Many friends and clients have requested we revisit this post from last year. We hope it resonates with you as it did with them!
Everyone in the hospitality industry works tirelessly throughout the holiday season: planning, cooking, trouble shooting, and managing hard-to-please clients. This is followed by a race to close the books before finally enjoying a well-deserved holiday break. Two scenarios are likely to follow:
Scenario 1: The Horror, the Horror!
- Many hard-earned kudos and pats on the back for a job well done.
- Down time from December 20th until a few days after New Year's.
- A January filled with a belated office party, extra time chillin' in the break room, cleaning the file drawers, and posting pics of your holiday successes.
- Snow day! Stay home with hot chocolate and good movies.
- A last minute getaway over Valentine's Day weekend.
- Commerce hasn't stopped but you sure have....
- No revenue in the sales pipeline.
Do the math. In this scenario, your company may have missed out on 2-3 months (that’s 15-25%) of the sales calendar! You missed the chance to beat the previous year’s numbers. You handed your competitors a big head start.
Small businesses must sell hard all year long and there is a way to do it:
Scenario 2: A Sales Hurrah!
- Enjoy a much-needed rest and family festivities over the Christmas and New Year's weekends. Even attach an extra day off on either end.
- Consider the week between Christmas and New Year's a prime selling time.
- Get on the phone and reach out to business owners (decision makers) directly. (Note: the executive staffs of many small businesses are in their offices during this week, working to get a jump start on the new year. Therefore, they are accessible, have fewer pressing deadlines, and there are no gate keepers to hinder your sales efforts!)
- Create aggressive sales activity quotas to kick off your new year. Start a contest to reward the salesperson with the best first quarter sales.
- Contact your holiday clients and inspire for referrals. Offer them an incentive program.
- Anticipate the flood of bridal inquiries that arrive at the first of the year.
- Host intimate open houses for new brides, planners, and key clients - now that the holiday hubbub has died down, they'll be happy for a night on the town.
- Prepare your specialty menus and marketing plans for the Super Bowl, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Passover, etc.
- Offer to speak at local business and entrepreneurial groups.
- Fill your sales pipeline.
Everyone in our industry knows to anticipate a robust fourth quarter but that’s no reason to snooze through the first couple months of the year. The smart approach is to ramp up sales throughout the first quarter. This will set a pace for the entire year and, rather than the horrifying loss of 2-3 months of sales time, you can be well on your way to a meaningful increase over last year’s numbers.
That’s definitely a reason to cheer “Hurrah!”
For caterers, the frenzy of holiday planning is at its pinnacle. It’s all we can do to corral clients for last moment selections, secure rental and decor orders, fulfill staffing assignments, and ensure that, with a few deep breaths, a wipe of the brow, and many sleepless nights, parties go off without a hitch. But before popping the champagne in celebration of having survived the holidays, remember that the job continues until well after the last gingerbread man is served.
All too often, attentive customer service ends when the event ends. However, a proactive post-event strategy is as important as your pre-event sales process. It is a key to developing ongoing business and client trust. Here is a post event step-by-step strategy:
- Call client the next day to say "thank you" and include a short event debrief. For more involved events, schedule a conference call or meeting.
- Call venue contact to review execution of the event.
- Hand write a Thank You to the client.
- Review event reports from Sales Executive, Chef and Supervisor.
- Generate a P&L.
- Create client/venue/vendor information files noting their preferences.
- Evaluate the client using a grading system based on criteria for your Best Fit Clients. Grading should be based on event revenue, profitability, frequency of events, ease of function, and client's willingness to promote your company.
- Request a client testimonial.
Following these steps after each event will help nurture your relationships with clients and venue managers. You will quickly find that a proactive and comprehensive post-event program leaves the sweetest taste and wraps up each event with the prettiest bow.
- For 30 years, XYZ Caterers has been serving Anytown, USA....
- Founded 20 years ago, ABC Catering is proud to be a part of....
