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Posted On December 17, 2014 by Susan Pupa

Pushers Making a Big Shove in 2015

Have you ever noticed on sitcoms or dramas with lots of office scenes that they show some sort of food cart that strolls through the office throughout the day? And then do you think to yourself “what kind of office is actually hiring a food cart to come around during the day?” Well, more than you would expect. Office food carts, also called push carts, or pushers for short, are becoming more and more popular in offices.

These carts are becoming the new office perk – bye, bye Keurig. Many offices have started toting either in-office carts or hiring food trucks to come to the office for lunch at least once a week. Companies say that providing these kind of options help build a great company culture and in turn create great productivity. Instead of everyone leaving the office for lunch, employees will hang out and get to know one another over a shared meal. What a great selling point to bosses, huh?

If you have been trying to find a unique selling point for your business or an attribute to add that will set you apart, or even if you’re just trying to get started in the catering business, food carts may be your best bet. Before you get started make sure you have all the necessities. In most cities you need a city business license, a food vending license, and they need to know if you’re operating with fire (wood, gas, or coal). Having this paperwork taken care of before you start booking your lunch gigs will keep you ahead of the game and out of hot water with the city.

If you’re looking to be successful with your food cart, you want to make sure you hit the right target audience. We don’t just mean people who like your food, but marketing yourself to businesses that might be interested in having a pusher in the office. You’ll find that businesses like tech companies, startups, advertising agencies, and large corporate offices with a focus on innovation are more likely to see the value (and spend the money) in providing their employees with an in-office food cart. Be sure to make a list of these types of businesses in your area and reach out to them first. Not to say your local dentist office or law firm wouldn’t enjoy a food cart, but they just may be on the B List of companies to reach out to.

When deciding on the type of pusher you’re going to, well push, be sure to make it something unique. Find something different about your business and flaunt it. Do you make the best homemade Pop-Tarts in town? You might be very successful as a breakfast cart. Remind business owners that breakfast is the most skipped and least planned out meal of the day. Employees will love some fresh baked pastries and coffee when they arrive on a chilly morning. Do you use only the freshest, local vegetables and make the best darn balsamic vinaigrette around? You might appeal well to businesses isolated from anything but fast food. Employees would probably swarm you for a fresh tossed salad.

When approaching businesses, be sure to highlight the uniqueness of your cart and the reasons the employees might enjoy such a treat. If you see a selling point, like limited options around, be sure to point them out during your business pitch.

Do you have a good idea for a push cart? Have you started your own catering food cart? Let us know how you got started!

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Posted On December 9, 2014 by John Cohen

‘Tis the Season to Give Thanks

Happy National Holiday Card Day! That’s right, December 9th marks the national day of sending out holiday cards. Well, technically it’s National Christmas Card Day, but if you read our post last week you’ll understand why we’ve renamed it National Holiday Card Day.

National Holiday Card Day (wow, that really is a mouth full) and the holiday season is a great opportunity to reconnect with your past customers. Did you have a couple you really connected with while catering their Spring wedding? How about a corporate client that just celebrated being open 25 years? Now is a great time to wish them a happy holiday, send them the best in the upcoming year and hopes of getting to reconnect with them soon. Clients appreciate vendors who make them feel like they weren’t just another job. Not feeling like “just a job” but feeling like “wow, they really cared about our event” is the difference between “ehh, just pick someone” and “we have to have Nelson’s Catering for our party!”

The idea of sending cards to each client may feel a little daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Websites like Red Stamp can help you get digital cards out quickly and efficiently. They can also help keep a little cash in your wallet. But, if you’re the old school, handwritten note type, Red Stamp can also provide you with printed cards and pre-addressed envelopes. If you can, be sure to add a detail or two from each event or something special you remember to help reconnect with each customer. We know it’s the holidays, though, and you have tons of parties to prep and serve. If you can’t personalize every note be sure to thank people for their past business and wish them a happy holiday with their family. A personalized note is great, but a general note is better than no note at all.

If you’re really in the mood to get fancy, December 9th is also National Pastry Day. Who wouldn’t love a Thank You pastry? Sugar cookies make a great thank you if you want something to ice and write on. A quick scan of Pinterest and you’ll be full of ideas. We personally would love to receive these bite-sized gingerbread houses!


Photo Credit:

On that note, we’d like to thank all of you for being loyal clients of Total Party Planner.  We enjoy and appreciate working with each and every one of you and helping you make your business well organized and successful. We wish you all the best in your holiday catering and in the new year.

