Posted On November 19, 2013 by John Cohen
It’s that time of year again! Not talking about the holidays—talking about fund raising time! The holidays are when a lot of great causes try to take advantage of everyone’s charitable holiday mood to raise funds and awareness for their causes. Which also means you may be asked to cater one or more of these events for free or at cost. And then the question becomes: Should you take that pro bono catering gig?
Ask yourself these 5 questions to determine if you should take that pro bono catering gig.
1. Is it a cause you believe in?
You will be donating your time, energy, and resources to this cause. That’s as good as—if not better than—cash. If you don’t believe in the cause, you definitely should not take the event—no matter what you think the exposure will be. Chances are good that if this is a cause you don’t like, the audience will not be a good fit for you. If it’s a cause you’re at least neutral about, then maybe it’s worth it. But really, an ideal situation would be to align yourself with a cause in the community that you really want to support and feel strongly about.
2. Is the exposure right for you?
Exposure is possibly one of the worst reasons to take a pro bono gig, unless the event meets other specific criteria too. Everyone says, “You’ll get great exposure!” And yes, in the most technical definition, you will get exposure to new people. But will this exposure lead to booking more events? Not necessarily. There are two kinds of exposure: general and specific. General exposure is just that—you serving food to a bunch of people who may or may not have any interest in you as a caterer beyond you’re serving them right now. You don’t know if they’re a good fit for you. These people are not decision makers who will book you for any events they may be involved with in the future. Or worse, they’ll only think of you when they need to book their own pro bono events.
But with specific exposure, you could be in a room with people who are decision makers. People who have events and are always looking for people to help produce them. People who will tell their friends about you. Venue owners, hospitality managers, executive admins who plan corporate events. These are people who will pay attention to you, really taste your food, ask you questions, and may want to work with you in the future. Then, the event may be worth taking.
3. What’s in it for you?
Think about what you’ll really get out of it—and don’t be afraid to ask. If all they can offer is exposure, ask who will be there? Besides influential decision makers from other organizations and companies, what about other caterers and event planners? Will you be working by yourself or with a team? Working within a team of caterers is often a great opportunity, because you can meet people who might call you if they need back up for really big events—and vice versa. Then the pro bono gig becomes a great professional networking opportunity—a chance to show what you’re made of and to forge some new relationships for future collaboration.
4. Will you enjoy it?
Will this event be fun for you in other ways? Is it a chance to cater in a venue you’ve always dreamed about working in or to meet your favorite band? What are some of the other perks? Because as you already know, there are advantages to being in the service industry, and one of them is basically getting that all-access backstage pass to the hottest ticket in town. Being “in the know’ and being one of the people who “makes the magic happen” behind the scenes is always a good feeling. And sometimes, that’s enough.
5. If a paying event comes along, would you still take the pro bono one?
What makes pro bono work during the holiday season so difficult is that you usually already have too much work already. EVERYONE is having a party—so you don’t need to take pro bono work for the exposure. Pro bono work is much easier to justify during the slow season after New Year’s, when you’re not likely to book as much anyway. It can’t hurt to get out there and spend some time networking with folks and maybe give your staff a few hours. But during the busy seasons, if another paying gig comes along, will you want to drop the pro bono one?
The answer is: If you would be tempted to drop the pro bono event if a paying event comes along, the event probably isn’t that valuable to you. So, if it’s not that valuable to you—why are you taking it, especially during the busy season, when something else is likely to come along? Never EVER cancel on an event, free or otherwise. Word will get out and people won’t trust you. So if you will regret committing yourself to this event, then don’t take it.
The overarching point here is that your time and talents are valuable. Do not undervalue them—and don’t let others undervalue them. Whether the event is a large, public charity event or a friend asking you to cater a small dinner party from her kitchen, don’t be afraid to dig and find out what you will truly get out of the event. Then, you can make an informed decision about donating your time and effort for any event.
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On October 15, 2013 by John Cohen
How, you say? So glad you asked! Because a well-done video (and keep in mind that well-done does not have to mean expensive) can take the place of a personal introduction when you can’t be there in person. So that when you do finally talk to your prospective clients, you already seem familiar to them. And that will put them at ease. And that will make them more likely to hire you.
Think about how you yourself make decisions. Let’s say you’re looking for a plumber and you don’t have a referral. You’re starting from scratch.
You look on the Internet or in a phone book. You have basic listings that are just a name and a number. No personality. No specialties. Nothing to tell you if they’re the right person for your job.
