Now Say "Yes"

In my last post, I declared that we should say “No” to opportunities that will compromise our company’s vision, integrity, or profitability. This post inspired a big positive response from industry friends, but several asked how to best qualify when to say “Yes.”  It’s a great question!


There are many qualitative reasons to say “Yes” to an opportunity, but sound business decisions are always supported by accurate pro formas and Profit & Loss statements. This holds true for everyone, including the creative thinker, the rainmaker (euphemism for the independent, fast-charging, commission-hungry, and client-pleasing sales person), and anyone inclined to impetuously sidestep standard cost accounting.  I confess: I was guilty of this approach for the better part of my career.


Such behavior is rarely intentional; it is simply a reflection of the uninformed or undisciplined mind. In managing Finesse Cuisine and working with consulting clients, I have found that one solution is to create a compensation plan that in part rewards everyone for achieving specific financial goals. An even more effective approach, however, is to educate your staff to understand events in financial terms and concepts.


Periodic companywide evaluations of real event P&L’s will help you decide when to say “No” and when to say “Yes.” Even hourly employees should get into the act. You may be surprised by the great suggestions your porter, dishwasher, or driver offer on ways to economize.  And they will feel great when they see how they add essential value to the company’s well being. When evaluating event pro formas and P&Ls becomes an everyday exercise, everyone is empowered to justify activities and pricing to clients, managers, and colleagues alike. The added benefit is that your Accounting Department will be better able to forecast cash flow.


Just as professional athletes, artists, and musicians still practice basic fundamentals, you will find it helpful to regularly run through the following topics with your management:

  • What is a business?
  • What is a Pro forma?
  • What is a Profit & Loss Statement?
  • How do Expenses impact Contribution Margin?
  • What is the difference between Event Contribution Margin and Net Profit?
  • How can a P&L shape decision making?
  • What are your Company Fixed Costs?

Just like a basketball player practicing free throws or a jazz pianist running through scales, having these conversations reinforces the fundamentals of your company’s business.


It is the job of all managers to control and understand how costs affect them directly and why the P&L is essential.  Armed with financial understanding, you can evaluate each opportunity's value and potential risks.  Knowing all the right information helps you know when to discard the "Just Say No" rule and when to feel confident offering a wholehearted "Yes!"






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!






Your Strong Suit

A perfect staff uniform is essential to your company’s success.  Long before clients and guests enjoy a first sip of wine or taste of hors d’oeuvre, they form an impression based on the image of your staff. When the planner, chef, and server are carefully attired, neatly groomed, and professionally poised, clients relax and guests trust that they are in good hands. 

I recently consulted with a company whose strong sales team generated smart proposals and whose Chef was quite talented. Clients seemed fairly pleased with their overall performance but the company failed to win repeat business or client referrals. The reason became clear almost at once and was easy to remedy.

The Problem

The staff’s appearance was in complete disarray. Their uniforms were not standardized and their general presentation was sloppy.  Additionally, the staff arrived to event sites in common street clothes. It was not unusual to see servers enter a client’s home wearing any combination of leather wrist bands, tank tops, hoodies, eye-catching jewelry, open toed sandals, or tennis shoes. One memorable outfit was composed of a Foo Fighters tee-shirt, bathing suit, and flip flops! With tuxedo bags slung over shoulders, these young men and women often juggled lattes, cell phones, cigarettes, and bags of fried food.

The Solution

The company’s management did a complete makeover of its staff wear so that servers and chefs appeared starched and polished in standardized uniforms. Even the sales team was coached by an image consultant. Servers and chefs were instructed to arrive to events in full uniform, properly groomed, with straight posture and a friendly smile. No cigarettes or fast food were permitted once in uniform. Numerous staff members later volunteered that they felt new pride in their jobs and believed that their uniform helped them reach this professionalism.  Within no time, the company tracked a significant increase in repeat business and referrals.

Proper attire and focus on image reflect care and respect for all concerned.  When clients and guests see how much care your company puts into presenting a polished appearance, they will feel confident in your attention to all the other details that combine to make a great event.  As much as good food and flawless event orchestration contribute to the overall catering experience, don't forget that presentation will prove your strongest suit.  So, regardless of your company's style or mission, a thorough review of uniform policy is beneficial.  Even if the preferred choice of ensemble is a colorful tee with a swimsuit!