- In 1987, Chef John Smith started Smith Catering....
When coaching new clients I first ask how I may help improve their business. Responses are usually along the lines of “My chef hates the sales team” or “We can’t seem to hire and keep good staff” or “We're always getting beat on price.” Such critical issues are common to caterers and restaurateurs. However, addressing those issues will not solve the root problem. When I dig a little deeper, 9 out of 10 clients eventually acknowledge they want to improve profitability, to decrease their stress level, and to create a culture where everyone works in harmony. Understanding these goals is the first step toward eventually fixing the day-to-day problems that are a blight on every company.
It is common for owners to believe that if they keep doing the same things just a little better then everything will improve. Or they think that if they throw more money at a problem, it will simply go away. Sadly, this is never the case. Real solutions come from understanding your objectives and constantly reminding yourself to value the activities that will help you reach them.
Therefore, if your goal is to reduce stress, the last thing you need to do is mediate a personality dispute between departments. Likewise, once you define your company culture, identifying employees who will be the right fit for your company becomes much easier. If your goal is to improve profitability, the next step is to assess your sales procedures and evaluate your cost of doing business. You may even discover a new appreciation for the all the time and energy you spend on cost-saving operations.
There are many strategies for setting up more efficient procedures or strengthening a team’s unity. Unfortunately, on their own, none of these quick fixes will bring lasting change or progress. Owners and managers need to dig deeper to identify their goals and their company’s fundamental mission. Once these have been unearthed, the whole team will find it easier to work together to help the company flourish.
Exclusive! Here's a sneak peek at excerpts from an article that will soon appear in Catersource Magazine:
I recently began consulting with a busy catering group whose beverage packages were losing money. They knew that alcohol sales should generate great financial return and they couldn’t understand why that wasn’t happening for them. One look at their liquor storage room and I began to see the problem. First the door to the room was wide open and completely unattended. A couple questions revealed that there were half a dozen keys to the liquor room floating about. Secondly, there were no specific policies regarding packing or pre- and post-event inventories. Lastly, the bar staff were largely unsupervised, with no one responsible for on-site beverage management or consistent handling of the product. Without any monitoring of their liquid assets, this company might as well have been pouring all that booze down the drain.
Fortunately, these problems can be addressed with straightforward solutions rooted in focus and intentionality. I worked with this company to implement what we called The New Rules:
- Lock it up. We changed the lock to the liquor room and produced just 2 keys to the new locks. One is for the owner and one is for the kitchen manager or her assistant. They are required to sign the key in and out for each use.
- Write it down. An inventory sheet is posted outside the liquor room. The manager initials each item as it is removed, noting the date and time. Liquor pull sheets are produced for every event using a system that monitors inventory multiple times: when it arrives at the event site, when it is packed up after the event, and when it is returned to the shop.
- Keep your eyes open. Bar servers are now carefully schooled in proper bar management. They are taught to provide consistent and measured pours, and they are regarded for high performance. They have been enlisted in the company's goal to improve beverage profits and their new sense of purpose shows in their careful efforts.
It may seem that The New Rules are redundant or over-the-top, but because good bar management can play such a dramatic role in increasing profitability, it's worth being vigilant in this area. Within a short timeframe, my client began to see increased margins on liquor sales. Even better, the new discipline has begun to carry over to other areas of the business.
My wife, Carole, planned a wonderful birthday weekend for me in Milwaukee. (No gifts please. Your readership and comments are gifts enough.) The trip included a Brewer’s game at Miller Park and a stay at one of the country’s coolest and best-run hotels, The Iron Horse. Carole announced that she had a surprise outing planned during our stay. Immediately, I thought…a tour of the Harley Davidson Museum or, better yet, enrollment in Harley’s Motorcycle Boot Camp. I imagined myself decked in black leather, boots, and a shiny helmet racing on a V-Rod, jumping canyons à la Evel Knievel. Instead, we drove down a pretty little country road to a quaint museum called Ten Chimneys in Genesee Depot. Ten Chimneys is the famed estate of the iconic couple of theatre’s Golden Age, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. While not what I had envisioned, it was, indeed, a surprise and the experience was wonderful.
