Just Say "No"

Success means learning to say “No.”


This was the topic of a presentation by a noted business leader at a conference I recently attended. Saying “No,” however, is inconceivable to any caterer who is wired to please. In fact, I was trained to say “Yes” to just about anything that wouldn’t cause flood or fire.  You may find that adapting to this new philosophy can be a challenge but learning to just say “No” frees you to cater to the clients who are the best fit for your company.


Since the recession, like most companies, Finesse has learned to economize while doing everything possible to increase revenues. To support this effort, we have indeed challenged ourselves to say “No” when we are asked to operate in a manner contrary to our standards or price points. Here’s why: between the austerity measures in the marketplace since 2008 and the advent of the gigantic international catering conglomerates, there is a tendency for the smaller caterer to try to be all things to all people at all prices. It can be argued that this approach keeps cash flowing and employees working. However, it is more likely that your company’s vision, integrity, and profitability will be compromised. When you have to bend and twist to accommodate the requests of a client who is not a good fit, you risk losing focus on the clients who are your Right Fit. Considered this way, it becomes clear that saying “No” is the smart thing to do.  Saying “No” to one thing frees you up to saying “Yes” to something more valuable. 


Not long ago, I was consulting with the off-premise catering arm of a fine dining restaurant. While this client was quick to embrace certain fundamentals of off-premise operations, they had lost sight of why their restaurant’s style of food and service is so popular. They were saying “Yes” to anything that came their way and they were floundering. Plus, they were working way too hard and far too many hours! It was very difficult for the directors to understand the concept of Right Fit. What finally resonated was a quote by iconic jazz musician, Dizzy Gillespie: “It’s taken me all my life to learn what NOT to play.” The trumpet sounded loudly and clearly to this client. They learned to say “No” to anything outside of their range, refocused on their initial mission, and began to accommodate better fit events.


I have learned that while the customer may always be right, he may not always be the right customer for me. Therefore, I have found myself saying “No” more often and coaching clients to do the same. In turn, I have gained more respect from clients and staff alike. This has been empowering and invigorating, and our bottom line reflects the change.


Will I revert back to my old philosophy any time soon? Hell No!

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