Thu

02

Apr

2015

Dear Jon Letters...

JHW Hospitality Dear Jon Letters





 

A series for clients and colleagues who are seeking support, asking for advice, and hoping to reignite their passion for hospitality.

Dear Jon,

I’ve seen you recommend that sales people need to track their activities and I want to start doing this with my employees. I know they are going to resist the change. Can you please give me some reasons to help convince them this is a good idea?    –J.G., Des Moines, IA

 

Dear J.G.

Good for you! Implementing an activity tracking system is a great way to start improving your sales. I’m a firm believer in the old adage “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

 

Unfortunately, I also know that sales teams who have “self-managed” for a long time can be quite resistant to a new tracking system. It will be important for you to present this change in a way that reassures them that you aren’t attacking or critiquing their work. As their manager, it is your goal to supervise them, but you should avoid micro-management. This is about accountability and setting up reliable systems, not uncovering your weakest employee through some kind of Hunger Games competition. That’s why you need to stress your role as a support for your team.

 

I suggest you emphasize the way activity tracking will help your company standardize how you do things. Developing client relationships and moving them through your sales pipeline is key to sustained success. Once you have a protocol for tracking how your company does this, you’ll see more reliable sales growth. As your company grows, it will be easier to train new sales people in your system. And in the unfortunate event that one of your existing sales people is called away unexpectedly (e.g., because of an illness or family emergency), you or someone else on your sales team will be able to step in and cover for them. Even the most contrary of sales people should recognize that these are all positive benefits for the team!

 

Having a sales activity tracking system will also help you help your employees. If someone on your team isn’t delivering the results your company wants, you need to be able to review where he needs support. Is he losing business to competitors because of his slow response-time? Does he not follow-up after sending proposals? Does he reach out to enough new contacts? Identifying his areas of weakness gives you both the opportunity to target specific skills that need strengthening. If you make this an opportunity for learning and development, your team won’t feel threatened. In fact, they may come to recognize the tracking system as the career-enhancing tool it can be!

 

Good luck, J.G.! Let us know how your team responds.


Do you have a question for Jon? Ask in the comments or send us an email.

We may answer your letter next!

 

14 Comments

Fri

13

Mar

2015

How to Maintain a Successful Venue/Caterer Relationship

Catalyst Ranch logo

The relationship between a caterer and a venue is one of the most important for guaranteeing continuing success for each organization. JHW Hospitality has teamed up with our venue partner, Catalyst Ranch, to offer these suggestions for building a strong and winning relationship.

 

  1. Know each other’s differentials. Whether they book their venue or their caterer first, clients often turn to one for advice on selecting the other. “Each of our caterers are unique in their own way” says Krissy Dabrowski, Special Events Assistant at Catalyst Ranch. “We have implemented a strategy that we meet with them every 8 -12 months for a deep dive of their offerings, see what’s new and exciting, etc. so that we are able to continuously give our clients the best suggestions.” By communicating their own distinctive qualities to their event partners, venues and vendors ensure that they are well-represented to clients.
  2. Be selective. For a long time, the goal of most caterers has been to earn a spot on the vendor list of every venue in town, but this is not necessarily the right strategy for every company.  Not every caterer is a good match for every venue. Consider paring back on the list of places you work. Focusing on a smaller number of venues will allow you to dedicate the time and resources necessary for delivering the most successful events. Also, caterers shouldn’t join venues just for the free marketing and exposure. Venues will know that you are using them and may resent being taken advantage of. Rather than trumpeting that you’ll work at any location in town, pair yourself with venues that best complement your food and style of service.
  3. Get to know as many people as possible. A strong partnership goes beyond the venue’s sales representative meeting the caterer’s event coordinator for lunch twice a year. Instead, make sure that event staff, sales reps, cooks, security guards, and executives all meet and understand each other’s responsibilities. As Krissy explains “I honestly feel that when everyone feels respected and appreciated, it makes for a calm and nearly flawless event every time!”
  4. Promote each other. Go beyond the guaranteed marketing you are contracted to provide each other. Look for ways to highlight your partner such as interacting on social media and attending each other’s open houses and networking events. These small exchanges help strengthen the foundation of the venue/vendor relationship.

The partnership between venue and caterer is valuable and important to the success of both organizations. Our thanks to Krissy Dabrowski of Catalyst Ranch for sharing some tips for maintaining that relationship. Contact Catalyst Ranch for Chicago’s most creative meeting and event space!

21 Comments

Fri

31

Oct

2014

Dear Jon Letters...

 

 

 

 

 

A series for clients and colleagues who are seeking support, asking for advice, and hoping to reignite their passion for hospitality.

