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Posted On January 24, 2016 by John Cohen

A Cultural Gem for Bahamian Dining in Nassau

On a recent cruise with my family, I discovered a true gem in Nassau, Bahamas. It’s called the Lukka Kairi.

I can’t explain it, but there was something calling us to this restaurant. Maybe it was the name, or the unique building with what looked like a long porch, or the fact that it sat directly on the open waterfront.


Lukka Kairi actually means “People of the Islands”. They stay true to the definition because everything we experienced, from the décor to the food & beverage, was derived from Bahamian culture. Their goal is to paint an ancient history of the island. Everything in the restaurant was made on the island by using recycled woods and Casuarina trees. Even the massive mural was painted by a local artist.


From a culinary perspective, imagine being able to source seafood right from the waterfront at your front door! Locally sourced produce and the Bahamian farmers are also extremely important to the restaurant concept too.

I was thrilled to meet Executive Chef Monica Hutchinson after our lunch. She heard from our waiter Shaquille how much we were raving about the crispy broccoli dish. It’s just one of those creations you have to taste to know how good it is.

Chef Monica (pictured with me below) told us the story of  her being the culinary producer for Top Chef All-Stars that filmed in the Bahamas. During the filming she fell in love, ultimately packed up her life in Chicago, and moved to the Bahamas. What a cool story!


I learned later from Chef ‘s website that she also worked on Rescue Chef, was the Traveling Sous Chef for Stephanie Izard, styled food for the likes of Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse, Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray, and Fabio Viviani. Quite impressive.

Who knows… maybe we can get Catersource to bring Chef Monica to the Art of Catering Food conference in Washington DC this year to speak about Bahamian cuisine and demo her crispy broccoli recipe!

Although everything we ate was awesome, my one regret is that I didn’t get to try more items on the “simple, non pretentious, comforting” (in Chef Monica’s words) menu. But you know what… there is always next time!


Do you have a special Caribbean gem that you have discovered? Please feel free to share it with us!

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Posted On January 12, 2016 by John Cohen

Computica Inc. Names Jim Israel New COO

Jim_Israel_04_Final_croppedAshland, VA – John Cohen, founder and owner of Computica, Inc., recently brought consultant and former catering executive Jim Israel on board as the company’s new chief operating officer. Mr. Israel has been brought on to oversee the company’s next phase of development, which includes a major update of their Total Party Planner catering software and the companion mobile app, as well as new plans for new client onboarding and software implementation.

The market for catering software is growing, and so is the competition. That’s what makes Mr. Israel the right person at the right time to lead Total Party Planner’s new endeavors. Mr. Israel owned and operated his own catering company, Culinary Concepts, for 23 years in Philadelphia, where he was an early adopter of catering software. He sold his catering business in 2010 and started his own consulting company, Conjure Consulting, in 2011. There, one of his main focuses was helping clients find success with the implementation of catering software. He is passionate about the importance of software to the catering industry, and he has spoken many times on the subject at Catersource, the catering industry’s largest tradeshow. His background in catering, software, and retail makes him uniquely qualified to work with Computica, Inc. at this particular moment and time.

“I have two missions,” Mr. Israel says. “First, make sure Total Party Planner stays on the cutting edge, as they’ve done for the past 18 years. They were the first in the industry to make their program web based and the first to develop a mobile app. We want to stay ahead of the tech curve. Second, position them in the market as the premier, go-to software for caterers and their sales teams. It was the first and is still one of the only programs out there developed by a person with industry experience. John understands what caterers need to be successful, both in sales and in the kitchen.”

Mr. Cohen expressed enthusiasm for Mr. Israel and what he brings to the company, saying, “I have a lot of confidence that Jim is the right person for the job. He knows the industry better than nearly anyone else out there. Our biggest driving factor is that we want to do what’s right by our clients, and he’s got some exciting ideas about how we can keep doing that.”

