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Posted On November 24, 2015 by John Cohen

Can Zero Waste Initiatives Be Profitable for Caterers? Part 2

In part 1 of “Can Zero Waste Initiatives Be Profitable for Caterers?”, we heard from Chowgirls Killer Catering in Minneapolis, where zero waste initiatives and sustainability are built into their business model. They’re successfully diverting 97% of their waste from landfills by doing things like getting food from local farmers and producers who deliver the food in reusable food packaging, using eco-friendly containers for serving food, composting, and recycling as much as they can, including aluminum, paper, plastics, and spent grease. Best of all, they’re finding it’s good for the bottom line!


Saucy By Nature’s location in Brooklyn, NY

Another caterer in Brooklyn has sustainability on his mind, too. Przemek Adolf owns Saucy By Nature. In addition to trying to compost and recycle as much as he can, he created a small restaurant where he can serve surplus food from catering gigs.

“I never set out to have a restaurant. I really just wanted to focus on catering,” Przemek told Total Party Planner. “But the opportunity just sort of presented itself. I try to order in bulk to save money, but that doesn’t always work out,” he explains. “Unless different events use the same ingredients, stuff goes bad before I can use it, and it gets thrown out. So, then I’ve wasted money and it’s bad for the environment. So, having a restaurant lets us use our surplus food more responsibly and creates an additional revenue stream.”

PrzemekPicFrom the beginning, part of Przemek’s business model has been to partner with local distributors who have ethics and zero waste and sustainability goals that are similar to his own. He’s always used local, fresh ingredients for his menus, which is something that was ingrained in him while traveling through Asia and living in Europe. “I traveled, visited markets, tried local cuisine. Eating local is a way of life everywhere else. It’s a given. It’s normal. It’s the standard, not just something for the elite,” he says.

When he was ready to get his own commercial catering space, he didn’t have investors. He had to raise the cash himself, which meant saving money wherever he could. Reducing waste and finding sustainable ways to do business actually saved him money in the long run and made it possible for him to save up the capital he needed.

Real estate in New York City is complex, to say the least. In setting up a kitchen, Przemek found himself having to deal with the fire department, the Department of Health, and the Department of Consumer Affairs, to name just some of the bureaucracy he was dealing with. And then there’s the fact that the real estate market there is very tight. Finding something convenient and affordable is a challenge.

After searching for eight months, he found the right space for his catering company, and it happened to include restaurant space. That’s how the idea to create a local cafe with a rotating menu using leftover ingredients from his events was born! He also sells condiments and sauces from his cafe (although that does add to the bureaucracy he deals with, since the Department of Agriculture regulates food consumed off premises, such as his condiments, and the Department of Health regulates food consumed on premises).

But Przemek hasn’t stopped there. He works with a waste management consultant to put into place a three-tier approach to reducing waste:

  • SaucyByNatureLogoSmallComposting and recycling
  • Using resources (such as ingredients) as wisely as possible to avoid waste, including serving in his cafe surplus ingredients that would otherwise be thrown out
  • In the future, serving, donating, or selling actual leftovers from events to reduce food waste even further

Today, Przemek produces less than one bag of trash per week from his cafe! He also uses fresh, untouched leftover ingredients to create new entrees and meals for the cafe. However, at some point, he thinks it would be good to be able to serve actual leftovers that for now are thrown away as compost or trash.

Depending on where a business is located, there are places, such as food banks, that can pick up leftover food from events and redistribute it to people in the local community who need it most. For example, in the Portland, Oregon area, there’s, which also has great articles and resources on its site.

On a national level, there’s the Food Donation Connection, which works in partnership with the National Restaurant Association to provide “an alternative to discarding surplus wholesome food by linking food service donors with surplus food to local hunger relief agencies.” However, there are many challenges to salvaging leftovers. Businesses and charities have to be mindful of transportation and storage in order to comply with food safety regulations. Timing is critical, too, since freshly prepared food has a shelf life and must be stored properly.

“There’s a lot of dialogue about food waste,” Przemek says, “but where are the solutions coming from? Our business has slim margins, as many caterers do. So, even if we want to save the food to donate it, who will refrigerate and store the food? There is a cost for energy and labor to store the food, and that’s particularly high in New York. So, how do I get this food into other people’s hands in a way that is fiscally sustainable for me and the non-profit?”

Living in a big, complex city like New York has its own special set of challenges. Unlike Minneapolis, where the mayor is getting the city on track to be a zero-waste city, New York doesn’t compost. It did offer composting at one point as a pilot program, but the facility where the organic waste was processed was shut down in November 2014, according to this article by WNYC, and now the compost goes to a landfill. There are residential trash and recycling curbside programs, but as a commercial business, Przemek has to pay a private company to take his trash and recycling. Even with that, he’s had problems with this current company not taking his recycling.

Despite some of the challenges and setbacks, Przemek remains optimistic and is always looking for new ways to reduce waste. Before he became a caterer, he studied sustainable economics, so he’s intimately familiar with what’s at stake. “We take waste management for granted,” Przemek explains. “The cost of waste management is eventually going to cost more in the future. Fixing an ecosystem or figuring out where to put waste, we’re just deferring the cost for a later time. That’s not going to work either.”