 

 

Dear Jon:

When my company sends proposals, we include a total price for all our equipment rentals. Recently a potential client demanded to see the itemized list of all the equipment. I decided not to send this and she ended up not hiring us. Should I have given her the list as she asked?  –S.M., Chicago

It’s understandable that a host would want to feel confident that every detail is being properly managed. That said... (Click here to read Jon's complete answer.)


Do you have a question for Jon? Ask in the comments or send us an email.

We may answer your letter next!

5 Comments

Fri

10

Oct

2014

In the Media: Foodservice Radio

Are You Ready For the Holidays?

In an interview with Bob Ryals of Foodservice Radio, Jon discusses the importance of having a strong Fourth Quarter and he shares tips for streamlining operations and maximizing holiday profits.


From selling a smart menu to retaining the best clients, this podcast shares ideas for making it the most wonderful time of the year!


1 Comments

Thu

07

Aug

2014

Dear Jon Letters...

 

 

 

 

 

A series for clients and colleagues who are seeking support, asking for advice, and hoping to reignite their passion for hospitality.

Dear Jon:

My Sales Manager tells us to "up-sell" but I feel pushy when I do. Do you have any suggestions?  –L.P., Atlanta

 

Dear L.P.:

I understand the reluctance you’re feeling. “Up-selling” is, indeed, an unsettling term and nobody appreciates being pushed to buy extra things. Let me try to reframe how you think about the sales process.

 

As a catering salesperson, it is your business responsibility to create revenue for your company. In order to meet your sales goals, you need to maximize revenue per guest whenever appropriate. The good news is that there are creative ways to do this that won’t feel like your focus is only on increasing check averages. I suggest you think about ways to give clients the best possible event. What will “WOW!” their guests? Is it a specialty cocktail the color of their corporate logo? Is it a late-night snack as guests are leaving? Is it a customized dessert inspired by the bride and groom’s favorite vacation destination? Whatever you suggest, you should collaborate with clients on ways to enhance their guests’ experience.

 

Try to start suggesting special items or additional services as early as possible in the planning stage. Long before the contract is on the table or the proposal has been sent, you’re setting a tone that says you and your company want to create the best possible event. By working with the client on incorporating these enhancements into their plans, you’ll avoid suddenly pitching add-ons. You’ll feel less like a sleazy, “up-selling,” shark but you’ll still be maximizing revenue and creating unforgettable experiences for your clients. 

 

Good luck and please let us know how this perspective works for you!

 

Do you have a question for Jon? Ask in the comments or send us an email. We may answer your letter next!

 

2 Comments

Fri

25

Jul

2014

Featured Guest Blogger

Catalyst Ranch is featuring our effective "Post Event Sales Strategy" on their blog Creative Juice. Read it and make the most of your next event!

1 Comments

Wed

12

Mar

2014

In the Media - Catersource Magazine

As hospitality professionals, our instinct is to say "yes" to every client and request. Learning to say "no," however, can lead to better opportunities with Good Fit clients.

 

Learn more about "Just Say 'NO!'" in Jon's article in the latest issue of Catersource Magazine. And don't miss the follow-up: "Now Say 'YES!'"

0 Comments

Tue

03

Dec

2013

Do You Run Your Business or Does It Run You?

Our Business and Strategic Advisor, Terry Weaver of Chief Executive Boards International, said something brilliant the other day. We were talking about the fact that many caterers claim they market their companies through “word of mouth.” Terry objected:

 

“Word of mouth” is an accidental strategy. It’s not reliable and it’s not intentional. If you want to run your business instead of just letting it run you, you have to have an intentional strategy.

 

“Word of mouth” is fantastic. It’s flattering when a new client tells you they were referred to you by an existing client. It feels great to know that customers are so happy with your work that they are willing to share your name with others. “Word of mouth” makes us feel like heroes. But it is unacceptable as a sales foundation to support your company. You can’t budget for “word of mouth.” You can’t make hiring decisions based on the hopes of good “word of mouth.” The bank won’t accept “word of mouth” as part of your business plan.

 

I know from my own experience as a caterer and also as a coach and consultant, that catering can often feel like clinging to the back of a runaway horse. In order to take the reins and assert some control over your company, you need to establish a reliable sales strategy that you can teach to your salespeople. Even the smallest company needs these systems in order to grow (and larger companies will find improvement in tightening their existing systems).

 

Having a replicable sales system allows your team to continue selling while you’re busy doing the other important things your business requires. The structure of a sales system will give your team confidence in representing your company and will give you the reassurance that your brand is presented the way you want.

 

Think of a sales system as a recipe: you wouldn’t expect a cook to make your signature soup without knowing all the steps you take. Instead, you write down your ingredients and you supervise your cooks until they are turning out vats of Butternut Squash Soup that taste as delicious as yours. Likewise, how can you expect a sales team to sell your service without similar instructions? Only once you’ve identified your target market, crafted your unique selling proposition, and established your outreach schedule will you be able to expand your client base and increase your revenue. Once you’ve got that under control, your company will feel less like a runaway horse and more like a well-run business.

