Saturday, May 21, 2011

NRA Show - Day One of Four

It is a very big show! Yes, mainly restaurants attend, but the number of caterers attending grows each year. I arrived at 7:30 AM with the doors opening to the public at 9:30 AM. McCormick Place, where the show is held, is one of Chicago's (my home town) finest buildings.

Our booth #7100 is in the North Hall - in all over 3,000 booths! Did I mention the walking? I love walking...

It is always great when attendees to the show come up and say "Hey, I saw you at Catersource." Visitors to the show come mainly from North American, but we spoke with caterers from Mexico, Costa Rica, France, and Japan. It was very special to say hello to Tim Ryan the President of the Culinary Institute of America. I had the pleasure of working with Tim over the years I taught catering classes in Hyde Park, NY

Here are two of our booth team members this year. On the left is our Creative Director Jean Blackmer and our newest teaching sensation caterer Bill Pannhoff. If you are coming to the show be sure to stop in and say hello!! z

More tomorrow with some photos of caterers who stopped by.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Basic Pre-Pricing Event Checklist

Every major event a caterer bids for needs to have pricing based on the actual event site’s features. An event site is either user-friendly or a nightmare for a caterer. To set a price and book a major event without first touring and inspecting the event location is both unprofessional and foolhardy. To determine the good and not-so-good of an event site, use this checklist:

a) Measure all rooms or areas to determine space and flow for:
1) Buffets.
2) Bars.
3) Band, DJ & dancing.
4) Field kitchens.
5) Cooking or reheating.
6) Trash storage.
7) Preparation and plating.
8) Storage of your boxes.
9) Seating.
10) Etc.
b) Determine how much distance there will be between the prep and plating area and the guests.
c) Check for equipment that is already at the location that can be used, i.e. chairs, dishes.
d) Check for stairs or multiple floors.
e) Check the kitchen (if available):
1) For cleanliness.
2) Try all stove burners and ovens to make sure they work.
3) Verify temperature correctness with an oven thermometer.
4) Make sure hoods and exhaust systems work.
5) Check refrigeration and freezers.
6) Count number of trash containers.
7) Count and locate fire extinguishers. Insure that they are have not expired.
8) Insure that drains work.
9) See if your pans fit into the ovens.
10) Verify the quality of both hot and cold water.
11) Verify that the size of doorways will permit free movement.
12) Etc.
f) Check electrical outlets to see how many exist and how they are connected to each breaker. Learn where the electrical panels are located.
g) Determine how the delivery will be made. Through which doors will it come and where it will be placed?
h) Inquire about for parking for your staff and your truck.
i) Determine who is in charge of maintenance at the location.
j) Determine if there is going to be any security staff
k) Determine how poor weather will affect your performance, especially if using an outside location.
l) Determine where you will place garbage and who is responsible for removing it.
m) Obtain the phone number of the location. Check to see if your cellular phones receive a signal.
n) If elevators are needed, check to determine the hours that they will be available.
o) Determine which bathrooms, if any, your staff may use.
p) Interview the custodian or maintenance people to see what problems they have had with other caterers.
q) Take video or photos to share with other team members during planning meetings.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What Do Buyers Of Catering Expect?

Buyers have their own ideas about what a salesperson will do in their interaction. They feel good about—and are more likely to buy from—a salesperson who meets or exceeds their expectations. In my view, these are the things that buyers expect from a catering salesperson:
• tell them the truth.
• listen to them.
• take them seriously.
• give clear explanations.
• make them feel important.
• avoid embarrassing them.
• make them part of the process.
• meet their personal and professional goals.
• help them work less, not more.
• take the blame for anything that goes wrong.
• help them be recognized by their peers.
• help them get promoted.
• help them avoid any pain or discomfort in planning an event.
• like them and to consider them fair.
• give them the best price.
• help them understand what caterers do.
• take the risks out of their planning.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Kitchen Evaluation #2 - Coolers & Freezers

Most everyone reading this knows about this topic, but it is often wise to write about it from time to time to keep on top of the problem. So, here goes. I can tell within a few minutes what type of company you have by just walking into your coolers and freezers and taking a “mind-photo” of what I see… and don’t see.

Remember, I already reminded you that you already know about this. In my view, a walk-in box has three phases of existence – the beginning of a workday, the workday itself, and the end of the workday. We’re talking about something that can get away from all order, logic, and management rules in an instant or from a series of small incidents that just build and build during the crazy pace of production into pure chaos.

When it comes to order and logic in a caterer’s boxes, there is only the right way and the wrong way – at least in my view. Foods and other stuff are either stored and organized correctly, or not. Flats of strawberries for example, are either in one logical spot or spread out around the box with flats and pints here and there with no order whatsoever.