When asked what advice he has for other caterers and restaurants who want to reduce waste and look for more sustainable ways of doing business, he recommends looking at what you’re trying to do and developing systems around the things that are both profitable and ethical.

For example, what is the cost of a few compostable or recyclable cups and plates and paying a service to process them compared to the cost of the labor, water, and energy to wash reusable utensils? Which system makes more sense financially to set up in the long run?

And for people who say, “Well, the cheap non-recyclable plastic utensils are cheapest in the long run,” remember that one must factor in the trash bill. Depending on what your arrangements are with your waste management company, if you’re able to reduce your waste, can you reduce your trash bill, too? Can you reduce dumpster pick-up to every other week? Once a month?

As the cost of waste rises and the U.S. runs out of landfills, the cost of waste management is going to go up, too. So even if you don’t pay for those extra plastics now, we’re all likely to see the price of disposing of them go up in the future.

Przemek for one seems energized every time he discovers a new solution to everyday waste problems. He encourages owners to look for their own creative solutions to using resources more wisely and reducing waste.

For him, as he started this new venture, there were a lot of things he didn’t know about yet, so it’s been a constant learning process. He’s been able to grow and succeed, step by step. He’s constantly reassessing his situation, thinking through things. “It’s important to work hard,” says, Przemek, “but think harder. And don’t give up. Success comes through tenacity. It takes a lot to get an idea off the ground sometimes. Be prepared for that. There will be great days and terrible days, but don’t give up.”

The good news for catering companies is that no matter where you live, sustainability is a big buzzword right now. If you look up waste management and zero waste resources in your community, you’re likely to find different initiatives that you can research to see if they’ll fit in with your business model.

Ready for more ideas that you can take action on in your own business? In part 3 of “Can Zero Waste Initiatives Be Profitable for Caterers?”, we’ll take a look at ideas – big and small – that can add up to less waste and more savings. And you’ll be surprised at how easy some of them are to implement.

Ready to be inspired and informed? For the latest in catering industry news and trends and small business marketing, join the conversation on social media. Follow TPPSoftware on Twitter, like Total Party Planner on Facebook, and explore our boards on Pinterest.

Want to get advice from other caterers and find out how they do things? Join the conversation with #CaterQuest on Twitter!

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Posted On November 12, 2015 by John Cohen

Can Zero Waste Initiatives Be Profitable for Caterers? Part 1

Food waste has been a serious problem in the food industry for decades. And the material waste created from packaging and serving food just compounds the problem. But can zero waste initiatives be profitable for caterers? Are there reasonable solutions to food waste and trash in the food and catering industries?

Waste is a problem that spans:

  • Socio-economic concerns (how can we throw away so much food when so many go hungry each day?)
  • Environmental concerns (it’s a waste of energy and resources to grow food that is eventually thrown away; the rotting food contributes to greenhouse gas emissions; and styrofoam containers and other food packaging waste create big environmental problems)
  • And, most importantly for your bottom line, financial concerns (throwing away food is like throwing away cash, plus you have to pay to have waste hauled away, and none of that is good for profits)

A small sample of the kind of food that is wasted every day. Click on the picture to be taken to the Guardian’s “Visual Guide to Food Waste”.

In this 3-part series “Can Zero Waste Initiatives Be Profitable for Caterers?”, Total Party Planner brings you the stories of two caterers, one in Minneapolis and one in New York City, to talk about how it’s possible not only to reduce waste but how it can be good for your bottom line. We’ll also share easy ways you can start reducing waste in your own catering business.

How Big is the Food Waste Problem in America?
In a story by The Salt that aired on NPR, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that the USDA estimates that 133 billion pounds of food is wasted each year. According to the USDA website, that’s approximately 30-40% of the U.S. food supply. That estimate takes into account pre-consumer waste (food that doesn’t make it to retail businesses) and post-consumer waste (food thrown away at restaurants and in individual American households).

What does 133 billion pounds of food look like? That’s enough food to fill the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) 44 times, according to Vilsack in the same interview. And the cost of all that food waste is approximately $161 billion, according to a 2010 estimate on the USDA website.

The USDA says, “This amount of waste has far-reaching impacts on food security, resource conservation and climate change”. Which is why the USDA has made a bold, pioneering move by calling for Americans to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030.

What Does This Waste Mean for Individual Businesses?
If the global impact of food waste doesn’t concern you, consider the impact on your own personal business.

There are at least three reasons why businesses should consider pursuing zero waste and other green initiatives for themselves:

CloudLogo_RedOneColor1. Financial
2. Environmental
3. Public relations

Not only does creating less waste usually save you money in the long run, it can make you look really good to clients and the public at large. Environmentally conscious clients will seek you out when they need a caterer. And in today’s competitive market, that’s the kind of difference that can help you edge out your competition.