 

15 Comments

Tue

12

Nov

2013

Client Relationships vs. Client Transactions

Jon Wool leads the Sales Ninja Workshop

One of the hot topics at our recent Sales Ninja Workshop in Denver was the difference between Client Transactions and Client Relationships.

 

You never want to do one event for a client; you want to do ten events for them! Therefore, it’s important to always nurture those relationships. Understand when and why each customer entertains and always ask “What’s next?” The goal is to establish a relationship with your client so that when the time comes for them to host another event, you are the first person who comes to mind.

2 Comments

Mon

03

Jun

2013

What To Do When Your Client Is Just Not That Into You

As we discussed in my last post, sometimes you just won’t be able to woo a client. They may have been a Good Fit and your proposal may have included everything they requested but they chose to hire one of your competitors. The rejection will sting but there are steps you can take to try to prevent it from happening again.

 

  • Any time you send a proposal and do not win the business, you should fill out a standard "Lost Business Report" based on a debriefing with the Decision Maker. During this meeting or conversation, it is perfectly OK - recommended even! - to ask which caterer won the business and to ask how you might have approached the process differently. Really listen to what the client tells you and be mindful of this information when bidding on future business. Consider this loss a learning opportunity for your entire team.
  • You may have lost the party but all is not lost! Keep this prospect engaged. A handwritten Good Luck note or an email just prior to the event is courteous. A week or so after the event, call the client and ask them to share a few details about it: what went well and what could have been better. Ask when their next event is and ask to submit a proposal. Demonstrate that your are committed to serving their needs.
  • Add the client's contact information to your CRM, keep their name on your "tickle" list, and include them in general announcements and email blasts. Be polite, be persistent, keep your conversation light, and keep the focus on your prospective client.


There’s no way to sugarcoat it: losing a piece of business can be a real blow to a salesperson’s ego. But you can’t let a little rejection get you down. Keep your head up and get back out there. Remember, a smart catering company is not selling one-off parties; it is creating trusting lifelong relationships with its clients.

0 Comments

Sat

18

May

2013

How Much Follow-Up Is Too Much Follow-Up?

Recently, a client asked “How often should I follow-up with a prospect after I send a proposal?” This is a great question because while it is important to pursue business with determination, nobody wants to be the pesky salesperson who won’t stop hounding a client. The answer varies depending on the length of time between the inquiry and the event date. Based on your company’s volume of business, if a client requests a proposal for an event that is very soon, you may even consider asking for a commitment or deposit before generating a proposal.

 

Assuming, however, that you have a more generous timeframe, your prospect has been carefully qualified, and you did not generate a proposal until the client was close to a “yes,” here are some basic guidelines for communicating with an indecisive or non-responsive prospect:

  • After you deliver the proposal, follow up promptly. If you wait longer than one business day, you have waited too long. Make sure the client received the proposal and suggest setting a time to review everything in detail.
  • If you do not hear from the client, try contacting them through a different method of communication. Don't assume that everyone communicated the same way you do. If they aren't calling you back, send an email. If your messages don't get replies, pick up your phone.
  • If the event is several weeks or months in the future, aim for weekly contact and allow the intervals to widen.

 

There are several reasons you may not hear from a client and may not be able to close the sale:

  • The client was not properly qualified as a Good Fit for your company and price point.
  • You didn't understand the event they requested or you failed to communicate your company's offering clearly.
  • You weren't communicating with the true Decision Maker and therefore you didn't design the proposal to appeal to their specific needs.
  • There may be a genuine reason why the prospect simply cannot host the event. Perhaps the nature of the event has changed such that they must go in a different direction. In this instance, the client may simply be too embarrassed to call. For your own peace of mind, choose to give the prospect the benefit of the doubt and move on.
  • Of course, it's possible the client simply selected another caterer. We'll explore what to do in that case in my next post.


Knowing how often you should follow-up with a client is an important skill for all salespeople. Too much follow-up and you risk annoying the client. Not enough follow-up and you may miss an opportunity. Think of the process as the early days of dating someone – you need to walk the fine line between appearing indifferent and looking desperate. A successful caterer uses good judgment and reads the client’s cues.

0 Comments

Mon

15

Apr

2013

Top 10 Things a Caterer Should Never Say

10. There's not enough time to make the improvements we need.

 

9. We got beat on price.

 

8. Let's just get someone - anyone! - to fill the position.

 

7. That's not how the cooks/servers/salespeople like to do things.

 

6. Let's just win the business.  We can figure out how to make it happen and worry about costs later.

 

5. I basically know how much everything costs.

 

4. We don't have any theft; I know most of my crew.

 

3. I'll make up for the price break somewhere else.

 

2. Since we own our equipment, we don't have to charge the client for equipment.

 

And the #1 Thing a Caterer Should Never Say...