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Posted On by Susan Pupa

In The Catering Kitchen With McClain Lodge

mcClain Lodge

This month, we spoke with Joni McClain, proprietor of the beautiful McClain Lodge, an idyllic event destination located in Brandon, Mississippi,  to see what brought her to Total Party Planner and what advice she has for others in the catering and events industry.  

Tell us about your business.

McClain Lodge is an event destination located in Brandon, Mississippi. We are located on 830 beautiful, serene acres. We have a quaint chapel that holds up to 120 people for weddings, an area called “Under the Oaks” for outdoor weddings and events, as well as a banquet hall that can accommodate guests of up to 400 people reception style. We also have accommodations – an 1840’s Guest House with 5 bedrooms, a lodge with 5 bedrooms, and a new addition is 16 cabins.

We have a catering company, McClain Catering, that serves our in-house guests, and we also do catering at a customer’s venue of choice.

What brought you to begin using Total Party Planner?

We grew rapidly… within one year, we opened our catering company, and added 21 additional sleeping rooms. We needed a computer program that could help us manage these additions.

How has Total Party Planner helped your business?

Total Party Planner has helped us tremendously by giving us the tools to meticulously manage each room (accommodations), catering jobs and event venues. Before Total Party Planner, we were managing our business the old fashioned way… through pen and paper. Now, at any given time, our chef, our Event Director, and I can look on our laptops, smart phones or iPads at any time and any place to review details of an upcoming event. Now we’re cooking!

What sets your company apart from others in your area?

We have 60+ combined years of experience in the Event Planning, Catering and Restaurant Operations for total event production services. We are unique in the fact that not only do we offer a beautiful, serene setting to hold a special event, we also have on-site accommodations. The addition of 21 rooms in one year has escalated our business. We have found that guests love to have one central location to host their event, have a superb catering company to prepare meals, as well as having the luxury of spending the night on the property.

What do customers expect when doing business with you?

Each of our customers expect us to treat them as though they’re the only one we’re dealing with… and we do. As all of us know, no two events are alike. We spend countless hours going over the details of their special event as if it’s the only one we’re working on. McClain Lodge is blessed to have an incredible staff equipped to work with each customer through the entire process of an event.

What advice would you give a new caterer?

I would advise a new caterer to hire the right people.  Pay more if you have to for your chef(s), front of the house and back of the house employees.  We feel that it is critical to have all members of our team to be at their best at all times.



Under the Oaks2Catering

Food table 5


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Posted On December 2, 2014 by Susan Pupa

Trends to Consider in Holiday Catering

We’ve seen many trends emerge this year in food and catering. Some of which have really shaken up the restaurant and catering industries. These trends will not be scarce this holiday season. The tried and true holiday catering you are used to may be getting a bit of an update as we roll into party season. Make sure your holiday catering is a cut above the rest, check out a few of the trends we saw throughout 2014 that we are sure will be influencing this year’s holiday events.

Farm to Table
We’re sure you all have noticed the recent Farm to Table trend. People want to know where the food they’re eating, whether it be meats or veggies, is coming from. These local-vores are looking for the same information from their caterers. Just because there are cocktails involved doesn’t mean people care any less where their chicken came from and how it was treated. To keep with the times (and keep from being asked a hundred times during the event) let your guests know where items you are serving came from. Try using chalkboard signs on buffet tables to list the sources, or roll it into your servers’ description of each dish.

Craft Beer, Craft Cocktails, Craft Catering
Craft beverages, beer or cocktails, are a popular trend this year and the company holiday party will be no different. If you are a full service caterer that includes food and beverages, be sure to have a few local craft brewers on your list of options for guests. If you are not a liquor or beer licensed caterer, ask your guests what beverages they plan to serve during the event. Let them know that you’d like to serve dishes that complement the guests’ beverage choices and that you’d like to create a well-crafted catering menu (see what we did there?).

holiday punch

Image by Nealey Dozier via the kitchn

Ho Ho Holidays
We know, this isn’t necessarily a food trend but it is a business trend that will still be very present in this years’ events. Many companies have chosen to have holiday parties as opposed to Christmas parties, in an effort to make all employees feel comfortable and included. We suggest you follow suit, listing your availability for holiday parties. If you do have a specialty in a particular culture’s holiday foods, feel free to highlight that on your website.

Customers, personal or corporate, are looking to include these trends in their upcoming events. We have a feeling that these trends won’t be trends for very long, though. They will actually become more of the norm. Be sure to consider these items when planning for events this year and keep your business ahead of the curve. Happy Holidays!