Heidi Andermack, co-owner of Chowgirls Killer Catering in Minneapolis, told Total Party Planner that the effort to get to zero waste in her business has been worth it, environmentally and financially. “It’s not as difficult to sort as some may think,” she says. “It’s a matter of reconditioning habits. We started catering in 2004, and we’ve had a commitment to sustainability since the beginning.”

They started out using local and organic ingredients, since buying local means food doesn’t need to be transported as far to reach its destination – thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They also composted what they could in their home gardens and recycled as much as possible.

But as they grew, that became more difficult. “One of our biggest initial hurdles was getting a manageable trash system,” Heidi recounts. “At our first kitchen, we shared dumpsters with other businesses who didn’t share our values. It was impossible to sort properly. And my husband could only handle so many cases of carrot tops in our backyard compost set up. When we built a new kitchen, recycling and composting were high on our priority list.”

In 2008, they built a second kitchen and were able to design it with sustainability in mind. They partnered with a local organization, Eureka Recycling, to participate in a pilot program that offered commercial composting for Minneapolis restaurants and guidance on how to create a zero waste business.


Amy Brown (L) and Heidi Andermack (R), owners of Chowgirls Killer Catering (photo credit: Sara Whiting Photographic)

Today, Chowgirls diverts 97% of their waste from landfills. “Food waste from our kitchen and events is composted commercially,” Heidi says. “We also recycle plastics, paper, aluminum, and spent grease.”

To reduce material waste, Chowgirls orders compostable, eco-friendly food containers, and they try to order food with as little packaging as possible or food that comes in reusable containers. “Our farmers bring greens in reusable containers that we return to them. Chicken comes bulk in a bucket instead of wrapped in plastic,” Heidi explains.

She continues, “We are also fortunate in Minneapolis to have Mayor Betsy Hodges, who has announced a goal of being a ‘Zero Waste City’”. As part of this initiative, Mayor Hodges has announced that in 2016, styrofoam containers will be banned. The city also recently started a city-wide program for curbside pick-up of organic compost.

But Heidi’s commitment to that zero waste goal doesn’t stop there. One of Heidi’s team members Mary Quinn McCallum told Total Party Planner, “Reducing waste and having sustainably-minded practices are a real passion of [Heidi’s]. All employees get training in sustainability, and we have sent several employees through a program to become certified as ‘Master Recyclers’. It’s pretty great.”

Chowgirls Killer Catering is proving that it’s possible to reduce waste in their own business. The team as a whole has no doubt that what they’re doing is great for their bottom line, as well as for the environment. They’re especially lucky to be located in a city that is taking such an active role in supporting eco-friendly initiatives throughout the city.

But what do you do if you live in a city that isn’t as ecologically minded and where there aren’t as many services available? In our next installment of “Can Zero Waste Initiatives Be Profitable for Caterers?”, we’ll talk to a caterer in Brooklyn who has an international perspective, a background in sustainable economics, and who is taking matters into his own hands! He’s actually taking food that might otherwise be thrown away and turning it into another way to generate revenue for his business.

In the meantime, are you curious about how much waste you might be creating in your own kitchens? Check out this online food waste calculator from RecyclingWorks Massachusetts to estimate how much food is being thrown out in your business. The estimates are for restaurants, but the numbers should be similar for caterers, too.

Then, make sure to return next week to read our next caterer’s story!

Ready to be inspired and informed? For the latest in catering industry news and trends and small business marketing, join the conversation on social media. Follow TPPSoftware on Twitter, like Total Party Planner on Facebook, and explore our boards on Pinterest.

Want to get advice from other caterers and find out how they do things? Join the conversation with #CaterQuest on Twitter!

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Posted On September 17, 2015 by John Cohen

Breakfast Catering: Solutions to 4 of the Most Common Breakfast Problems

Corporate breakfast catering has become so predictable. Mini muffins. Danishes. Bagels. Maybe some yogurt cups or fruit. Juice. Coffee. Carbs. Sugar. Society’s tastes and expectations have changed a lot regarding breakfast. And we know YOU can do better with your breakfast catering, which is why we’re here with solutions to 4 of the most common breakfast problems.

Problem: The food being served doesn’t fit the event or the dining situation
One of the biggest breakfast catering mistakes we see is food options that don’t fit the event. For example, say the event you’re catering is an analytics review in a large auditorium with no tables – and the option is cream cheese and bagels. If you’ve ever tried to spread cream cheese on a bagel on your lap on a teeny, tiny plate, you know it doesn’t usually end well. White smears of cream cheese and crumbs all over your pants, skirt, or notes.

The Solution:
Avoid frustrating patrons by providing options that fit the event and are easy to manage. (This goes back to our 2 Core Principles of Catering – surprise, delight, satisfy, and make it easy to eat.) Don’t provide food that requires cutting or spreading. Instead, try serving pre-made breakfast sandwiches that even people who are running late can grab as they sneak into their seats. Pre-made sandwiches can also help keep the lines moving. If you’re at an event where guests will have tables to sit and mingle, try offering custom breakfast sandwiches or a breakfast buffet with hot food, warm breads, and a make-your-own parfait station.