The Lunts staged their house as if it were a Broadway set. Each room is designed in a different motif, with a liveliness and style that lured Hollywood and Broadway luminaries. Rooms magically combine the garish with the elegant. Some rooms are named appropriately to reflect eras of the theatre. Others touch on humor like "The Flirtation Room." Bedrooms are named for beloved guests such as Laurence Olivier, Katharine Hepburn, and Noël Coward.
The Lunts went to great lengths to make their guests feel welcome and to create for them memorable experiences. Guests were hosted in beautiful suites, wined, dined, entertained, and bestowed with gifts. The Lunts maintained that hospitality is all about thoughtful planning, theatricality, and attention to detail.
"Thoughtful planning, theatricality, and attention-to-detail.” The very pillars that caterers and hospitality professionals hold dear. They are also the foundation that makes The Iron Horse such a special hotel. So, while I didn't take Harley lessons, I did take a lesson from the famous couple: we should imagine ourselves as theatrical producers or directors. We set the stage and create the magic so that our clients may star. As they take their bows, we can await the best of all client requests: “Encore!’’
Every summer, my family vacations on Cape Cod because, in the words of the old Patti Page song, we're “fond of sand dunes and salty air/Quaint little villages here and there....” As anyone who has visited the area can tell you, behind each of those sand dunes stands a seemingly endless string of restaurants and clam shacks with identical menus and interchangeable names (Ahab's, Capt’n Parker's, The Yankee Clipper…). Each establishment boasts “The Cape's Best Lobsters/Chowder/Fried Clams.” You can almost imagine that every buttery lobster roll or fried seafood plate is cooked in the same gigantic kitchen.
Yet, for all of their similarities, some of these spots thrive year after year while others last only to the end of the season. Why do these restaurants have varying levels of success when they are all offering the exact same menu? The difference is in the execution:
- The successful spots offer exceptional hospitality. Note the smiling hosts, caring managers, and well-trained servers. At the shack with the longest line of diners, you never have to ask a sluggish waiter to wipe ketchup from the duct taped vinyl booth or to bring silverware with the meal.
- Success is also based on operational systems that are simple and dependable. Sunburned families can trust that their piping hot dinner will arrive at the table before the cranky younger cousin finishes a second baggie of oyster crackers.
- The best restaurants are well-tended with clean rest rooms, new looking menu boards, and freshly painted trim. Patrons aren't greeted by the unappetizing scent of cheap disinfectant, stale beer, old cooking oil, or the dreaded "fishy" smell.
Even in the most casual settings, the secrets to success in hospitality are not a mystery. Placing a premium on care, cleanliness, and consistency makes all the difference. The companies who do this are the most financially stable and earn an ever-growing fan base.
Having returned to Chicago some ten pounds heavier, I find myself dreaming of my loved ones, laughing around a table filled with succulent lobsters, a quahog or two, and a round of ice cold beer. Patti Page was right:
If you spend an evening you'll want to stay
Watching the moonlight on Cape Cod Bay.
My daughter Alana is an art student entering her senior year of college and she just made the Dean's List. When my wife and I called to tell her how proud we are, Alana humbly replied that we
were making too big a deal over this. She declared that every student makes the Dean's List if they can:
- Arrive promptly and complete projects on time.
- Be prepared.
- Incorporate the professor's instructions as they progress.
- Ask for additional advice when necessary.
I laughed and suggested that these competencies display professionalism at its highest level. No one is expected to be Salvador Dali or Andrew Wyeth at 21. However, character traits such as
attentiveness, punctuality, creativity, and humility are smart business principles that make a powerful foundation for success in any field.
When it comes to catering sales, there's a short path from contact to contract. In this interview with Bob Ryals of FoodserviceRadio.net, I reveal some secrets to new business development including how to identify Good Fit clients for your company.