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Posted On November 26, 2014 by John Cohen

Holiday Catering Tips For a Thriving New Year

It’s about time to deck the halls. Holiday party season is here! Which means it’s one of the busiest times of the year for you. A busy season now can mean a thriving, full calendar for 2015. Here are a few tips to make sure the hard work you’re putting in now can help you all through the next year.

Stay Organized
Whether this is your first time catering for the holidays or you are a veteran one of the most important tips we can give is to stay organized. Your organization will help you put the best foot forward with current clients and will help turn them into repeat clients. Don’t stretch yourself too thin with too many events either. It is better to do a handful of parties perfectly than do ten subpar events. Keep on top of orders, supply needs, and prep work, whether you do it by hand with a written list or with software like Total Party Planner. This will help insure you execute flawless events and create pleased and returning customers.

Brand Your Business
You’re going to be serving your food to large, bustling crowds of people enjoying their company holiday parties with cocktails in hand. They may not fully remember from the e-blast who is catering their soiree. Make sure you give them every opportunity to associate your brand with your delicious appetizers. Be sure that your servers and yourself have shirt and/or aprons with your logo and company name on them. Also be sure if you are serving a buffet to have your labels branded with your logo. Be sure that when Mary in Accounts starts looking for caterers for her daughter’s wedding in the Spring she recognizes your logo among the sea of local catering websites and remembers how delicious your food was.

Make Connections
It’s hard to get out of the kitchen during the main event. You’re making sure things are running smoothly in the back and food is coming out just as you had planned. Be sure to take a few minutes in between servings to pop out into the cocktail hour and ask guests how they are enjoying their food. Guests love meeting the head chef and putting a face to name. This is also a great chance to meet potential clients for the upcoming year. If people rave about your food when you introduce yourself thank them and ask them to consider you for future events. Be sure to bring business cards and to keep a few in your pocket to handout to those guests who know of an occasion off hand that they’d like to consider your business for.

Ask for Reviews
It is rare that people hire any kind of service without a suggestion from a friend or reading a review online. Make sure that the people who sing your praises in person reiterate their love of your food and service online. Send follow up emails to those who booked you services, thanking them for an opportunity to serve them and how much you appreciate their business. Include in your email your gratitude for their review along with the links of the review sites. We suggest picking two to three sites to drive traffic to. Include links or icons to those same sites on your website so people considering you in the future can see how highly past customers rated your services.

Consider the parties you are catering over the holidays as a trial run for your future customers. You never know who will have an event that needs to be catered in the next 12 months. Make your holiday catering calendar work to fill your 2015 calendar.

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Posted On November 24, 2014 by Susan Pupa

Total Party Planner Sponsoring a Caterer to Attend the Catersource Conference & Tradeshow

Total Party Planner is proudly sponsoring a caterer to attend the 2015 Catersource & Event Solutions Conference and Tradeshow taking place March 8-11 in Las Vegas, Nevada!

If you have not yet attended the conference, it is chock full of incredible educational opportunities, well-known industry leading speakers (like this years’ keynotes Marcus Samuelsson and Neal Fraser), parties featuring visual examples of all the latest industry trends, and of course amazing interactions with peers. It is certainly one not to be missed for those in the industry.

Applications will be accepted through January 1, 2015. For more information and to apply, visit

Catersource Free Pass


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Posted On by Susan Pupa

Catering Thanksgiving Dinner

As a caterer you really have to love the art of cooking. You especially have to love the art of cooking for more than your normal family of four. More people wish they had your skills for portioning and multi-tasking, even more-so on the Super Bowl of all dinners that we call Thanksgiving. While cooking for 40, 60, even 100 people is a breeze for you, cooking for 16 is a struggle for others. There are sides, and apps, and desserts. And oh wait, there’s that glorious centerpiece of the whole day called the turkey! It’s a lot to think about for the average person.

While some people enjoy cooking for the above average family size for one day, many would prefer to spend that precious time in the living room dealing cards or in the backyard playing a little touch football. For these people, you are the perfect solution. If you have yet to consider becoming a caterer that offers Thanksgiving meals you should reconsider. This is the season that can really help boost your business outside of the typical wedding months. We know it may seem overwhelming to offer to cater Thanksgiving for families but there are ways to ease into it.

First, consider offering a limited menu. Some people enjoy the brining of the Turkey and watching it all day long but could care less about feeding people tiny snacks before the big meal. This is a perfect way to introduce yourself into Thanksgiving catering. Offer Thanksgiving Appetizers as your specialty. Simple dishes like Artisan Cheese Plates, Stuffed Olives, and Mini Bacon Wrapped Stuffing Bites are things you can provide that take something extra off of the home cook’s plate but don’t require you to have to make 20 turkeys.