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

Can Zero Waste Initiatives Be Profitable for Caterers? Part 3

Sprouts_Feedmore in Central Virginia is able to distribute fresh produce in part through their Retail Recovery program, which salvages food that would be thrown out at the retail level, in addition to donations from local farms and their partner Lewis Ginger Botanical Gardens.

Cukes_Brussels_Sprouts_FeedmoreIn part 1 and part 2 of “Can Zero Waste Initiatives Be Profitable for Caterers?”, Total Party Planner has taken a look at the problems of food waste, food packaging waste, and other kinds of material waste in the food industry. We’ve also talked to two caterers, Chowgirls Killer Catering in Minneapolis and Saucy By Nature in Brooklyn, who are building their business models around sustainability. Their stories are inspiring and prove that zero waste goals are also compatible with profitability in the catering industry.

So, how can you profit from adopting zero waste and sustainability initiatives in your own catering business? The top three advantages are:

1. You save money. Using resources more wisely means you’ll have to buy less of them in the long run. So, when you save water you boiled pasta in and reuse it for something else, that’s that much less water you have to pay for. When you divert waste from the landfill into recycling and composting, you may be able to reduce your trash bill. There are more ideas later in the article, so keep reading!

2. It’s great for PR and marketing. Being able to say that you run your business in a way that is good for the local community and for the environment at large will score you big customer relations points. And in today’s competitive catering market, being good stewards of the environment can give you an edge, not just with individual clients but with corporate clients, too, who want that same image for themselves.

3. It’s great for the environment. Reducing the amount of waste you generate is a win for your local community and for the planet as a whole. Even if you’re somebody who isn’t usually into environmental causes, keeping the planet a little cleaner certainly isn’t going to hurt, so think of it as the icing on the cake – a nice bonus in addition to the money you’re going to save and the favorable points you’ll score in the community.

So, what can YOU do in your own kitchens to reduce waste and possibly save some money at the same time?

Here are some practical tips for how to get started with zero waste efforts and sustainability in your catering business.

And remember – not everything you do has to be on a large scale. Some of these ideas are small, everyday things you can do that shouldn’t take a lot of effort. At first glance, some of the little things may not seem like big deals. But all these little things add up over time and eventually make a big impact.

  • Assess your situation. The first step is to assess your current situation. (And if you need help with this or with any step, there are consultants out there who can help with this kind of thing.) How much trash and food waste are you generating? Start compiling numbers. For example, compare the cost of your current disposables to more eco-friendly versions. Look at your utility bills, including trash pick-up. If eco-friendly disposables cost a little more, will you save that money later in your trash bill, so that you’re breaking even financially but winning environmentally? Break everything down into dollars and cents, so you can see if certain environmental choices are good financial choices, too.
  • Research your local options. In addition to local consultants who may be able to help you get on the road to sustainability a little faster and with less frustration, find out what your community offers. Is composting available, or would you have to do your own composting? How does food donation work? Who are local zero waste vendors whom you can partner with? Every city or county is different, so spend a little time asking people and researching best options in your area.
  • Reduce your water usage. It’s hard to believe it in America, where we take it for granted that clean water is available with the turn of a knob, but water is in short supply even in this country. It’s a precious resource, and it needs to be used wisely and protected. (Check out this article from Business Insider that talks about the national water crisis in America. Also, read more about water sustainability at Save the water you boil potatoes and other vegetables in, so you can either let it cool and use it to water plants or use it to make stock, soup, or gravy. Same with water from pasta (although if you reuse that water, remember that it isn’t gluten free, so don’t use it in any gluten-free recipes). By repurposing water, you’re adding flavor to your food and saving money, since you won’t have to buy additional ingredients (such as stock). You’ll also save gallons of water every day, and you’re sure to notice that difference in your water bill.
  • Look for food that has reusable or reduced packaging. Just as Chowgirls mentioned in part 1 of this series that they buy food from local farmers who sell their produce in reusable containers, look for food that comes in reusable packaging or less packaging.
  • Use every scrap. Remember all the things your grandma did in her own kitchen to stretch every scrap of food, like making her own stock and repurposing leftovers? Turns out these homemade solutions are good for saving money as well as saving the planet. At Chowgirls, they use vegetable scraps to make their own stock. Making homemade stock helps use up vegetables that might otherwise get thrown away, and it saves them money on buying stock. They also make their own bread crumbs. Little efforts like these add up over time, financially and environmentally. Or, do what Saucy By Nature does and create new entrees and side dishes with your surplus ingredients and sell them. You use up your leftovers and create a new revenue stream.
  • Review how you calculate portions and ingredients. Have you reviewed your portion sizes to see if they are too big or just right? Are you estimating your event guest count accurately most of the time? What is your method for calculating portions and food costs? If you’re not already using a computerized program that can calculate food costs and ingredient lists based on your portion size, consider trying one. A program like that can help you compare the food costs and profit margins of different portion sizes and also create more accurate ingredient lists, so you you’re not over ordering by mistake.
  • Buy local food. Order food that’s produced close to home, including fruits and vegetables that are in season and grown in North America, in order to reduce your carbon footprint. Transporting non-local food uses a lot of fuel, which in turn creates a lot of fuel emissions. Not only that but you’ll be supporting other business owners and their employees in your local economy.
  • Create a plan in increments. Once you’ve assessed your situation and looked at your options, choose the changes you want to make, then prioritize the order in which you’ll implement them.