As everyone knows, when a chef takes stuff from the coolers or freezers, they either return unused or new products back to the original spot they got it from – at least that is what is supposed to happen. Unless “like” foods are kept together, one has no chance of following the “first in, first out” concept.  In the real world, most culinary people when returning stuff usually put it in the first open spot they see as close to the entry door as possible. The logic is, “we will organize it latter after the rush”.

It seldom happens. People are just people. It’s usually not laziness – it’s really just the rush and need to get back to their workstations that cause a neat and organized box to become screwed up. Profit is lost when boxes are not organized in ways that protect foods and make it easy to use the first in food instead of whatever is closest to the door.

There are three elements to the boxes – shelves, floor, and door. The door must be kept closed and boxes should be kept off the floor, especially if they are blocking passage of the culinary team. Walk-in boxes are not supposed to be “reach” in boxes. You know what I mean… a chef holds onto the doorframe and tries to lean in to reach or place something.

During the rush seasons, consider having a part-time staff person on hand to just keep “order” in your walk-in coolers and freezers. I have witnessed larger caterers who actually have a “live” and parka wearing person sitting in the cooler permanently to insure that everyone works to keep saneness in the boxes!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Catering Trucks: Fight Them or Join Them or What?

Depending on where your business is located, the growth of catering from mobile trucks is probably a concern or will shortly become a concern for you. For example, some of my catering friends in the Napa Valley are seriously losing catered events because clients are now just requesting a group of catering trucks to fill the food and beverage needs for their guests in lieu of hiring a catering company. Again, I’m referring here to trucks that are actively marketing to cater events and taking business from traditional caterers.

This is happening because the trucks offer an easy solution at a much lower cost than traditional catering. Think of these trucks as a form of “drop-off” catering that the guests wait in line for. To clarify, a winery in the Napa Valley might request that a sushi truck, a kebob truck, and a dessert truck arrive at the winery to offer their menu items to guests. The winery either pays for the food consumed or, get this, the guests themselves pay for what they wish!

Most states, with California the most important exception, don’t have clear-cut licensing or construction codes for these mobile kitchens. California, which has an abundance of codes doesn’t seem to have, due to budget cutbacks, the number of inspectors necessary to enforce the codes. Not a happy situation for many non-mobile caterers.

In my view, the real question is “Are the trucks a fade or a movement?” If a fade that the public will soon get bored with, than you can worry less. If it is a movement, then maybe you need to consider getting involved either by purchasing trucks yourself or by bringing some owners of trucks under your brand like caterers hire Japanese restaurants to handle a sushi station.

Some caterers are ticked because of the “unfairness” issue. Many of these trucks (not all) are operating without health department approval and have become the current unlicensed caterer problem to those who are licensed.

As I speak to caterers around North America, I get the sense that most think it a fade that will eventually fade away. Others have quickly realized that, in most cases, the trucks are not the most profitable foodservice concept around since they don’t have the ability to serve larger events and are faced with long lines and slow food dispersion.

My point is simply that perhaps you need to put some thinking into this situation and consider what you will do to fight them, join them or whatever! What are you current thoughts on this issue?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Case Of The Arrested Chicken Breasts

We were catering a 750-person, sit-down dinner for the University of Chicago Law School, one of our largest and most prestigious events. The Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court was the honored guest. The meal was being served in the open foyer of one of the university’s buildings in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

The entrée was beef tenderloin or our special chicken breast. We had decided to cook the tenderloins on charcoal grills outside the building, while the chicken breasts would be sent in vans from our kitchens in thermal boxes. The trip would take about eighteen minutes. Weather was great and all was moving smoothly.

This was before cell phones (yes, I’m an old timer), so we used a pay phone to call our kitchens to make sure the chicken breasts were on their way. We confirmed that they had just left and were on their way. What could go wrong now? Like many cities, Chicago has a traffic law that prohibits commercial vehicles from traveling on certain roadways. In this instance, it was a boulevard. Our van carrying the chicken breasts was stopped by a Chicago Police car for driving where it was not supposed to drive. The van was just three blocks from the event when it was stopped.

The police officer decided to take possession of the van and had the driver follow him to police headquarters to be booked. This took another twenty minutes. When our driver called us from the police station, our hearts sank to the floor. We had built an extra hour into the delivery time, so we now had about forty minutes before we needed to serve the chicken breasts.

What to do? How to save the day? One of my happiest catering clients just happened to be the superintendent of police. After a call to the superintendent on the pay phone, the chicken breasts got a police escort back to our Hyde Park location, with sirens blasting and lights flashing. You gotta love Chicago!

Note: I’ve taken this directly from my newest book Secrets Of Catering Management. It’s just one of the many stories I offer readers!