Then you have some plumbers with ads—and some of them catch your eye. Some ads are obviously put together with more care—and have more of the details you care about.
Finally, you call the plumber you have the best gut feeling about, right? One that seems to meet the qualifications or specialty you’re looking for—and that resonates with you (consciously or subconsciously).
It works the same way for caterers. People have to know you meet their NEEDS and that they can trust you. A video is undoubtedly one of the best ways to start building rapport. A marketing video shows you in the flesh: talking, smiling, and making amazing food—food that sizzles and pops with excitement, making clients’ mouths water!
Forget any of the marketing mumbo jumbo. Plain and simple: Video will help put your customers at ease by making you feel more familiar to them faster.
An intro video that appeals to your clients starts to create that glimmer of trust, so you can get a baby toe in the door of your clients’ minds—and their decision making process.
PLUS, think about this: Video can reach more of the senses than words or photographs alone can. Good food is so visual, aural, and completely tantalizing. What better medium for showing off your amazing culinary creations than video?
Here’s the hard truth. Any plumber who has been in business any length of time can probably get the job done for you. Just as any caterer can supply at least some basic level of food and service for an event.
But if you’re inviting a plumber into intimate spaces in your home, you want someone you feel comfortable with—and are even happy to support. Catering is the same way. How do you convey that your client’s special day is just as important to you?
Through a personal promo video. The vibe you put out in your video will help people feel more familiar and comfortable with you when they talk to you, and you’ll attract the kinds of clients who click with that vibe.
Check out this fantastic video from Savory Chef in Vancouver, BC. Short, sweet, to the point, it makes a personal statement about Chef Taryn’s and the food she creates, while giving a teasing glimpse of the amazing, glamorous events they can produce.
We followed our own advice and created some Total Party Planner videos—and the response has been astounding! If you haven’t already, check out our introductory Total Party Planner video on our homepage, as well as our Total Party Planner software demo video. We’ve always prided ourselves on having a personal, feels-like-family touch—from your very first contact with us to decades from now when you need technical support. No matter how we’ve grown, we make sure that customer service and technical support never suffer.
We wanted that personal touch, and our unique story of how Total Party Planner is catering software developed by a caterer, to come through. Check out our videos—how do you think we did?
Ready to help your clients get that “I just have a good feeling about this company—I want to go with them” feeling? Because a video isn’t just marketing. A video is an extension of yourself. So you can start building rapport and trust with prospective catering clients, 24/7 on the Web.
And that, as you are about to find out when you create your own promo video, is priceless.
If you have a promo video, why did you create it—and what scared you the most before you made one? If you haven’t made a video yet, why not? What’s holding you back? We’d love to hear your thoughts and get some good discussion going in the TPP catering community. Because in this community, there’s enough success to share!
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On October 1, 2013 by John Cohen
How many times have you talked to someone who says, “I thought about becoming a caterer at one point,” when they hear that you’re a caterer—or perhaps even at an event you’re catering? Or, worse, “Yeah, I’m going to cater my niece’s/daughter’s/neighbor’s wedding/bat mitzvah/some other important event myself, because at one point, I nearly became a caterer.”
Whoa! Hold the phone. Sounds like they need our list of 5 things that do NOT make you a caterer.
Because we here at Total Party Planner always wonder, when they say, “I nearly became a caterer,” do they mean they actually wrote up a business plan, looked into small business loans, assembled recipes, looked into suppliers, and looked at real estate and licensing requirements?
Or do they mean that once or twice over wine with friends after a particularly fine dinner party, their friends said, “You should totally become a caterer,” and they considered it for a hot minute?
It’s a compliment that professional caterers make their job look so effortless that lots of people go, “Oh, I could do that—how fun!” And if someone truly cannot afford a good caterer and wants to try to do food for a big event themselves, we get that. We’ve all been there at some point (although even self-catering gets expensive fast if you buy a lot of prepared foods—it’s often not worth the hassle).
But as we all know, catering is a grueling, physically and mentally demanding job. It’s often well worth the applause at the end of a successful event. But some days, it can be pretty thankless up to that point.
That’s why the Total Party Planner team has come up with this handy dandy list of 5 things that do NOT make you a caterer.