"Social media is essential when building brand awareness!"
This message has been emphasized endlessly by marketing experts, business leaders, celebrities, and even President Obama. Although a relative latecomer to this phenomenon, I now have been convinced of its value. But only to a degree.
In the late 1990's and early 2000's, I helped launch several companies and then opened my own, Finesse Cuisine. In those days, outreach and brand-building still happened primarily through old-fashioned, face-to-face networking, prospect meetings, and endless phone calls. When the power of social media became evident, I was concerned because my sales staff and many of my consulting clients came to rely on their laptops and smartphones as their sole means of communication. I instructed that live interaction between people should never be replaced by technology and I still believe this wholeheartedly. A client or colleague never develops a trusting relationship only through tweets or status updates. These connections are a good start but they must be supported by the building of a real world bond. Over time, I have learned to embrace social media with many fewer reservations but only when complemented by those tried-and-true methods of live and personal communication.
If you have thoughts on how we can use social media to enhance sales relationships, please share in the Comments. Or, even better, call us!
How far would you travel for good barbecue?
I never thought I'd hop a plane for grilled meat, but Bovinova 2012 changed my mind. Held annually in Greenville, South Carolina, this unique event raises funds for the Wounded Warrior Project and celebrates the thrill-of-the-grill in grand style. This year's menu included lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, whole pigs, 1 whole cow (approx. 1,200 lbs), and 1 whole llama. There was also great paella and numerous side dishes for those actually seeking a balanced menu. Add the generous contributions of home-brewers passing pitchers of their latest creation and you have a food festival well worth the airfare.
This event was miles away from Villeroy & Boch china and tuxedoed waiters, but I observed many parallels to the more traditional catering model of our consulting clients. Event planning, at its most cohesive, isn't unique to any specific style of entertaining. Although Bovinova took place in the great outdoors and was as casual an event as you can imagine, the same principles for exceptional event orchestration were in play. I witnessed creative menu design, careful quantity control, and safe food handling. There was the coordination of essential equipment, tents, lighting, and the installation of specially designed racks and rotisseries for those whole roasts. A team of proactive and well-instructed staff managed the location, music, and other entertainment. A strong outreach effort had attracted sponsorship and TV crews from The Cooking Channel, and a concentrated social media campaign ensured healthy ticket sales to an eclectic and fun-seeking group of patrons. All of these elements added up to a fun event benefiting an important cause.
Whether you are serving BBQ or truffled foie gras, the success of any event is dependent on attention-to-detail, enthusiastic service, and a menu that exceeds the highest expectations. Kudos to my friend, Jeff Bannister, and the entire Bovinova team for hosting a wildly successful event. Lastly, if you are interested in tasting the llama for yourself, check out www.bovinova.com and put the 2013 date on your calendar.
Salespeople, by nature, must be aggressively competitive. Once we secure a client, we hate sharing them with anyone else. Although it goes against our instincts, sometimes the right thing to do is to genuinely help the competition. Last season, I fielded a call from a long-time retail client who was having trouble communicating with caterers in markets outside of Chicago. She was frustrated they weren’t catering for her customers the way Finesse Cuisine does in Chicago. She asked if I would help.
This can be very sensitive territory. Creative people can be wildly defensive and no one likes to be told they aren’t satisfying their client. But it’s important to me that my client is happy – even when she’s not entertaining in my market. I agreed to help and she introduced me to the other caterers. I found them all to be exceptional catering companies who graciously welcomed our suggestions. They showed great flexibility and willingness to make minor adjustments to their menus, and to review with us the quantities, sizes, and presentation. They were even willing to bring in key staff before the event to be coached on the client’s preferred style of service. Please note that I was working with excellent caterers who hardly needed my input. Their only weakness was the breakdown in communication with the client. Once I translated from Client into Caterer, everything fell into place.