ChocPBBars86L09Problem: Too many carbs
Another common catering mistake is the over abundance of carbs – mini-muffins, jumbo muffins, bagels, danishes – and too few healthy options. People with conditions that require special diets (such as folks with heart disease, diabetes, and celiac disease, to name a few), or people who just want to eat healthier, will be left hungry and unsatisfied.

The Solution:
Look for foods that are fresh and high in protein. Fruit cups, bowls of nuts, and yogurt and granola stations are usually great ways to please this crowd. Oatmeal bars are very popular right now, too – as well as healthy and inexpensive.

Problem: Skimping on the coffee
Your food can be the best in the world, and yet in the end, you will be judged by the quality of your coffee. It may not be fair, but it’s the truth. Why? Partly because long after everyone has wolfed down their breakfast, they will be sipping on their coffee throughout most of the morning.

The Solution:
Choose a full-bodied, rich-tasting coffee to help get your guests through that morning accounting meeting. If you can, consider offering French-pressed coffee with fresh steamed milk and toppings such as cinnamon or nutmeg. These little touches can really go a long way in the minds of your guests. If steamed milk isn’t an option, even the simple act of providing cold creamer can really help boost the morning for the coffee drinkers.

Problem: Your client expects “Wow” at breakfast but didn’t leave any budget for it
Of course, one of the biggest reasons most people serve muffins and bagels at breakfast meetings is because they’re cheap and easy. (And if you are what you eat, well, let’s just say it would be wise to explore other options.) So, how can you serve a healthy breakfast without going over budget and still turn a profit for yourself?

The Solution:
If you’re not already doing this in general, do your best to work with local farmers and food producers to buy from them directly, cutting out the middle man. This way, you may be able to provide fresh fruit and veggies, even egg options, for your guests and stay within budget. Check out what people serve for breakfast in other cultures and consider things like bean and nut dishes, which will provide protein. Think outside the box. And, when all else fails, level with your client about the champagne tastes they’re asking for on a beer budget. See if you can offer some mini-muffins but leave enough in the budget for some nicer food on the side.

And finally, remember to ask if there are any  food allergies or special diets you need to accommodate, such as gluten-free or vegan diets. Since most American breakfast choices center around bread, meat, and dairy, plan ahead for special requests, so everyone can get a good start to the day.

With a little creativity and proper planning, your breakfast catering options can be as stunning and impressive as any of your lunch and dinner menus – any budget, for any meeting.

For more breakfast catering ideas for large groups, check out this Group Breakfast Pinterest board and others like it for inspiration.

Ready to be inspired and informed? For the latest in catering industry news and trends and small business marketing, join the conversation on social media. Follow TPPSoftware on Twitter, like Total Party Planner on Facebook, and explore our boards on Pinterest.

Want to get advice from other caterers and find out how they do things? Join the conversation with #CaterQuest on Twitter!

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Posted On September 16, 2015 by John Cohen

6 Tips for Perfectly Executing Your Fall Events with Total Party Planner (Infographic)

The countdown to the holiday season has begun! That’s why now is the perfect time to start good habits! Use these 6 tips for perfectly executing your fall events with Total Party Planner – so you’ll have plenty of practice by the time the holiday parties start!



Ready to be inspired and informed? For the latest in catering industry news and trends and small business marketing, join the conversation on social media. Follow TPPSoftware on Twitter, like Total Party Planner on Facebook, and explore our boards on Pinterest.

Want to get advice from other caterers and find out how they do things? Join the conversation with #CaterQuest on Twitter!

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Posted On by John Cohen

Pieces of the Marketing Puzzle: Choosing the Best Ways to Advertise Your Catering Company


The good news: There are so many great ways to advertise your catering company these days! (Thanks, Internet!) Bad news: There are so many ways of marketing for your catering company these days – how do you choose?

Here’s an easy guide to help you sort through the pieces of the marketing puzzle so you can choose the best ways to advertise your catering company.

Thanks to social media and Google AdWords, even the smallest company can put together a pretty sophisticated-looking marketing campaign. And it doesn’t even have to take that much effort. You just need to make sure you:

1.  Make a plan. (Don’t just put stuff out there willy-nilly. Do you want to go with paid advertising, unpaid, partnerships? So many choices!)
2.  Go where your audience is. (How do they find you and where do they talk to you?)
3.  Engage with your audience! (Make it a conversation!)

Here are some of the tools you can use to help you attract customers.

Social Media Content Management
Communicating with your audience on a regular basis keeps you at the top of their mind. When posting things on social media, think about what’s going to keep your audience engaged and what they’d like to share with others. (Friends sharing with friends is the real trick to growing your audience, because that’s one of the big ways to get more new people to see you.) Try sharing behind-the-scenes photos, posting your new seasonal catering menu on Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram, or sharing community news on your Facebook wall.

