Thursday, January 19, 2012

10 Catering Tips


1.  Have A Niche.  It is hard to sell that you can do everything well.  If you do not believe me, try it!  If you can not claim that you are the best in your niche than why are you starting/in a business?

2.  Have A System For Everything.  Whether you do drop off catering or fine dining events have standards that our easy to reproduce.  From selling to packing the truck to setting the buffet - you need a system!  Your staff can learn and follow the system.  Easy for you to reproduce is not the same thing as common or low quality.  The best sushi is consistent and fresh.

3. Understand Events.  From entrance to exit.  From motives to results.  Know why your clients throw parties and how they flow.  This will help you upsell and control the look, quality and feel of your event/food.

4. Hire Good People. Either hire well (8 Ways to Hire Better) or work with a fantastic partner (like Toth Event Staffing).  Good people manage peoples expectations and anticipate needs to provide the best service possible.  Even with mediocre product the best staff can dress it up, present it well and protect your look and reputation.

5. Brand Yourself. Your logo, name and niche should be represented on every sign, every menu and every storage container you own.  Your brand will be more visible and lend itself authenticity.  Your brand is like a coat of arms and lends items that carry your mark the appropriate idea that they are of more worth and must be protected.  This works in the minds of your staff as well as your customers.

6. Be Your Own Accountant.  Profit margins, percentages, commissions, taxes, and checking must all become your familiar friends if you are to price and profit appropriately.  Seeking advice from those who are more mathematically inclined than you are is a great idea.  Handing over your books (and subsequently your business) to someone else is a really bad idea.  Know your numbers.  Understand words and phrases like overhead, starting capital, operating capital, cashflow and payroll taxes.

7. Diversify Your Clientele and Event Types.  For florists there are really busy times like Valentine's Day.  For caterers there are traditional seasons.  While you want your "Niche" you also want to make sure you are working for more than three months of the year.  If you are a wedding caterer and your season is May through September and you would like to stay busy through the rest of the year than develop your religious connections and get into the social circuit of Mitzvahs, QuinceaƱeras, baptisms, etc.  If your market is high end or low end their are events that fit your niche.

8.  Stay Ahead of Your Seasons -- Never Stop Selling -- Always Be Closing.  Catering can be a very busy business.  A season can pass and your head may have only come up to breathe as you ferociously swam through it!  Unfortunately, if your business has overhead you will need to be selling at the same time that you are cooking.  The busy season will end and your calendar will be sorrowfully empty if you have not been pressing the flesh and locking in off season clients.  Having a #1 Niche, #5 Branding, and #7 Diverse Client Base all help with this!

9.  Reinvent Your Product/Brand.  Although most businesses must continually innovate catering is particularly tricky.  Change your food too much and customers will miss what they loved and be angry it is not available.  Do not provide new menu twists and the menu becomes stale and boring.  Fortunately nature has given us the guide to keep being creative.  Change with the seasons!  Make sure you use the best of what nature has to offer to lower your food costs as well as to inspire your reinvention flares.  Read lots of foodie magazines, websites, etc. and stay on the cutting edge as much as you possibly can.  Refine your recipes and offer free tastings when you can afford it.  Allow your clientele to focus group their own tastes and preferences.

10.  Have Fun.  Catering is a very stressful business.  Eating is an everyday thing and besides the sanitation safety side of food service the rest is really is not that serious.  Stay fit, exercise regularly, and laugh a lot.  Nothing is more serious or less fun than health issues so make sure you are healthy, happy and ready to hunt!  You will need joy to get through it all!

Have Fun! - I will see you both in front and behind the buffet table! :-)

Cameron Toth is the owner of a Westchester, NY and NYC based event staffing company Toth Event Staffing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Perfect Staff: 8 Ways to Hire Better

Hopefully, when you read this article's title, you were skeptical.  You should be! The perfect staff does not exist.  As humans we are not perfect.  Highly trained commandos are better suited for combat than a chair bound accountant.  But not everyone can be a highly trained commando, or an accountant!  Some have the physical and mental drive and some don't.  Judging this well in your hiring process is what will give your company a true and large competitive advantage.

Many companies do not hire talent well.  Their searches are fast and sloppy.  The work to find more than one qualified candidate for an open position pays off in huge dividends.  The right candidate fills the position and grows the company.  The wrong candidate can create HR problems around their own employment and grow a wedge in your company that is hard to extract.

My company: Toth Event Staffing (Please like us on Facebook) prides itself on the talent search process.  For example, for our cater-waiter roster I do not consider any staff that does not have actual off-premise catering experience.  I do not have the ability to provide paid training, so I do not hire candidates that do not have the necessary experience.  It is important to recognize your companies limitations in the hiring process.

8 Ways to Hire Better:

1. BE SPECIFIC: Be extremely specific in your job advertising.  Do not advertise multiple jobs in one posting.  It does not save you money because it does not save you time.  Laser target your prospects.  Be specific if you require degrees, certifications or specific skills and experience.

