Friday, June 24, 2011

What I Learned At My Granddaughter's Graduation

Last month, Bernice and I attended our granddaughter's Alexandria Wax's college graduation from Syracuse University. This was the largest graduation I've ever attended - 4,100 of the world's future leaders sitting on an indoor football field. Massive sight, yet very well organized.

The first thing I learned is that ushers are important. To get a good seat, most parents and relatives were ready to "rush" to their seats as soon as the doors opened at 8:00 AM with the start of the ceremony scheduled for 9:30 AM. I sat, kind of bored passing time, watching how professional and thoughtful the ushers were in handling the excited and "rushing" parents in search of the right seats.

First, they were in a constant "smile" and "may I help you" frame of mind. Yet, they maintained order and safety by using their physical bodies to block aisles to slow or stop the rush so they could check tickets and provide assistance to older or challenged guests. My first thought was that the university had one heck of a training program for the ushers. I'd love to meet and speak with these trainers!

I was sitting close enough to the ushers to hear them as they handled every sort of excuse from parents like "I need to sit in this section so I can get better photos of the graduation" or "I left my ticket at home" or "I need to look around for my family". They handled each of these, and others, with grace and a smile. Above all, this team of ushers had the knowledge of what they were supposed to do and the pride to make it all happen. This is a good lesson and reminder for all teams of catering professionals.

Secondly, I absolutely loved the fact that the concessions were selling $4.50 bagels!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

One Of My Favorite Chicago Restaurants - Coco Pazzo

Last night Bernice and I invited our Granddaughter Dori Davis out for dinner to celebrate her birthday week. She wanted Italian, so it was a simple choice - Coco Pazzo on Hubbard Street in downtown Chicago. Great food and service and easy parking - oh, yes - the bread is to die for.

Here are some shots of how the food looks -

And of course, this is what I really come for - the bread!

Dori and Bernice!

All and all a great evening. The server forgot to charge us for our desserts ($26), but when I mentioned that to him he waived the charges - my kind of restaurant. Of course he got an extra large tip!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Difference Is In The Differences

Remember that old saying, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck.” The phrase deals with the perceptions that people have about what they believe to be true. Sometimes, however, the perception becomes muddled and may lead to incorrect conclusions.
Caterers can significantly increase their business success by understanding how this phrase applies to shoppers seeking a caterer. If we simply reword the phrase above to read, “If it walks like a caterer and quacks like a caterer, it must be a caterer,” we can discover some interesting concepts that will help us.
Shoppers of catering are constantly exposed to the public perception of what a caterer and catering is. When a shopper calls five different caterers for information, they often get similar, if not exactly the same menus, formats and rules from each of them. In other words, most caterers in a particular area tend to copy what the other caterers do, so shoppers are hearing the same “quacks” from each caterer whether it’s menu pricing, staff charges, guest guarantee deadlines or deposit and cancellation policies.
These “me-too” concepts that many caterers follow lead the shoppers to a false perception that all caterers are just ducks, that one caterer is the same as all other caterers. Since they’ve not met any “me-different” caterers, the only thing that many shoppers are seeking is lower price. In truth, these me-too caterers set themselves up unwittingly as a commodity when the real goal is to create a win-win buyer/seller relationship.
This leads me to my suggestion to our subscribers who wish to pick up business. Concentrate on not being perceived as a me-too company. Create your own, different set of rules. You just need to sound unique and to offer the shopper the chance to realize that you are a company that transcends the perception that caterers are all the same. Your goal is to clearly make the shopper understand that with your company, they have finally met a caterer unlike other caterers.
You need to be viewed as the company that offers different and alternative solutions for corporate and social clients shopping for a team of professionals to assist with their food and event needs. To do this you need to present your information in a more “buyer-friendly” format, making sure that your rules and procedures do not mimic those of your competitors. Your company must become the clear choice in the shopper’s mind as the company that is totally unlike the other ones they have talked with.
Don’t quack at the shopper; envelop them with your differences!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Just When You Think It Is Safe To Go In The Water!

Well... it finally happened. I became part of the technology determined red light guilty. $100 contribution to the City of Chicago.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Kind Of Busy Today...

Well... if you haven't heard by now, we sold the majority chunk of our dear Catersource to a wonderful British company UBM. I've posted the news release we just sent out to all our customers, alumni, exhibitors, and sponsors below. I will catch my breath and write about how and why the sale happened in the next few days on the blog.

Until then, just know that Bernice and I are extremely happy and Catersource will become even more important in the world's foodservice and catering industries. I'm excited because I can visualize the good things that are coming for all those associated with Catersource.

Here's the letter that was email to our complete list of friends:

Catersource is now positioned for worldwide growth through the acquisition of a majority stake of Catersource by UBM.  My partner, Kelvin Lee and I made the strategic decision to join UBM, 
a leading global business media company with operations in 30 countries, to maximize Catersource’s full potential. Kelvin and I, along with our entire Catersource and Event Solutions team, will remain at the forefront of the company’s continued growth.

Catersource will join UBM Live’s portfolio of companies serving the Food & Leisure industries both in the USA and internationally. The new conference attendees and subscribers that will be introduced to our educational conferences, tradeshow, magazines and network of catering and event professionals will have a continued positive impact on our industry. UBM Catersource’s growth will also help our exhibitors, sponsors and business partners reach their goals.