Use each social platform based on the audience you’re looking for. Twitter and Facebook are great for article sharing, although Twitter tends to be faster paced. There’s also Twitter etiquette to follow. Make sure you respond when people mention you in a tweet, thank people for retweets, and really engage with the people who are following you. People like Twitter users who interact, so use a program like Hootsuite or Sprout Social to track mentions and retweets of your own tweets. LinkedIn is a great way to connect with business owners and event planners. Pinterest and Instagram are great ways to reach individuals interested in visuals of your business. Instagram is huge for weddings and shopping right now.

Contacting past customers can remind them how much they enjoyed your services, which can lead to them consider you again for an upcoming event. Sending out a monthly newsletter can keep guests informed of your abilities, your work, and the enthusiasm you have for catering. People love to work with businesses that love what they do.

Newsletters are great for prospective clients, too, because you’re sending information instead of just blatantly marketing to them. It helps prospects get to know you without feeling the pressure of a hard sell. Newsletters are a great addition to a drip marketing campaign, where you slowly feed information that not only helps your readers but also makes you look knowledgeable.

Working with business and community partners is a great way to build recognition with audiences you want to reach. Partner with companies and not-for-profit organizations with whom you share a target audience. Then, build those relationships. For example, introduce each other in monthly newsletters or through your social media channels. Sponsor events with each other. Send each other referrals. Consumers are more likely to follow and use products and services that a company or friend they know suggests to them. Forming these partnerships should help you make connections, increase your visibility and your audience, and ultimately bring in more business.

Public Relations and Community Relations
One of the best forms of PR is helping with and sponsoring pro bono events. Business owners who are involved in their communities are more recognizable and are greatly appreciated by the public. Working with not-for-profit orgs during fundraising events is a great way to gain positive PR and recognition.

Press Releases
When you start your business, celebrate a milestone, or are doing something awesome for the community (such as pro bono work), it’s important to let people know. Send a press release to local radio stations, newspapers, and news stations about what your catering company is doing. If the event or news is significant, it is likely to be covered by the media.

For press releases, you want to think less like a marketing pro or business owner and more like a journalist. Focusing strictly on the facts of your event without adding a lot of marketing fluff, as well as using the proper PR format, will make your story more likely to be picked up. Make sure to front load your press release with all the facts, so if your release has to be edited for space, all the critical info will make it in – and it makes it easier for people on the other end to edit. has a great article about how to write a press release. Blogger and journalist Nash Riggins also offers up some great tips for writing a snappy press release.

Any one of these marketing tools can help build your business and attract customers. The best thing to do is to put several of these tools together to create a cohesive marketing plan.

Ready to be inspired and informed? For the latest in catering industry news and trends and small business marketing, join the conversation on social media. Follow TPPSoftware on Twitter, like Total Party Planner on Facebook, and explore our boards on Pinterest.

Want to get advice from other caterers and find out how they do things? Join the conversation with #CaterQuest on Twitter!

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Posted On September 10, 2015 by John Cohen

Want New Business? Make Each Client Your Wingman.

Everyone knows how dating works. You see someone you like, and you ask your friends, “Do you know that person? How do you know them? What do you know about them? Will you mention me?” Any kind of information can make it easier to approach that person and increase your chances of success, right? That’s why having a wingman – someone who can scout out a situation and act as a go-between to put in a good word for you – is so important!

Those questions don’t just happen in the dating world; they apply to business, too. Because relationships make the world go round. So if you want new business, make each client your wingman. Here’s how (and why) it works.

Business_DatingWhen it comes to making choices, most folks are resistant to taking risks. We don’t want to waste our own resources, such as time and money (or maybe even our own dignity). So, we tend to do research and ask for feedback before making decisions to mitigate those risks.

That’s why people read movie reviews before picking which movie to watch or look up a restaurant on Yelp before trying it. They ask friends what they know before asking someone out. And, people definitely ask around before they choose a caterer for a big event.

What can you do about all this chatter as a business owner? Same as you’d do if you were interested in someone you met at a party – make sure they hear positive things about you from other people.

To put it simply – step one is do your job well. Wow your clients. Make them your allies – your wingmen, if you will. Gain their trust through your integrity and the quality of your work.

Your clients are asking other friends these “dating” questions, just as sure as your clients are being asked these same questions by their friends: “How did you pick that company? What was your experience with them? Do you think I should try them out?”

So how do you increase the likelihood of getting good referrals?

  • Always keep in mind that every client is your next reference. Make one-on-one connections with your clients. Make them feel good about working with you.
  • Ask for referrals. This is often the hardest part for people, but you can’t be shy about letting people know what you want and need.
  • Pay special attention to which clients can create buzz for you and your catering company. If you know this person is well connected in life and on social media, and you’ve had a good working relationship, you want to stay at the top of their mind. So talk to them. Do things to bolster the relationship, such as send business their way or send them interesting articles you find.
  • Give referrals. There’s a saying that you have to give to get. Make sure you’re reciprocating the love to your clients. Hopefully they’ll remember that and pay you back in kind with more business and referrals. If they feel like you truly know them and have their best interests at heart, they’ll feel better about working with you and referring you.