 

1. Let me have one for the road.


1 Comments

Fri

29

Mar

2013

Which CRM is Right for My Company?

One of the questions I was asked after my Catersource presentation on the Sales Pipeline was about which Customer Relationship Management system I recommend. CRMs are a software or cloud-based tool for managing your communication with current and potential clients. They can help organize and track every interaction you have with a customer.

 

I say “can help” because it’s important to note that the effectiveness of any system you choose will only equal the amount of commitment you make to it. Collaborative features won’t benefit your sales team if some people refuse to adopt the program. Likewise, if you don’t use the program consistently (for example, you casually meet with a client but don’t track it in your schedule), your data will be incomplete.

 

It is also important to make sure that any system you use is a good fit for your current business model, current volume, and the volume you are projecting in the next few years. You will waste a lot of time switching systems if you outgrow one, and if you’re a small operation, you probably don’t need all the bells and whistles of some of the more complicated systems available.

 

With those caveats in place, I suggest looking into Salesforce CRM or utilizing the CRM features in Caterease. Both include tools which can greatly benefit a sales team.

 

Just remember: CRMs are a tool to support your sales effort. They cannot replace the hard work of selling and they should not take time away from your interactions with your clients.

1 Comments

Thu

28

Feb

2013

Make More Money By Lowering Volume? Here's the Math

Phrases I hear most often when working with clients are “we get beat on price” or “we’ll lose our clients if we price any higher.” I suggest we test this theory with a 3% increase in prices. I don’t believe any qualified client is going to balk at a 3% price increase if, as sales people, we’re doing our jobs and, as operators, we are exceeding client expectations. But, for the sake of argument, let’s imagine that a caterer does lose 20% of its business by such a price increase. They’ll still make more money. Here’s the math:

 

When a caterer aims to make a 10% net profit on sales of $100K, ($100,000 x 10%) the caterer will earn $10,000.

 

When the same caterer loses 20% of its business by raising prices 3%, his sales will reduce to $80k. However ($80,000 x 13%) the net becomes $10,400. That’s an improvement of $400.

 

This sharp caterer has increased prices 3%, earned more, and added 20% more time for selling. Talk about exponential growth!

1 Comments

Thu

20

Dec

2012

Sales Horror or Sales Hurrah?

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!”

0 Comments

Fri

07

Dec

2012

The Morning After

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.

0 Comments

Mon

26

Nov

2012

When Does Age Become a Problem?

Our Director, Melanie Spratford, shares her thoughts on when it's OK to talk about your (company's) age.

I’d like to suggest an experiment for all caterers: pull up the front page of your company website. Now open the site of the local company you consider your fiercest competitor. Let’s also look at the homepage of a local company you think is inferior to yours. Just for fun, pull up the sites of a few caterers in other parts of the country, too.

If my observations are correct, the majority of those sites mention a variation of the following statement (usually within the first couple sentences on the site):
  • 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....
Almost every caterer uses the first lines of their website to state the age of their company. It’s a terrible trend. It does nothing to educate customers about your services and, unless you are the oldest or youngest company in your market, it does nothing to distinguish you from your competitors.

I understand the instinct to “tell the story” of our companies. Catering companies are families, each with its own interesting history. As caterers, we pour so much effort into this all-consuming profession, and it’s natural to want to explain how dedicated we are. Plus, you have every right to be proud of your longevity. This is a grueling business and, let’s be honest, the past 10 years haven’t exactly been the easiest.

Trumpeting your company’s age, however, doesn’t address the primary interests of people visiting your website. Customers are interested in themselves. They want to know how your company can tend to their needs. That you’ve been in business since Reagan was President doesn’t necessarily reassure a bride that you can successfully cater her wedding. Don’t assume that a client knows the value of your years of experience. You need to connect the dots for her: “Our 3 decades in business have given us the operational expertise to create an event you will be proud to remember for just as long.”

It’s a subtle difference but one that will help a client understand how your years of experience have given you the skills needed to deliver consistently incredible catering. Simply telling visitors to your website how long you’ve been in business isn’t enough. You need to explain to them how those years set you apart from all the other caterers. Once you’ve done that, your website will stand out from the crowd.
0 Comments

Thu

31

May

2012

How to Use Social Media Correctly

"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!

0 Comments

Thu

17

May

2012

It's All About the Client

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.

0 Comments

Mon

26

Mar

2012

The Jeopardy! Conquest

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!?

Melanie Spratford on Jeopardy!
Melanie Spratford and co-star, Alex Trebek

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!

2 Comments

Tue

06

Dec

2011

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!"

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Mon

14

Nov

2011

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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