2. PHONE INTERVIEW: Conduct a phone interview and write down answers to important questions based on the job ad you place.  Start the employee file on this phone call and go back to it if they make it to the in-person interview.  If they live to far away, are rude, do not have the specific experience you need than their is no need for an in-person interview.  Throw the phone interview sheet away if they are unqualified (unless you need it for legal HR purposes).  For prospects that meet your standards set the in-person meeting date and email them the details on location, attire, etc.  It is a waste of time to talk about what you are going to email and I find it is a great test to see if someone can receive, read and follow directions.  In our email centric world it is vital to know if someone can both receive and understand written messages and directions.

3. BE POSITIVE: Training your candidates or future candidates starts with the phone interview.  Be positive and even if you receive negative answers to your questions always remain positive in the interview process.  A poor candiate today can be a great candidate months or years in the future.

4. ALWAYS BE TRAINING: Training begins with the first interviews.  Set the tone and provide the applicants with an understanding of the mission of the company and how they can fit into and help grow the organization.  From busboy or mailroom clerk to the top brass, everyone has the ability to make your company better.  Make sure they understand your expectations.  Be positive as you may be training someone who might not get the job now but may be perfect for it later.

5. JOB DESCRIPTION: Micro manage the job description so you do not have to micro manage later.  Ideally you want your employees to be empowered an autonomous.  Hire people who can do the job provide training if you have to but create a very detailed and robust understanding of the job so their is no room for saying "I did not understand what was expected of me" later.

6. JUDGE ATTITUDE: Attitude is so important.  Sure, look at the resume. Verify information, if necessary, than throw it out.  If your applicant does not demonstrate the "knack", if they do not "get it" in the interview.  If they rub you the wrong way.  Be introspective and ask yourself why, but, if at the end of the day your gut says this is not the right candidate, trust that and move on.  My gut instinct is really good after I have asked the questions and had a bit of time with a candidate.  I am sure your gut will be able to make great informed decisions as well!

7. CHEF TEST YOUR CANDIDATES: After the initial interview for a chef to land a position they must actually demonstrate their skills.  The hospitality industry is a little more advanced in this way because they require candidates to prove themselves before hiring.  You can either cook or you can't.  You can either handle the volume of cooking or you can't.  You can either manage a kitchen or you can't.  Find out.  Create an interview process that stress tests your candidates and requires them to show their skills.  For my company (Toth Event Staffing) I require candidates to show up for the interview in uniform and my questions challenge them to handle situations that are real and unique to the position that they are applying for.

8. BE TRUTHFUL: This should be obvious but it has happened to me time and time again.  Employers make promises and do not follow through.  Promise less and deliver more, if you can.  Manage your employees expectations well.  Candidates are interviewing with you because they want to work.  If you promise to pay within three weeks when you pay in two weeks there is no issue.  However if you promise weekly paychecks the same exact employee who would have said yes to the three week pay cycle will be disappointed and upset.  They may not continue to work with you because you have not "help up your end of the bargain".  From responsibilities, to unpaid time, to dress code make sure #5 (Your Job Description) is really detailed and includes your responsibilities as well as theirs.

Again once your candidate is working with you, keep training them. Remember that the goal is to have your company recruits continue to grow, learn and accomplish their own goals as well as yours.  In that fashion you create a team and a company that will be loyal and support you in your endeavors.

I am certainly no master or doctor in this field so please share any advice or comments with me.  I continue to learn and grow to support myself as well as my staff.

Keeping Attendees Engaged to End of Conference

This question was asked on Linkedin: 

"Has anyone found an effective way to keep an audience at a multi-day conference - all the way through the last speaker? I have tried lots of things but am still looking for the key."

Start the conference focused on your attendees and their individual goals. I have experienced this with Adrian Segar. It is a logistical challenge but have the attendees introduce each other in the first sessions to everyone else. Have each attendee state what they do, why they are there and what their goal for being there is. Create all or shift content onsite to meet the needs stated in this session. Explain to everyone how important it will be for everyone to stay to the end in order to do a similar wrap up session based on the introduction and goal setting session (which attendees love by the way). Your most powerful tool on site is the energy and enthusiasm of your attendees. If you can make them feel like they are meeting their goals (meeting new people, learning, and empowered) than you have a conference that attendees do not want to end. 

Find out more about the "Unconference" or "Peer-Conference" method here:

A few words about color and comfort: 

Energize your spaces! Meeting rooms can include hot exciting color combinations to energize people and wake them up. Hallways and business center can be blue or green rooms that calm people down. Any area where people would be stressing like registration maybe - make sure their are soft calming colors. PLaces where you want attendees on the edge of their seat use bright exciting colors. 

Make sure seating is comfortable but not bed like. Make sure attendees are comfortable sharing their knowledge and being a part of the conference. Engagement will create retention. Food should be available but it should be brain food. Stay away from bread heavy continental breakfasts and junk food. Cereals, yogurt, tea, healthy popcorn, fish, vegetables with dip, health bars and plenty of fruit.

Healthy food is not an exact science because we as humans can choose not to eat what is healthy and we can choose to eat what is really bad for us.  For a few tips on designing your conference menu check out this article that features insights from Jamie Oliver, Celebrity Chef/Food Activist and Andrea Sullivan of Brain Strength Systems:

Find the original conversation on linked here:  There are some great responses to the question not included here.