Simon Foster, Chief Executive of UBM Live said:
“Catersource is the leading events business in the fast-growing US catering industry. We see strong opportunities to grow the brand by leveraging our US and worldwide events infrastructure, as well as driving synergies with our UBM events. We are delighted that Kelvin Lee, Mike Roman and their team will be joining UBM Live and look forward to working with them to develop the business going forward.”

UBM Catersource will continue to provide caterers and event professionals with the education, information and products that will keep them on the cutting-edge, while they offer their clients the latest catering and event trends. Thank you for supporting Catersource over the past twenty years. With your continued support, the resources and people of UBM Catersource will keep our industry vital and strong. See you all at Catersource 2012 in Las Vegas!


UBM plc is a leading global business media company. We inform markets and bring the world’s buyers and sellers together at events, online, in print and provide them with the information they need to do business successfully. We focus on serving professional commercial communities, from doctors to game developers, from journalists to jewelry traders, from farmers to pharmacists around the world. Our 6,000 staff in more than 30 countries are organized into specialist teams that serve these communities, helping them to do business and their markets to work effectively and efficiently.
For more information, go to
Media Contacts: Peter Bancroft, Director of Communications, Email:
Direct Telephone: +44 20 7921 5961

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Guest Article by Carl Sacks: The Five Secrets of Highly Profitable Caterers

NOTE FROM MIKE: Below is my blog's very first guest article written by my very good friend Carl Sacks.  Carl is Catersource's Director of Consulting and is the smartest person I know about teaching caterers how to operate a better business. I've learned so much from Carl over the last thirty years of our friendship. From a trivia point of view, Carl attended the very first educational seminar that I presented in Lexington, KY some thirty years ago. We became fast friends and as some of you will remember, Carl and I traveled the country two years ago doing a "ton" of seminars! Thanks Carl for being my first blog guest writer! Here's Carl!

My Friend Carl Sacks
What is a Highly Profitable Caterer? Any medium to large caterer that sends 10% or more to the bottom line year in and year out fits this category. We have worked with many of these companies, and have noted some characteristics in common among them:
1. Highly Profitable Caterers have superbly trained, supported, and well-compensated sales teams.
There are a few large market caterers with sales teams averaging over $2.5M in revenue per year per salesperson. Even in medium markets, there are caterers with average revenue per salesperson of over $1M. In general these are among the largest full service caterers when calculated by revenue, and nearer the top end than the middle in pricing.
If you are a well established caterer in the full service market, and your sales team is averaging well below these numbers, then it may be time for a sales review. When we work with caterers with underperforming sales staff, we find that sometimes the problem is in the way the sales responsibilities are structured, or inadequate sales training has been provided to the team.
 2. Highly Profitable Caterers have the tools in place to financially analyze quickly and effectively all components of their business.
As a business, every catering company is the sum of a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand transactions. What most Highly Profitable Caterers have in common is the ability to analyze the one or a set of these transactions, to determine their profitability. One company that we work with that does about $10M per year in revenue started to analyze for profitability every single full service event they cater – and as a result of this was able to raise their profit percentage greatly.
Nearly every catering software program has this functionality built in to the system, but only the minority of the companies that we visit use these tools. Whether it is necessary or possible to analyze every single event is subject to debate, but there is no question that at least some events should be reviewed for profitability standards on a regular basis.
 3. Highly Profitable Caterers know their market position, and have developed pricing strategies based on this understanding; and also are focused much more on gross profit margin than on food cost.
Market based pricing is much more effective than the multiple of cost pricing that most of us learned when we started out. As Mike Roman says, the appropriate price is the most that a client is willing and able to pay, which is much more appropriate than basing your prices on an arbitrary cost multiple.
Gross profit margin is the most effective indicator of how well a company is run, because it takes into account all of the different facets of pricing and cost of goods. A caterer can manage to run an excellent food cost but still not be sufficiently profitable, because they spend to much on labor, or don’t adequately markup the other services offered. Solely focusing on food cost is like swimming with only arm.
 4. Highly Profitable Caterers are scalable, and have the ability to adjust to current conditions rapidly and effectively.
Since the beginning of the most recent downturn, it has become ever more apparent that the ability to respond quickly to the twists and turns of the economy is hugely important. Some caterers have done mass layoffs, but are now struggling to get back on track in time for what looks to be a reasonably busy season. It is possible to overshoot with cutbacks, which can be devastating when the market starts to improve.
The key to this point is to have a well-managed and efficient operation when times are good, which will enable you to survive and even thrive during difficult times. It is said that well run companies gain market share during a downturn, and from what we have observed recently, this has been the case during our current difficulties.
 5. Highly Profitable Caterers know their limits, and do not try to be all things to all buyers.
It is usually a good thing for a catering company to be reasonably diverse, but the key word is reasonably. 
SECOND NOTE FROM MIKE: I invite anyone who has something to say or teach to professional caterers to contact me about publishing their thoughts in my blog. No pay, but hopefully great fame and a good feeling in the pit of your stomach.