Two of the best things about referrals are:

  • Referrals can often bring in some of your best clients. Why? Because if you liked working with a particular client, it’s likely that client knows more people you’d like working with, too. So, client referrals can lead to more good (hopefully long-term) clients.
  • Mouth-to-mouth referrals are better than almost any other kind of marketing or advertising you can do, because we tend to trust the feedback we get from friends more than any other type of marketing or advertising.

So, talk to your clients. Tell them you’ve enjoyed working with them, you appreciate their business, and you’d like them to refer you to their friends. Remind them about what a good time you had together at their event – and don’t be afraid to be specific about what kinds of clients you’re looking for (i.e., big corporate clients, weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, boxed lunches only … you get the idea).

Making each client your wingman helps not only create buzz about your business but also gives you an “in” with interesting people you may not have talked with otherwise.

The bottom line: Just like in dating, the other person is hoping to make a good match, too. Getting a common friend to introduce you – or a common client to refer you – helps increase the likelihood of a good relationship for both sides.

Stay tuned for more articles about ways to get referrals, including incentive programs and networking tips.

Ready to be inspired and informed? For the latest in catering industry news and trends and small business marketing, join the conversation on social media. Follow TPPSoftware on Twitter, like Total Party Planner on Facebook, and explore our boards on Pinterest.

Want to get advice from other caterers and find out how they do things? Join the conversation with #CaterQuest on Twitter!

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Posted On September 3, 2015 by John Cohen

2 Core Principles of Catering: Surprise, Delight, Satisfy – and Make It Easy to Eat

Almost every fun, surprising, and successful food trend you can find can be traced back to these 2 core principles of catering: surprise, delight, satisfy – and make it easy to eat.

What that boils down to is:

mini grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup shots1. Think ahead to what people will truly enjoy (versus feeling boxed in by what tradition dictates should be served)
2. Make food that’s easy to eat (not too messy, very manageable)

These two principles can even help you give your old recipes a face lift!

Let’s talk about the first principle, “surprise, delight, satisfy”. What is it that people really want? What has the potential to surprise guests intellectually while satisfying their palate?

Too many people still get stuck on tradition. “What are we supposed to serve?” Well, there’s nothing like breaking with tradition and following your own heart (and stomach) to decide what to serve at an event. Choosing foods that are special to the guests or hosts at birthdays, weddings, and other events is a quick, easy way to instantly personalize an event, too.

Looking for ways to surprise, delight, and satisfy your guests? Think about:

  • Familiar foods presented in new ways. Mini appetizers are such a fun way to serve food, and everyone loves seeing things they’re used to seeing as full size in a miniature form. Very popular right now are favorites such as mini grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup shots and mini pies made from food ingredients that aren’t normally pies, such as cheeseburgers, pizza, and lasagna. (Check out these 10 recipes you can make in a muffin pan for inspiration.)
  • Foods they know and love in unexpected settings. Sometimes, going to a fancy event and seeing small BLT sandwiches or gourmet mac and cheese bites can make people excited. It gives people a moment of, “Oh, wow, it’s like they thought of me!” And sometimes it’s the presentation! A trend we hope will never go away is serving fresh fruit and other treats in waffle cones, like this s’mores ice cream cone recipe. (Don’t let the fact that it’s on a kid blog deter you – grown-ups will be just as delighted by the treat.) Or make your own pizza cone!
  • New flavor combinations. It’s like that first time someone said to themselves, “I like chocolate. I like peanut butter. What would happen if I put them together?” This year’s unexpected flavor combination winners include chocolate and avocado (to the delight of vegans and the health conscious everywhere), sriracha and peanut butter, and olive oil and ice cream. (See all 18 strange food combinations, so you can experiment with them yourself.)
  • Mozzarella, grape tomatoes, and basil on skewersAnd if all else fails…serve it on a stick. Create your own kebobs, from fruit to dessert to hors d’oeuvres, like these mini caprese kebobs.

Speaking of serving things on a stick, that brings us to principle 2: Make it easy to eat. No one wants to look ridiculous while they’re eating or mess up their fancy clothes. And juices or sauces dripping down one’s arm is just not pleasant.

  • Make it mini! Because who can resist cute little versions of their favorite foods? They’re so cute! And manageable bite-size portions mean people can enjoy their food while still carrying on a conversation. Check out these mini app recipes for inspiration.
  • Resist sauces. Unless you can find a way to serve your food in such a way that it won’t get on people’s fingers, clothes, chins, and other unexpected places, like these very trendy edible spoons. (No waste either!)
  • Think self contained. Wrap ingredients in pastry, the way samosas, egg rolls, and wontons come served. Or, put ingredients in a crust, the way one does with mini pies and quiches.
  • Pretzel crusted deep-fried brownie on a stick with caramel drizzleAnd if all else fails…you guessed it. Find something you can serve on a stick. (We’re fans of this deep fried pretzel-crusted brownie on a stick from Saz’s Ribs and Catering, which they produced for the Wisconsin State Fair.)