5. A BJ’s or Costco membership.
People see the nicely packaged, well-marketed hors d’oeuvres and think, “Yeah, I can just buy a bunch of these, heat them up, BAM—my event will be catered!” First, people underestimate the actual work that will go into heating up of masses of frozen quiches and bacon-wrapped scallops in a kitchen not equipped for such things. Second, they also underestimate the cost and the health-factor. The mark-up on these items is crazy, because you’re paying for convenience. And then look at the ingredients. Preservatives, artificial stuff, usually loads of fat and grease. A few of these items are fine, but balance them with healthier options. A good caterer knows how to do this.
4. A great cookie recipe.
Don’t make a dinner party out of a snickerdoodle. You like to bake? People compliment your desserts? Fine. Become a baker. But even then, being able to bake well or having a couple of great recipes doesn’t mean you have the business acumen or entrepreneurial prowess needed to make a business out of that one recipe. Oh, and hint: You usually need way more than one recipe for any bakery or catering company. Unless you’re an Oreo. But even then, Nabisco has dozens of recipes at their disposal. So there you go.
3. One successful dinner party.
When a dinner party goes really well and everyone is complimenting the food, it’s tempting to dream about throwing parties for a living. But the biggest difference between doing it for fun and doing it for a living is scale. The parties have to be bigger, more frequent, and you have to go out and find the party AKA the clients. That involves marketing, networking, and even advertising. Which is kind of like sending invitations to friends for a party—and yet, not quite.
2. Everyone always says, “You should be a caterer.”
And if they said you should jump off a bridge, would you? Again, consider the source. Most people don’t truly know the work that goes into catering. Or, they just don’t like you. Could be a trick. Next time, call their bluff and ask, “Why? Why do you think I should be a caterer?” If they say something like, “Well, I don’t know, just thought your food was soooo good and seemed like a good idea…” you’ll know they don’t really know what they’re talking about. Don’t listen to them.
1. You like to cook.
This one trait is important if you want to be a caterer. And if you REALLY like to cook with all your heart and soul, then you might actually want to consider catering. But if the thought of cooking for hundreds of people, day in and day out, and the pressure of pulling off a big event makes you sick to your stomach, then stick to just enjoying cooking as a hobby. That way, you’ll continue to love cooking.
What does make you a great caterer?
Devotion to the craft of creating fine food for every occasion, from picnics to white-tie affairs.
Dedication to your staff and your clients.
Sheer love. Love of food, of what you do, of that feeling of satisfaction when you know you’ve made someone else’s night… or lots of people’s nights!
And being a night owl is certainly helpful but not a hard and fast requirement.
What would you add to this list of things that do NOT make you a caterer? What motivates and re-energizes you on really tough catering days?
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On September 17, 2013 by Susan Pupa
Being a new parent can make it a little harder to do some of the things you used to do before having children. As a new mom, one of the things I’m not quite comfortable with yet is going out to eat at some of my favorite restaurants with a baby in tow. Instead, my husband and I have been searching for alternative options that are more baby friendly, which has introduced us to the world of food trucks!
Here in Richmond, VA, we are lucky to have a ton of amazing food offerings, with some of the best being served right out of a truck. Richmond has many locations around town where these food trucks congregate together and people show up specifically for that reason.
At a recent outing to an outdoor concert at our local brewery, there were many different trucks to choose from. I recognized some of the names from around town, but one truck that stood out was one of our longtime clients, Mosaic Catering. The lines at these trucks were super long; it seemed like everyone was there for the food! As an observer, it appeared like the operators who were also seasoned caterers were the most efficient and able to keep the line moving while still dishing up quality gourmet offerings.
Have you adopted the growing food truck trend as an extension of your catering business? There are so many benefits of implementing a food truck offering for your business, as discussed in detail in this past Total Party Planner blog post. And who knows; you might just tap into a group of diners who don’t have the option to experience what you have to offer in another setting (such as new moms like me). Give them a good experience, and they are sure to think of you the next time they need a caterer!
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On August 20, 2013 by John Cohen
Top 3 Catering Business Mistakes that will Kill Your Dreams–and How to Use Catering Software to Fix Them
It’s the love of the food, the parties, and the people that lure most caterers into business–and it’s the paperwork, scheduling, and food tracking that drive too many good folks out of the kitchen screaming for mercy. The top 3 catering business mistakes that will kill your dreams are all related to the grunt work of catering–but there’s a way to use catering software to fix them.
The question on John Cohen’s mind when he developed Total Party Planner catering software was how could he automate more of the boring-but-oh-so-necessary-to-success tasks and jobs, so talented chefs and event planners could spend more time focusing on the creative parts of the jobs they love?