If you’re feeling a little more up to a challenge you can offer a side dishes and desserts menu. You can go the classic Turkey Day side route with dishes like mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pies or mix it up a little with a blend of classics and new takes. You can offer to deliver in large dishes for easy warming or for cold delights, you can suggest individual servings, like pumpkin mousse in mini mason jars.

One final way to ease yourself into Thanksgiving catering is offering a Turkey Dinner for Two. Sometimes it feels more like a hassle to cook a whole turkey for two people than it does to cook one for a large group. Single parents or elderly couples would be so grateful to not have to lug a 20 lb turkey into the house for just the two of them. Offer to have two beautifully cut turkey breasts, a few sides, and two slices of pie. (And maybe some pre-shredded turkey for leftover sandwiches, because let’s be honest, everyone loves Thanksgiving for the sandwiches the next day.)

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to kick-off your holiday catering season. Before you dive in headfirst, try getting your feet wet with a limited menu. Be sure to post it online with the pickup or delivery date and any special instructions, like a serving size guide.

Do you already offer Thanksgiving catering? What are your tips for the first-time Turkey Day Dinner deliverers?

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Posted On November 11, 2014 by John Cohen

Small Plates, Big Statements

You may recall our post two weeks ago about catering requests you may encounter this fall. One of the bigger catering trends you may be noticing this season from weddings and corporate events is the request for small plates. No longer do brides and grooms or event coordinators want simple snacks to tide their guests over during cocktail hour. Oh, no. They are looking for more unique mini dishes. Some are even replacing dinners with multiple small plates. You might be asking yourself, “why would people want to offer small plates over entire meals?” There are two good reasons: money and mobility.

First, money. You can expect that couples (or even companies) skipping out on serving a full meal are a little tighter on cash. Couples may be paying for the wedding themselves and may have decided that their money will be put to good use in a down payment on a house. Companies may be thinking their employees would prefer a little holiday bonus over an extravagant dinner. Either way, people are still looking for delicious food, as hors d’oeuvres or as a meal, to serve to their guests. That doesn’t mean that your options are limited as a caterer, though. You just get to show off your style and specialties in bite sized portions. Everything can be pared down to a bite size sampling; even soup. Take a look these soup serving spoons from Loverly. All the goodness of a bowl in one bite!

Soup Spoons

Photo Credit: Steve Steinhardt on Inspired By This via Loverly

As you can see from our soup example people not only want small plates, they want them to be beautiful and enticing. This means you might have to get a little creative with your serving dishes, or lack thereof. The best kind of small plates are actually the ones that require no plates at all. This allows guests to have more mobility and keep their hands free for cocktails and greeting one another. In the end, serving foods that require little to no dishware will save you some clean up as well. Anything on a skewer (shrimp, meatballs, chicken) makes a great no-dish dish. One of the best no-dish foods we’ve seen are these bacon cups from Bon Appétit. Because who doesn’t love a bacon cup?!

bacon cups

Photo copyright (C) 2011 by Con Poulos via Bon Appétit

Creating multiple small plates, especially if they are serving as the main meal, means you will have a few more bits and pieces to coordinate. If you aren’t used to planning in such precious detail, catering a small plate focused event may be more difficult than you are used to. The key is to stay organized. We suggest using Total Party Planner catering software, of course. But, there are other ways to keep your small plate events in order. Just be sure to have enough ingredients to make your multiple bite-sized dishes.

What small plates are you whipping up for your Fall and Holiday events?

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Posted On November 4, 2014 by Susan Pupa

Happy National Peanut Butter Lovers Month!

Do you know what month it is? Yes, it is November and yes, Thanksgiving is this month. More importantly (to some) it’s National Peanut Butter Lovers Month! In honor of this special month, we’ve put together a list of a few of our favorite peanut butter treats.

PBP – Peanut Butter Pretzels
Peanut butter is great by itself but it’s better when it’s being scooped up by a lightly salted pretzel. We have two favorite ways to pair this duo:

For pretzels heavy on the PB:
● One jar of your favorite peanut butter
● One bag of pretzel bows

● Line a cookie sheet with wax paper
● Lay pretzels on cookie sheet
● Using a butter knife spread peanut butter evenly over the pretzels filling in the holes
● Make it special: Top with a few chocolate chips or M&Ms.
● Put the entire cookie sheet in the fridge for an hour to let the peanut butter harden

For pretzels light on the PB:
● One jar of your favorite peanut butter
● One bag of pretzel bows or pretzel rods

● Line a cookie sheet with wax paper
● Spread pretzels (bows or rods) on cookie sheet
● Add peanut butter to a piping bag (you can also use a Ziplock baggie)
● Heat piping bag (or baggie) in 20 second increments until contents is slightly smooth but not too liquidy
● Using a piping bag: Squeeze the bag while dispensing the peanut butter in a zigzag motion back and forth across the the pretzels
● Using a baggie: Cut the tip off the corner of the baggie to create a small hole. Follow above step for piping bag.
● Put in freezer to harden the peanut butter.