My involvement gave my client peace of mind and the successful events made her a hero in her boss’s eyes. Best of all, she made each of those caterers her official vendor in their market and she now relies on them with confidence. Helping the competition felt counter-intuitive to my sales instincts but it was a reminder about the true nature of our business: Ultimately, catering is not about serving delicious food and drinks with grace and charm. It’s about tending to our client’s needs.
I was recently interviewed by Bob Ryals, the host of "Business of Foodservice" on FoodserviceRadio.net, for my thoughts on hiring and managing staff. We talk about the best ways
to hire the right people and how to develop a staffing program renowned for "Ninja Service." Listen now!
Lollapalooza recently announced Black Sabbath as a headliner at this summer’s music festival. A news program covering the story cut to concert footage of the band playing “Iron Man.” The hard rock and wild electric guitar riffs brought me right back to my early teen years when I tested the patience of my parents and neighbors by turning the speakers of my record player out the windows and blasting Sabbath’s songs. I began to reflect on the longevity of the careers of the band and its founder. Say what you will about the crazed and dazed Ozzy Osbourne but, over 40 years after the inception of Black Sabbath, they are going stronger than ever. In fact they have sold millions of albums and have won just about every music award possible. It stands to reason that such durability is no accident.
It's the kind of durability that we in the catering and hospitality industry crave. Osbourne and mates are shining examples of building around established systems. One of the most important tasks in business is creating internal systems that generate predictable results. Once you have solid systems in place, you can weather any change-over in personnel. Sabbath has had over 20 musicians join, quit, and return over the years. Regardless of this "revolving door" model of employee retention, the band's concept, format, and methods have stayed the same.
If rowdy and outlandish hard rockers can instinctively follow these business principles, why do we struggle to do so in hospitality? Our chefs want to cook “their” food rather than menus requested by the client. Or, a cook wants to riff rather than follow recipes. Sales people hunger for big-name galas at the expense of profitable margins. Or they burden the kitchen with impossible demands like scheduling tastings on the busiest weekends. When pressed for time and under pressure, ops people are tempted to cut a corner or two. Worst of all is when owners are afraid to ruffle employees’ feathers by drawing clear lines. Employers justify their failure to formulate protocol by saying “it is a lot of work” or “there’s never enough time” or “the staff won’t buy into a new process.” These are all excuses that hold companies back from reaching and maintaining excellence over the years.
If we catering and hospitality professionals cannot step back and create reliable systems at every level of our companies, we are not likely to experience the sustained success enjoyed by Black Sabbath. Where will your company be in 40 years?
Answer: For $800 – This young caterer served up something pretty incredible on television’s most successful game show of all time.
Question: Who is Melanie Spratford on Jeopardy!?
Last week, my friend and colleague, Melanie Spratford, won on Jeopardy! She exchanged quips with legendary host, Alex Trebek, and rattled off correct responses in categories such as: Bestsellers, Historical Facts and Figures, and Musical Terms. As her winnings increased, Melanie’s strategy became evident. She later explained it is important to be very well prepared, to understand the show’s format and rhythm, and to learn the basics about the subjects the producers consider most important. While it isn’t necessary to know the capital of the Solomon Islands*, it is important to know all of the US state capitals.
I get dizzy merely recalling the subjects she says are most important, let alone their related facts and figures. However, as Jeopardy! progressed, I began to correlate Melanie’s strategy as a contestant to that of an effective catering salesperson. If, as catering sales experts, we follow Melanie’s cue, we’ll always be prepared when opportunity presents, be well versed in all major areas of our industry, and be able to guide clients through a series of subjects with pointed questions and answers. This approach, coupled with a bit of humor and high energy, will position us to become stars in our own right. While we don’t need to use phrases such as “chèvre fermier de vosges,” we should be ready to talk about goat cheese and even recommend a suitable wine pairing. The key is to apply our event expertise toward anticipating our clients’ main concerns which will help us win their confidence and business.
