Thursday, April 5, 2012

Guest Article: Swinging For the Fences by Jon Wool - Finesse Cuisine

Opening day is here!!!! So, our favorite guest article writer Jon presents us with a great baseball/catering concept. This is one of the most recognized signs in Chicago (if not the world) and I’m guessing that Jon made a wonderful charitable donation to get his name in lights! I personally am very jealous and proud of Jon at the same time. 

Even through the aches and pains of middle age, I still dream of being a Major League baseball player. Like every kid who has ever swung a bat, I imagine a play-by-play announcer describing the classic scenario:
“Seventh game of the World Series, bottom of the ninth, two down, bases loaded, and the crowd goes wild as Jon Wool comes to the bat….” 
Every baseball fan relishes the start of spring with its promise of good things to come.  However, as the legendary Willie Mays once said, “Baseball is a game, yes.  It is also a business.” 

Under all its romance and nostalgia, baseball offers many lessons that apply to the business world.  Over the coming weeks, I’ll note the similarities between the sport’s leadership principals and those of our industry. To build an organization worthy of the Hall of Fame, successful catering teams share the responsibilities of owners, coaches, and players. 

First up: Owners
Baseball team owners and catering company owners both have responsibilities to their internal organizations as well as to their customers.  Internally, owners must:
·      Create a vision and establish a winning culture.  Each team has its own philosophy and culture but they all share the desire to field a winning team.
·      Be bottom line-driven at all times.  Remember Mays’ reminder that this is business.  If you want to play ball for a hobby, start a sandlot game.  Likewise, if you just want to cook for your friends, you can save yourself the hassle of getting a caterer’s license.
·      Develop numerous avenues for revenue.  Baseball owners focus on attendance, merchandising, and fantasy camps while catering company owners may focus on guest experiences, branded product lines, and amateur cooking classes.
·      Forecast 3-5 years into the future.  Inevitably, players on any team will move on.  Owners must identify and develop stars for the future.
·      Invest wisely.  Owners are responsible for managing finances to grow their assets and protect the organization from unforeseen challenges.
·      Create succession plans.  Who will take the reigns when the Owner retires or sells the organization?
In addition to the internal dynamics of running the organization, baseball team owners and catering company owners also play a role in presenting their group to the public.
·      Grow the fan base.  Owners need to understand their market and constantly promote their organization. 
·      Manage the media.  Public perception is wildly important.  Owners are key when it comes to managing the organization’s image in a way that builds good-will and momentum. 
·      Attract sponsors.  Identify related organizations within the industry and develop partnerships that will prove mutually beneficial.

Most caterers don’t have a bankroll like the Yankees and few owners will be as influential as George Steinbrenner was, but catering company owners can learn a lot from the front office of baseball teams.  At some point this spring, I’ll visit the batting cages and I’ll swing helplessly at the blinding fastballs that dart from the pitching machine. I may even connect enough times to keep my Major League dreams alive. Then I’ll limp back to the catering sales office and remember I can still hit a home run by applying baseball’s lessons to my own romantic trade.

Next up: ‘Managers and Coaches’

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Practice Does Make Perfect!

Practice makes perfect. Baseball spring training gives players an opportunity to practice their skills and hone new techniques before the real season starts. Expectant parents practice all sorts of prenatal skills before the blessed event happens. Actors practice by rehearsing their lines and blocking their moves before the director says “action.”

Unlike other professionals, most caterers don’t practice. They believe in on-the-job training and practicing while they are working with real clients. It just doesn’t seem logical to these caterers to practice and rehearse without being paid for the opportunity to practice for a client.

Imagine if airline pilots and surgeons followed the same logic and practiced and rehearsed only on paying clients for their on-the-job training. Would you wish to fly with pilots that hadn’t practiced landings and take-offs in flight simulators or be treated by surgeons who hadn’t practiced their scalpel skills on cadavers in pre-med?

Caterers need to institute some non-on-the-job practice sessions for their culinary, sales and operations professionals. Company “classroom” time needs to be dedicated for teaching proper skills to new staff, while providing new techniques to regular staff in the pursuit of enhanced company image and customer service. It is wiser to teach the “tactics” of catering before entering the battle itself.

In addition, hands-on rehearsals need to be offered by proficient trainers that permit staff to get that “flight simulator” experience needed to overcome any shortcomings and to build confidence. It is wiser to demonstrate the building of a buffet station to staff watching firsthand than to explain it on paper, even if you have photos of what it should look like.

It is scary to watch a plate-served dish-up for 350 guests when some of the staff doing the dish-up have never done it before. Packing a van for the first time without any how-to training leads to unhappy results. Asking a prospect for a deposit check without using a proven selling script loses sales. Prior training and practice is required in these and other situations.

Management owes staff the improved and outstanding performance that practice, training and rehearsal create. The opportunity for personal growth is the foundation of creating better staff. With practice will come better customer service and the additional sales that result from better catering performances.

By embracing practice as a company mission, a caterer gains the ability to separate themselves from those caterers who still only do on-the-job training. Your marketing and salespeople can proudly explain how your team is put through rigorous training in your “catering simulator” before they are ever allowed to work in real-life catering situations.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Discussion Points From Roman

Discuss these points during your next company meeting. Challenge them!

1. "Quick Deals" can often be "Bad Deals".
2. Time is the most valuable commodity that a salesperson has, so be mindful of the productiveness of the time you spend with each client.
3.  Don't send your sales contract and rules at the same time you send your first proposal.     
4. To be more successful, you need to make sure all product lines are contributing to the company bottom line.
5. Are you spending too much of your valuable time with shoppers who really can't purchase from you?     
6. The words, “Small orders don’t hurt us since we already have the kitchen staff here already” or “As long as I have a truck going that way, it’s o.k. to take a smaller order” ... will only lead to continued incorrect profit margins!