Friday, October 14, 2011

Guest Article: Your Strong Suit by Jon Wool

A perfect staff uniform is essential to your company’s success.  Long before clients and guests enjoy a first sip of wine or taste of hors d’oeuvre, they form an impression based on the image of your staff. When the planner, chef, and server are carefully attired, neatly groomed, and professionally poised, clients relax and guests trust that they are in good hands.   

I recently consulted with a company whose strong sales team generated smart proposals and whose Chef was quite talented. Clients seemed fairly pleased with their overall performance but the company failed to win repeat business or client referrals. The reason became clear almost at once and was easy to remedy.

The Problem: The staff’s appearance was in complete disarray. Their uniforms were not standardized and their general presentation was sloppy.  Additionally, the staff arrived to event sites in common street clothes. It was not unusual to see servers enter a client’s home wearing any combination of leather wrist bands, tank tops, hoodies, eye-catching jewelry, open toed sandals, or tennis shoes. One memorable outfit was composed of a Foo Fighters tee-shirt, bathing suit, and flip flops! With tuxedo bags slung over shoulders, these young men and women often juggled lattes, cell phones, cigarettes, and bags of fried food.

The Solution: The company’s management did a complete makeover of its staff wear so that servers and chefs appeared starched and polished in standardized uniforms. Even the sales team was coached by an image consultant. Servers and chefs were instructed to arrive to events in full uniform, properly groomed, with straight posture and a friendly smile. No cigarettes or fast food were permitted once in uniform. Numerous staff members later volunteered that they felt new pride in their jobs and believed that their uniform helped them reach this professionalism.  Within no time, the company tracked a significant increase in repeat business and referrals.

Proper attire and focus on image reflect care and respect for all concerned. When clients and guests see how much thought your company puts into presenting a polished appearance, they will feel confident in your attention to all the other details that combine to make a great event. As much as good food and flawless event orchestration contribute to the overall catering experience, don’t forget that presentation will prove your strongest suit. So, regardless of your company’s style or mission, a thorough review of uniform policy is beneficial. Even if the preferred choice of ensemble is a colorful tee with swimsuit!

Jon Wool, President/Owner, Finesse Cuisine Catering and Events, Chicago  
Jon Wool is one of the special events and catering industry‘s foremost experts and personalities. He established  Finesse Cuisine Catering and Events in 2004 and has overseen hundreds of Chicago’s most celebrated events. During his career he has catered to luminaries such as; President Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, John Travolta, former Vice President Al Gore, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Paul Simon, The Eagles, Stevie Wonder and many more.
A former actor who performed in film, television and theatre, Jon received a BFA in acting from Carnegie Mellon University’s prestigious theatre conservatory before attending Loyola University‘s Graduate School of Business. Prior to opening Finesse, Jon served as Senior Vice President of Wolfgang Puck‘s national catering and launched Puck’s Chicago initiative. Along with his current responsibilities with Finesse, he is a noted speaker and consultant. He contributes to entrepreneurial programs at DePaul University, Chief Executive Boards International and is an Adjunct Professor at Kendall College School of Hospitality. A Chicago media favorite, Jon appears regularly on local television and hosts the popular internet radio show, The Finesse Cuisine Hour, which features hospitality and entrepreneurial experts. Drawing from his early life as an actor, Jon considers each catered event a one of a kind theatrical experience.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My "Kick In The Seat" Axiom For Today

Caterers make their profit based on all the orders that go through their kitchen on any given day. Often the actual profit in dollars on a day with only six orders ends up being more than a day that had nine orders. One or more of the three additional orders actually may have messed up the profit ratios for the day! Don’t take an order without first thinking about how it fits into the day with respect to pricing, size, delivery destination, degree of production and execution difficulties, overtime pay and who the actual client really is. Catering businesses go bankrupt not because of a bad year, but because of a few bad days.


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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Create Profit Incentives To Motivate Staff

Share profitability goals with the entire team. Talk about sales and cost-cutting goals during meetings. Be sure to involve both the front and back-of-the-house staff. After you get everyone’s attention, create, explain and offer ways for all staff to receive some sort of reward for helping the company reach its goals.
Most people in catering work for money, but some also work for praise and self-fulfillment, as well as money. As you plan your rewards, don’t think solely in terms of additional dollars to the staff. Also think of ways to heap praise on them with awards like “Cost-Cutter Of The Month,” “Most Down Payments of The Month” or “Greatest Profit Event Of The Month.” Don’t have your team think in terms of sales; have them think in terms of profit.
You may have never thought along these lines, but wouldn’t your profitability be better if your team members were actively trying to win these awards? Other forms of reward, besides dollars, include gifts for their significant others, educational classes, wardrobe enhancements, a day off, a car payment and just about anything that says “thank you” for hard work!
Try an annual cash bonus that is not based on seniority. Explain to your team during an all-company meeting that you have bonus dollars to give each year that will be divided on the basis of how management views the overall efforts of each employee—with special focus on how they helped either make or save the company dollars over the year.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Evaluate Potential Sales Before Booking Them

Being selective about which events you take and which you pass on assumes that you will not book every order that comes along. But most caterers can’t bear the thought of letting a job go to another caterer, which is where the problem arises. This is especially true in slower seasons.
You must think before saying “yes” to any event, no matter its size or type. This includes both full-service and drop-off catering. Sadly, most caterers believe that all orders are wonderful and that, in the end, everything will be fine. So they just keep booking orders while knowing in their hearts that some may not be right for the company. The assumption is that these unwise orders will be propped up by those orders that are correct. A "wash" so to speak.
A caterer may take an order that clearly shouldn’t be taken, simply because it gets the company’s catering “in the door” of a new customer. So, the thinking goes, the new customer will fall in love with their catering and buy more in the near future. Even if the order is improperly priced or too small in guest count or difficult to deliver, it’s still taken. Caterers often justify this by chalking the order up to “marketing.” Sometimes this kind of booking works just the way you hope, but in general it leads to erratic profitability and even to bankruptcy.
It is more important to book business that is properly priced than to book as many orders as you can. In no circumstance should the number of orders taken for a single day exceed the ability of a catering kitchen to produce them in a normal eight-hour shift. This eliminates any chance of overtime pay for the staff, which usually lowers whatever profitability is possible. Those orders that keep your team longer than eight hours should have up-charges to cover the extra kitchen hours.
This statement is the basis of tremendous problems for caterers: “I need to keep taking orders even if they are not the best for us or my staff will leave me for lack of hours.” Yes, this might happen. If business is slow elsewhere as well, where are they going to go?
The question you have to ask yourself is: “Is my business a charitable organization or is it a business that needs to work for proper profitability?” When a caterer does a day with only a few orders, just to keep the staff busy, the caterer loses money from not having enough orders to cover the staff’s wages. In fact, when a caterer takes a few orders just to keep their staff busy, they usually lose more money than they would if they actually had their staff stay at home with full pay for that day.


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