Friday, November 9, 2012

A System Is As A System Does!

Recently a catersource client asked me, “How important are systems in creating a successful business?” The more I thought about my answer, the more I challenged my own views. A system can be a good thing or just one more obstacle that gets in the way. Systems may be presented to staff in checklists, policies and step-by-step procedure explanations.

When I was a caterer, I had dozens of systems. I had them in writing for everyone to read. I had them on the walls, in the delivery vans and even as reminders in payroll envelopes. They were very important to me.
Since it was I who spent great amounts of time gathering the ideas and working hard on making them both logical and efficient, I absolutely made them rules for everyone to follow. In fact, many of them became laws—usually when they weren’t being followed as systems. The truth is, most of my systems, or laws, were so complex and single-minded that many of them never really had a chance for success.
To prevent losing equipment at events, I developed an elaborate coloring, numbering and packing system that was, in my mind, foolproof. Unfortunately, it was flawed from the get-go. But, because I had the system in place, I stuck to it. I made everyone stick to it because the system made me feel like I had more control.
What I’ve learned is that when putting catering systems in place, the ends don’t always justify the means. Most systems become too difficult to follow fully right from the start, especially with the impromptu chaos of a normal catering day.
Too often systems are created to create accountability. Whose fault was it? Accountability isn’t a bad thing, but accountability needs to be a self-guided principle, with staff members recognizing errors themselves, rather than getting a “failure notice” in a system of checks and balances.
The actual time spent on creating a system can delay the solution of the concern itself. For example, suppose items seem to be missing from inventory at a caterer’s commissary or warehouse. An elaborate system of enhanced inventory procedures could be created—or you could simply install surveillance cameras.
Good systems have two things in common: They are simple and easy to complete and they are created and endorsed by the team of people who need to make them work, rather than by just one result oriented leader. I’ve come to believe that systems, when it’s appropriate to have them, need to be democratic rather than autocratic.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

What Is The Hardest Type Of Catering?

WARNING: This post is filled overwhelmingly with my biases!
What is the hardest type of catering? A simple question with an easy answer: All catering is hard work, no matter what type it is. What is the most challenging type of catering? This question is also very easy to answer: Off-premise catering takes the prize. No question in my mind. All catering is hard, but off-premise is the most challenging and unforgiving.
Off-premise professionals bring catering to the client’s location of choice. It might be a home, office, museum, boat, warehouse, parking lot tent or an open field. Most of the locations off-premise caterers are asked to work in don’t have adequate shelter, electrical power or water to support proper foodservice. Off-premise caterers are always the “away” team; they never play at home.
Just as the opening night in a new restaurant is filled with what ifs, every off-premise event is filled with countless question marks and never-ending challenges. Everything from blown fuses or circuit breakers to locked doors that everyone promised would be unlocked for the event. Each off-premise event carries the same pressures and worries about mishaps and unforeseen circumstances as the first night in a restaurant.
Caterers who do off-premise events have no constants in their lives. Once they leave the friendly confines of their kitchens, nothing can or should be assumed. Guests may arrive early or late; event staff may have trouble finding the location; and clients may make last-minute changes to the menu, the timing, the décor or even the size of the event.
Off-premise caterers can only work with what they bring. They can’t just go their coolers for more food or get an extra chafer from the supply room without traveling back to their catering offices and commissary, which may be many miles from the event.
Off-premise caterers live with the constant fear of running out of food. Between unexpected guests who show up uninvited, to the need to feed non-guests such as the DJ crew, valet parkers and the location staff, off-premise caterers are challenged to insure that there’s enough food for everyone, throughout the event. And did I mention the need to keep food in the safe temperature zone without the use of normal foodservice equipment like refrigeration?
Off-premise caterers expect and welcome challenges. They relish crisis. They solve the problems of late food delivery, missing menu items, bad weather, bugs, grumpy janitors, elevators that don’t work, nervous hosts and overworked staff. They are magicians who understand that the event must go on. There is likely to be a special place in heaven for off-premise caterers, who will be welcomed—and then challenged once again to work their magic.
Do they have electricity in heaven? Water hook-ups? No matter; off-premise caterers will take care of things the way they always do.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Three Things To Watch For In Your Kitchen

The three things below exist in many catering kitchens. Unfortunately, these actions lead to danger, problems and an overall unprofessional kitchen operation. Please check to see if they exist in your kitchen:

1. Do your chefs kick the oven door closed, or otherwise roughhouse your equipment? Kicking the door closed is a culinary sin; it causes damage to some parts of the stove, like the gas safety, that can require a costly repair. Is your equipment really clean?

2. Does your staff sample freely from foods being prepared? Do they eat while they are working?
A professional kitchen doesn’t permit eating while working. It is unsanitary and dangerous. Imagine eating a sandwich while slicing meat on the slicer. A separate area in the facility should be used for eating during breaks.

3. Does your hand sink work? Are there soap and towels at the sink? Some caterers have all staff stop what they are doing and wash their hands every hour on the hour. Hand washing comes with the job in the kitchen! 

How you answer these questions will help you decide if you need to think more about these situations. As usual, you may always contact me at if you wish to chat.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Handling The "You're Too Expensive" Objection

The biggest hurdle for many customers, especially those who have never worked with a caterer before, is price. They’re worried they can’t pay what you’re asking, or that they will pay more than they should.

Here are some answers when the customer says something like “You’re so expensive”:

“Several clients this week have made the same comment. Let me take a moment and share with you what I told them about being higher priced.”

“Yes, but I thought that is exactly why you are here today: You know that we do the best job.”

"What would you like to pay for this event?"

“Yes, we are one of the more expensive catering companies in town, but we also have the most clients—so we really must be doing something right.”

“Yes, Ms. Weaver, we are expensive, but we stand behind everything we do. You won’t have any complaints, mishaps or failures.”

“We are very professional, Ms. Weaver, and we really don’t expect to sell everyone. We need to charge prices that permit us to maintain the professional staff and high standards of the ABC Catering company.”

REMEMBER: When a prospect suggests that your company is expensive, it is important to never apologize for your perceived higher prices and just explain what your prices guarantee for them.

NOTE: If you feel these are too strong, cocky or whatever please know that the problem probably rests with you not the scripts. Call me if you wish to understand what I'm referring to. (773) 549-7210 is my Chicago home/office desk phone.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Scripts: Establishing Price Ranges

How do you and the potential client figure out whether you’re in the same price range? Often, callers are obsessed with asking “How much does your catering cost?”
during the first ten seconds of the call.

When the question of cost comes up, use this script:

“We have a wonderful variety of wedding menus [packages] that range from $65 to
$125 per guest, depending on the day of the week, the menu you select and the style of service you wish. Is that the range you were looking for?”

In an attempt to take control, the caller may tell you flatly that they have a specific price already in mind. Use a variation of these scripts to respond:

“$18 is a great place to start. Please tell me what your budget is on the higher end.”

“I realize that you wish to learn about our $18 per guest menus, but I was also hoping to show you some menus that are a little lower. Would that be alright with you? (They always answer yes.)

Good. Besides the lower cost menus, I will also show you a few that are slightly higher in price.”

Did you sense that in this script when you say to the prospect “but I was also hoping to show you some menus that are a little lower” that they were expecting you to say “higher” instead of “lower”? Try to do some unexpected things when using scripts.

My point to our readers is that rehearsed scripts are central to creating a successful selling career.