Peanut Butter Banana Sandwiches
Peanut Butter Banana Sandwiches are one of our classic favorites from childhood. If you were one of those kids worried about a soggy sandwich you probably had a PBB. The bananas balanced the dryness of the peanut butter without making your bread soggy.You may be thinking you’re a little too old to enjoy a good ol’ Peanut Butter Banana Sandwich now, but there’s an adult version we highly recommend – two banana slices, one scoop peanut butter, drizzled with honey and a sprinkled with cinnamon.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookies
You can never go wrong with peanut butter and chocolate. There are so many good combinations – milkshakes, Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, and of course, cookies. One of our favorite peanut butter chocolate chip cookie recipes comes from They aren’t bad for being flourless! That’s right, this delicious chocolate chip and peanut butter combo is flourless.

Enjoy National Peanut Butter Lovers Month!  What peanut butter recipes are you incorporating into your catering?



Photo by Beth Dreiling & Styling by Buffy Hargett via My Recipes

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Posted On October 30, 2014 by John Cohen

Fall Catering Trends

Now that we are starting to see an uptick in the economy, together with the ever increasing rise in popularity of social media sites, couples are starting to do a little less DIY, but they are still looking for those customized, personal details for their weddings.  With that, caterers are seeing more demands from clients to help make an event unique and personal. With the rising desire for a custom wedding, here are a few requests you may see this fall:

Custom Cocktails

If you’ve been on Pinterest lately you’ve probably noticed the explosion of apple and pumpkin flavored cocktails. A popular craft cocktail this season is the Apple-achian, – bourbon, apple cider, and ginger ale. There are many variations of this cocktail, some with a cinnamon sugar rim, others with a cinnamon stick stirrer, but all equally delicious looking. Bourbon and apple cider are a big hit for a fall craft cocktail this year.

Another custom cocktail we are seeing a lot of this season is the signature sangria. Sparkling Apple Cider Sangria is quickly becoming a fall favorite, especially because it is easy to make a batch of and can be placed in large “serve yourself” ramekin. If you need a good apple cider sangria recipe we particularly like the one cooked up by The Kitchn.

Most custom cocktails are old classics with a new twist. If your bride and groom are looking for a craft cocktail we suggest some oldies but goodies with some new flare – Cran-Vodka with a splash of champagne, a bourbon ginger with a cinnamon sugar rim, or champagne mimosa with pear juice instead of orange juice. And don’t forget, they have to come with a wedding themed name. Blushing Bride or Grinning Groom, anyone?

signature drinks

Image by Todd Pellowe via Style Me Pretty


Recently brides and grooms are forgoing the standard three tiered, yellow cake in favor of a treat that better suits them and their guests. A popular choice this year is the s’more. Some serve their s’mores piping hot from the flame straight to guests while others provide s’mores kits so guests can create their own. If you’re looking for a little s’more love without all the mess we also love the S’more Cheesecake featured on BizBash.

A fall favorite that is making an appearance on the wedding scene this year is the caramel apple. But no one wants to try to eat an entire fair-sized caramel apple in the middle of a wedding, right? Couples are taking care of that by requesting mini caramel apple bites. These bite-sized morsels (produced with a melon baller, some lollipop sticks, and a little melted caramel) are the perfect addition to the fall cocktails we mentioned before.

Another cake trending cake replacement is the pie. Big pies, mini pies, apple pies, pumpkin pies – people are all about the pie this year. Maybe it’s the warmth of pies, or maybe the memory of Grandma’s pies coming out of the oven. Or perhaps people just aren’t cake people. Either way, give the people what they want. For your pie lineup this season we suggest a mix of traditional and new pies – bourbon pecan, pumpkin with a chocolate crust, s’mores pie (that’s right, we found another way to incorporate s’mores this fall), and the classic apple pie. Providing a variety of pies allows couples to satisfy multiple guests and give their wedding its own unique spin.

Whether it’s a signature cocktail or a different type of dessert bar couples are looking for ways to make their weddings special. We hope you find these fall trends helpful as you plan your upcoming fall events.


Image by Fondly Forever Photography via Wedding Chicks

Happy catering!

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