy about asking for space releases. More often than not, unless your hotel is the headquarters for the event, that space goes unused, so it’s a good idea to ask early and often for it to be released. The planner may say no, but keep asking.

  • Once per month, look through the next 12 months. Are there dates on which you’ve met your group ceiling and/or your transient block? If so, all of the remaining meeting space in the hotel should be released for sale. All of it. Period. Put those dates on a calendar (or use an indicator in your booking software) and distribute them to the catering sellers. These dates can be sold by your catering managers as free sell.

  • Once per week, look at the next 60 days in the same way. Since corporate catering/day meetings are shorter term, you want to comb through the books for short-term availability more frequently.

Despite what you may think or what business review processes you may have in place, your sellers are human. They aren’t going to spend a lot of time on business that they don’t already know they are allowed to book. By proactively identifying free sell dates that fall outside the Open Selling Guidelines at your hotel, you are eliminating that hurdle and opening up more opportunity for booking catering business.

This article is part of the Hive Marketing series "Recession-Proofing Your Hotel Sales Office." I'm not a downturn doomsday prepper or an economist, but I do know that taking steps to recession-proof your hotel will help your results. You can read more here or take the Recession Readiness Stress Test.