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, Quinceañeras, 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.