According to a study by the USDA’s Economic Research Service and reported on the USDA’s website, the approximately 133 billion pounds of food that Americans throw away every year at the retail and consumer levels is worth about $161 billion (estimates are from 2010). That’s a huge economic waste.

For your own business, you can use this food waste calculator from RecyclingWorks Massachusetts to estimate your own food waste and how the costs add up for your catering business. You could be throwing away thousands of dollars every year because of food waste – money that could be better spent re-invested in your business.

Whatever happens, don’t give up. Change doesn’t happen overnight. You want to create systems you can stick with in the long term and that make financial sense for your catering business. It’s not much different from the mindset you need when you start “dieting”. Experts say you shouldn’t “go on a diet”. You should think of change to your diet as a change in behavior. You’re making a permanent, lifestyle change that will last your whole life.

The same goes for creating a zero waste, sustainable business. Make decisions and create systems you can carry out consistently. Because after all, these actions will only be beneficial if you follow through with them.

If you missed part 1 or part 2 of this 3-part series, we encourage you to go back and explore the information and links in these articles to make sure you’re getting the complete picture.

We’ve also compiled additional resources to make it easier for you to get started and to help you answer the question, “Can Zero Waste Initiatives Be Profitable for Caterers?” It looks like the answer is, “Yes!”

Full study “Estimating and Addressing America’s Food Losses” by the USDA Economic Research Service

You Won’t Believe How Much Good Food Goes to Waste”, newsletter by Dr. Joseph Mercola, fascinating facts about how much food is wasted and what different groups and countries around the world are doing to successfully combat food waste

4 Steps to Move Your Company to Zero Waste” at

Waste Management Helps Businesses Turn Waste into Opportunity” includes great story about how the Phoenix Open, the world’s best-attended golf tournament with approximately 500,000 fans, is a zero waste event; more specific info on the ROI of sustainability

Why Businesses are Starting to Care about Zero Waste to Landfill” from the Guardian 2013

The EPA’s “Managing and Transforming Waste Streams Tool” for detailed analysis of waste streams and strategies for diverting waste from landfills

USDA Food Waste FAQ

End Food Waste Now restaurant-specific food waste info

Food Donation Connection national network for donating surplus food

Food Recovery Network connecting college students with hunger relief agencies to direct surplus food to those who need it

Zero Waste Alliance

Make Dirt Not Waste composting resource

Eureka Recycling

Sustainable Business aggregate news site for news and business networking

World Food Day

Fork It Over food donation and networking site (even though this site is specific to the Portland, OR area, they have links to other great sites and resources, so it’s worth a look)

Greenstaurant wholesale eco-friendly food service products

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 December 9, 2015 by John Cohen

Your New Winter Catering Menu: New Twists to Favorite Seasonal Food

Ready for some new twists to traditional fall and winter food? We’ve got your new winter catering menu with new twists to favorite seasonal food.