*The Solomon Islands are in the Pacific and their capital is Honiara. Of course, Melanie knew that all the way. If we follow her lead, stay prepared, and anticipate client's questions, we too can be returning champions!
As a member of The Catersource Consulting Unit, I was part of a team that offered free half-hour client consultations during last month’s 2012 Conference and Trade Show. A dozen owners or managers of both large and small companies sat before me and, one after another, asked my advice about a run of familiar subjects: kitchen management, operations, and sales people shying away from selling. One concern in particular seemed consistent among nearly all of these companies. As one caterer explained, their employees had commandeered the ship and were steering off course. I was reminded of the great line from the Herman Wouk classic, The Caine Mutiny Court Martial:
"...There are four ways of doing things on board my ship: The right way, the wrong way, the Navy way, and my way. Do it my way and we'll all get along..." -Captain Phillip Francis Queeg
Queeg has the right idea and years of hard fought experience to back him up. Trouble begins, though, when he compromises the safety of his own ship and loses the respect of his men. (Note that the first sign of Queeg’s demise comes when learning of a quart of missing strawberries. At least he's on top of his food inventory!). Eventually, those under Queeg's command wrestle away crontol of the ship and subsequently stand trial for insubordination.
Switch this scenario to hospitality and substitute the word ‘Catering’ for ‘Navy’ and we suddenly empathize with Queeg, even if, as caterers, we are immune to any such neurosis or dysfunction. What advice then, did I give to those sitting before me in the Catersource consulting rooms?
Of course, we’ve all experienced discord at some point and largely because of the highly passionate, creative and often competitive personalities that our industry attracts. Our staff may be well meaning, and some may be selfish but most simply have different measures or methods for success.
My advice: first, the business owner must reevaluate and restate the company mission and its pillars of success. He or she may consider involving key personnel in this process to promote unity and a shared vernacular. Next, adapt the approach celebrated by Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth; create clear job descriptions with measurable goals. Also design replicable systems that may be served by the individual rather than systems that serve the individual. Finally, host bi-weekly or monthly manager meetings to evaluate ways that systems, performance, and creativity are serving the mission and pillars. With leader at the helm and crew onboard to help steer, the ship should find its course. Or, as the great motivational coach, Napoleon Hill, once said:
"It is the set of sails, not the direction of the winds that determines which way we will go...."
I came across an article titled “Culinary Mercenaries” that describes chefs as temperamental, egotistical, rootless, and unreliable. Many of you will vehemently argue against the article but some of you may recognize the traits of your chefs in these descriptions (or, worse, maybe you recognize yourself?!). To be fair, for every chef depicted in the article, there is at least one non-culinary boss who may be described as having similar poor management skills. It is no secret that the tensions between employer and employee can sometimes resemble a battlefield more than a workplace, and it’s easy to imagine chefs as soldiers-for-hire, willing to pack up their knives at the slightest provocation.
During a recent consulting assignment, the troubled owner of a popular catering company complained that his company had burned through yet another chef. I reflected on my own HR successes and failures. I also thought about the noted companies that manage to retain employees for upwards of 25 years. Why are these companies successful and others not?
I shared with my client that the success of these companies seems to begin with the leadership style and behavior of the person in charge. In these models, the leaders set an example of stellar and consistent behavior. They work to create a strong culture and a safe, stimulating work environment. They compensate employees fairly and encourage a mutual trust. They also refused to tolerate employees who fail to follow their leadership cues.
My client took time to consider this and ways that he might adjust his mindset and actions, In tandem, we created a program with which to evaluate the competencies, qualities, and skills of each current employee and new hire. Will these efforts pay off? Time will tell but he and I are both optimistic.
Ultimately, we cannot dictate how employees behave. We can hire smartly, set a fine example, hold employees accountable, and terminate the bad ones. There will always be workers who hop from gig to gig like soldiers-for-hire but, as owners and managers, it is our job to run our companies as businesses and avoid being dragged down into the trenches.