Reading article after article about food trends, it seems everything leads back to these two principles. Brides and grooms are starting to serve pie or doughnut towers instead of cake. Why? Because they don’t like wedding cake, and the doughnuts or pies are more meaningful to them. The guests are surprised and delighted, yet comforted and satisfied by the familiarity of their favorite treats. Edible spoons are hot, because they are less wasteful (nothing to throw away or wash), and they make messy food easier to eat.

So get inspired! What do you already make that you could present in a different way? What will surprise, delight, and satisfy the guests at your next event?

Ready to be inspired and informed? For the latest in catering industry news and trends and small business marketing, join the conversation on social media. Follow TPPSoftware on Twitter, like Total Party Planner on Facebook, and explore our boards on Pinterest.

Want to get advice from other caterers and find out how they do things? Join the conversation with #CaterQuest on Twitter!

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Posted On August 25, 2015 by John Cohen

3 Questions Caterers Have for Other Caterers

Have you ever been in a situation that makes you think to yourself, “I wonder how other caterers would handle this?” You’re not alone. We’ve got 3 questions caterers have for other caterers, along with solutions we recommend based on best practices in catering and business.

Giving out your cell phone number
Ever thought about giving out your cell phone number to a client “in case of emergency”? How do you know your client will define “emergency” the same way you would define it? Leaving half the entrees on the counter back at the kitchen when your event is 45 minutes from any real grocery story – that’s an emergency. Getting a call because your client ordered French cut green beans but now she really wants them whole – that’s not an emergency. That’s probably not a discussion you want to have on your weekend at the lake. While it may seem like a good idea with some clients, because they just seem so nice (the kind of nice where you want to be their friend), it’s best to only give your cell phone to your staff. All communication with clients should go through your office phone, company email, or a work cell phone you can turn off.

Our suggestion: Don’t do it. Use company communication tools only.

Offering free tastings
Free or not free, that is the question. There is a common thought that all caterers do free tastings. Many brides walk into a tasting expecting it to be free, which may be naive on their part. After all, who is going to pay for the food the couple, or even the bridal party, comes to taste? However, there are caterers out there who offer free tastings. They consider it part of the marketing budget. Other professional caterers apply the cost of the tasting toward the final bill once a client books their event. Some caterers don’t offer tastings at all.

Our suggestion: Give product with purpose. If you see tastings turn into bookings and that’s how you attract clients, consider it a marketing tool (and make sure to ask your accountant about writing it off as an expense). If you spend money elsewhere to attract new clients, determine a tasting fee and be upfront about it. Middle-of-the-road option: Limit your tasting to X number of appetizers, two cake flavors, etc., and charge for any extra samples.

Putting your prices online
There are pros and cons to publishing your prices online, and how you run your business will determine which is the right choice for you. If you have set menus that you use for most events, it’s easier to provide your menus and prices online. It gives customers a chance to review what you offer and see if you’re within their budget before they contact you, saving both of you time and hassle. On the other hand, some people may use your prices to assume what kind of caterer you are. For example, if they think your prices are too low, they may think you can’t handle a high-end affair, and vice versa. They won’t know what your food tastes like or how you can personally enhance their event because of your experience, your personality, and your services. Publishing prices could also give your competition an edge. Once potential clients have a chance to meet you and try your food, they may be willing to spend a little more than they originally budgeted.

Our suggestion: Do what makes sense for your business model. If you rarely do custom menus, consider providing your costs online. If you do mostly custom menus, save the money talk for after you’ve met in person or at least spoken on the phone.

What questions do you have for other caterers? Join the conversation on Twitter by tweeting your questions with #CaterQuest. Or, join the conversation on TPP’s Facebook page! One more option: leave comments below. Ask the TPP community to get answers to your most pressing professional catering questions!

How do other caterers do it? Infographic of info from blog

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Posted On August 17, 2015 by John Cohen

4 Surprising Things about Total Party Planner Catering Software

Supporting you and your business is what Total Party Planner is all about. That’s why we rarely talk about ourselves or our software in this blog (even though we’re really proud of TPP and what our clients accomplish with it every day)!

We use this blog to focus on things that will help you build a stronger catering business, such as marketing, catering trends, ways to grow your business, and management topics, to name a few.

But today, we’re going to give you 4 surprising things about Total Party Planner catering software that support you and your business – things you may not have expected.

1. We’re the first catering software company to create a mobile app. The companion app to Total Party Planner is already out, and it’s available at the App Store for iPhone® and on Google Play for Android™ devices. The mobile app just makes it that much easier for you to access your event-critical information while you’re out of the office. And the next version of the app is already in development! Some people believe in ABC: Always Be Closing. We believe in ABD: Always Be Developing.

2. You can access it anywhere. Since TPP is web based, you can access your account from anywhere. There’s no loading software onto computers, making updates, or worrying about backing up data. You get updates automatically every time you log in, and we are backing up your data every few minutes. Total Party Planner software allows you to work from home, the office, or on the road from any computer, tablet, or smartphone. If you have multiple catering locations (maybe even in multiple cities), you can access info and calendars for all your offices from one centralized place.