Some people can’t get enough of #PumpkinEverything in the fall and winter! But if you aren’t one of the people in that category, cooking and serving the same old seasonal favorites, such as mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, apple cider, and pumpkin pie, year after year … well, it can get old.

How did some of these ingredients and spices even come to be associated with winter? A lot of it has to do with what’s seasonally available this time of year. The locavore movement might be quite big right now, but that used to be the normal way people ate. There weren’t great ways to preserve food back in the old days, nor could you transport food easily like you can today by boat, train, and truck all over the world.

And the spices people used, such as cinnamon and cloves, helped preserve certain meats and veggies – or at least cover up the taste if the food was less than fresh. Because wasting food wasn’t an option. What you saved over the summer and fall was all you had for the winter, so you made it work. Simple as that.

Fortunately for us, those days are gone! Some of the seasonably available vegetables and side dishes we can look forward to every fall and winter include:

  • Pears
  • Apple cider
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter squash (such as butternut and acorn)
  • Pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies

These seasonal staples are familiar and comfortable to guests and are almost always a sure win. For those clients who are a little more adventurous, you can try some new twists on these old favorites. Check out these combinations we found!

Everything Mashed Potatoes
The “Everything” title isn’t just for bagels anymore! Serve Yukon Gold potatoes with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, celery salt, and roasted garlic to taste.

CurriedSweetPotatoAppleSoupCurried Sweet Potato and Apple Soup
While a lot of fall recipes are sweet and spicy at the same time, this curried sweet potato soup does a different take on spicy by using curry spices instead of some of the usual cloves, cinnamon, and other more traditional American flavors. The soup includes sweet potatoes, apple sauce, apple cider vinegar, ginger, and curry powder. Check out the full recipe.

Apple Pie Rolls
Apple pie rolls are something you can experiment with. The foundation of the recipe includes apples cooked with cinnamon, brown sugar, and butter, and then wrap it all in pastry dough and sprinkle with brown sugar. However, there’s no reason why you couldn’t add raisins, cranberries, or even some curry spice to make it a little more savory and give it a little kick! (Who knows? Maybe curry will become the new flavor of fall?)

GermanMulledCiderHot Mulled Cider
Traditional German cider includes either white or red wine, as well as honey, which is added at the end to sweeten the drink and bring the flavors together. Check out this easy recipe, then keep trying it until you find the combination you like best!

Pomegranate Accents
Pomegranate can be added to salads, meat entrees (such as pork chops), desserts – and this winter fruit will always add a bright tart taste and a nice splash of color to liven up almost any dish.

Speaking of changing up old recipes, here are some tips for those of you already using Total Party Planner in your kitchen:

Quick tip #1: The recipe building function in Total Party Planner lets you edit old recipes, make some tweaks, then save them as new recipes without losing the old one.

Quick tip #2: If you group your recipes by seasons or holidays (or both), it will make it easier to determine which recipes you can most easily get fresh ingredients for throughout the year. That way, you can find recipes more easily – and present them to clients at a moment’s notice!

What are some of the items on your standard winter catering menu? And what do you like to do to mix them up a bit? We would love to hear how you keep your favorite recipes fresh. Leave us a comment and join the conversation!

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 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!

Posted In Company Information, Industry Information | Comments Off on 6 Tips for Perfectly Executing Your Fall Events with Total Party Planner (Infographic)

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!

Posted In Industry Information | Comments Off on Pieces of the Marketing Puzzle: Choosing the Best Ways to Advertise Your Catering Company

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!

Posted In Industry Information | Comments Off on Want New Business? Make Each Client Your Wingman.

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