3. TPP software integrates with the software you use. Running your business is so much easier when different software works together. That’s why Total Party Planner is integrated with Constant Contact, QuickBooks, StaffMate, Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar, Google Maps, SocialTables, and many more applications our clients frequently use. Being integrated with the software you use every day means less doubling up on work or forgetting to add critical details where you need them. With the click of a button, you can update multiple programs across multiple devices, so you won’t double book (unless you want to) and you won’t have to turn the van around because you left the address sitting on your desk. With TPP, you have it all in one place.

John Cohen

John Cohen, age 10, helping in the kitchen of his family’s catering business

4. TPP is built from a caterer’s perspective. Some of you may know this, but others are still surprised by it. Our founder John Cohen is a caterer first and a software developer second. You know that cute little guy you see on our homepage? The one in the red vest? That’s John when he was just 10 years old. John grew up helping his parents with their catering business, which they ran for over 30 years. So, he really understands what it takes to execute a successful event. He saw an opportunity for computers to help his parents work faster, save some time and frustration, and make every event run more smoothly by helping connect the many moving pieces of catering and event planning. He’s been helping business owners in the catering industry ever since. It’s his insider’s perspective that really makes TPP stand out.

John Cohen today, leader and innovator in the catering tech industry

John Cohen today, leader and innovator in the catering tech industry

These are just 4 surprising things about Total Party Planner catering software that make us different from other catering programs. We build and update our program with caterers like you in mind. If you dig a little deeper, you’re likely to find other ways we can help you organize, maintain, and grow your catering business, too.

And if you ever need assistance or have a question, our Client Care Team is the best in the business. They can personally answer your questions and guide you through the program.

Still have questions or haven’t seen the software yet? Schedule a live demo to learn more and get your own questions answered in real time.

And we’ll keep looking for ways to support your business and your success!

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Posted On August 4, 2015 by John Cohen

Fall Food Catering Trends 2015: What’s got staying power and what will wow your clients

If you’re a smart caterer (and signs seem to indicate that you are), then you’re probably probably reading up on catering industry news and thinking ahead to the next season. So, while mere mortals are soaking up those last few rays by the pool before having to buy school supplies, most small business owners like you are already thinking ahead to shorter, cooler days, hot apple cider, and pumpkin-flavored EVERYTHING!

This fall we’re seeing a few new trends, as well as some fall food trends gaining a stronger foothold in the market. Trends that started as fads are starting to gain in popularity, because they make a lot of sense to consumers.

Here’s your sneak-peek preview at the trends clients are asking for this fall.

Ruffled - photo by -

Photo Credit: Ruffled Blog

Bye-bye Wedding Cake. Many couples are saying “see ya” to the wedding cake, claiming that it’s too heavy after a long night, a heavy meal, and a fair amount of drinking. Many servers will agree – they often end up toting around cake to guests who are not interested in the flavors they have or who are too full to indulge. Couples are looking to share every moment of their day with their guests, right down to desert, so they’re turning the tables on cake and offering other options. This year, expect to see doughnut towers, pie bars with every kind of pie imaginable, late night milk and cookies, and even fire pit s’mores. Having these ideas handy can help excite your client about planning their event with you.

Fancy Fruit. Fruit is starting to take center stage as it becomes more than just cut-up pieces thrown in a bowl on the side. And with dishes like fig jam and feta danishes, how could it not? Clients are requesting fancy fruit dishes, such as stewed strawberries and wilted spinach with brown sugar and balsamic vinegar (think summer strawberry and spinach salad but warm and sweet). You’re more likely to see these kinds of requests at high-end events. Another fun non-salad way to include fruit: party apples! These are apple slices covered in many tempting ingredients. Our favorite is a crisp Granny Smith apple smeared with peanut butter, rolled in oats, and drizzled with dark chocolate. Or perhaps you’d like pink lady apples covered in Nutella and roasted hazelnuts? These are easy for guests to eat during happy hour and look beautiful on a platter. Another “fruitful” dish we love is fruit-stuffed cornucopias – flaky pastry dough drizzled with honey and stuffed with seasonal fruit. What could be better?

Deep-Fried Bites of Heaven. On the opposite end of the spectrum from healthy fruits are fried foods. Once popular in settings like the state fair, fried foods are making their way into more formal events in easy-to-manage bite-sized portions. Think deep-fried mac and cheese, fried mashed potatoes, and even mini deep-fried chicken and waffle bites. Mmm, now we’re talking!

If you’re looking for a way to keep your ideas and new recipes organized, our online catering software has a recipe section, as well as the ability to populate your ingredient lists for each recipe you choose. What better way to keep track of your new fall creations? If you have any questions about how to do this, just reach out to our stellar client care team by email or by phone!

When you come up with creative new ideas for fall, make sure to share them with us @TPPSoftware on Twitter and at Total Party Planner on Facebook. We want to hear your recipes and see your fabulous pictures! Have an event that went unexpectedly well? Tell us all about it and what made it so amazing!


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