The answer–different built-in features that help track the crucial information you need in order to keep food costs down, schedule people and events accurately, and build events with better profit margins.
Top 3 Catering Business Mistakes that will Kill Your Dreams–and How to Use Catering Software to Fix Them
1. Think you know your true food costs and most popular menu items? Think again.
Too often, caterers are slow to spot trends when popular items start to shift within their menus. And think of seasonal or mini-trends–if you have an increase in requests for your famous Cranberry Orange Chicken every fall, are you spotting that trend in time to know to stock up on cranberries early, so you have enough and can even buy them on sale?
Total Party Planner helps track menu items, ingredient usage, and food costs, so you know what your profit is on every menu item you offer and how much food you’re going through. There are many different customizable reports you can run to get an accurate picture of what you’re making and selling. With this information, you can plan ahead and get better prices on the ingredients you need–as well as make sure you never run out of the go-to appetizer that everyone wants at their event.
2. Scheduling challenges that make Grand Central look like a cake walk.
We’re talking scheduling events, scheduling rentals, and scheduling the right amount of staff for those events. You can lose a lot of money by overbooking staff or not booking enough staff and providing lousy customer service to clients. And there’s always the classic comedy of errors when you book two or more events too close to each other. Many caterers also lack an easy, transparent way to track hours for their staff.
Use catering software to keep track of event and staff schedules in one place, so you can see if your favorite bartender is available for a large, high-visibility wedding and if you have enough staff for a second event on a Saturday. Track the scheduling of key equipment, so you know if you need to rent more stuff. TPP will also track hours and wages and let you run reports whenever you need them.
3. Paperwork–always the paperwork!
The best part of paperwork and getting your financials in order–is when you’re done! Creating proposals, writing up invoices, tracking sales tax after festivals and events, and even tracking staff wages and taxes gets very tedious–especially when you’re typing the same information over and over for different reports. It takes a lot of time away from family, customers, and making money.
The multiple reports and invoices that TPP catering software creates pull from one central location. You enter information one time into an event record, and then you can pull any kinds of reports and invoices you need, from who is working to client invoicing to multiple tax schemes for beverages, food, etc. You can even track deposits and discounts.
Many TPP users say they really didn’t have a true picture of what kind of business they were doing (and what kind of profits they were leaving on the table) until they started using TPP catering software.
Once you take action to solve these top 3 catering business mistakes, you’ll see that you have more time and can make more money. More time means more time to close business AND more time with family and friends. And you’ll be making more money when you can schedule events and staff more efficiently and track and see your profit margins better.
If you’re already a TPP user, the question for you is: are you getting everything you can out of your software? Call us for personalized help about features that will be most helpful to you.
If you’re not using TPP in your office and kitchen yet, the question for you is: are you ready for a free live demo to see more of what TPP can do for your business? Contact us by phone or email to set up a personalized demo.
Catering software is definitely the way to fix these business-killing pitfalls that so many caterers succumb to. Get a clearer picture of how much and what kind of business you’re doing–and save hours of paperwork and office time. It’s an easy step to more success!
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On August 6, 2013 by Lauren Methena
In our final installment of our special series, “Could Catering to Special Diets be Worth it to You?”, we’re going to jump into the meat and potatoes—or tofu and rice, as it were—of the practical steps of how you actually cater to folks with special dietary needs. How do you offer truly healthy options for all kinds of different lifestyles, including people who have health concerns, such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure; people who don’t eat meat, such as vegans and vegetarians; and people with food allergies? Can you find easy ways to incorporate dairy-free, gluten-free, low-sodium, low-fat options into your menus—and still have them be tasty?
Offering these kinds of options for your clients is inclusive—not exclusive. If you’ve ever been that kid who was picked last for kickball, then you know how it can be to watch everyone else enjoying the party while you wait on the sidelines.
By offering food options that everyone can eat, you’ll make everyone at the party feel like they were thought of and included. Just think of the delight you’ll create (and the applause you’ll win) when you offer no- or low-sugar desserts that people with diabetes can enjoy at a wedding or vegan or gluten-free baked goods for people who don’t eat animal products or who have food allergies. They will remember your event as being one of the best ever, instead of sitting on the sidelines wishing they’d eaten more before they came.
We’ve been talking with Yeshi Demisse, a well-known and extremely knowledgeable health coach, health advocate, caterer and restaurant owner. For decades, she has trained with some of the finest minds ever to have studied the healing properties of food, including Dr. Ann Wigmore, the person behind the wheatgrass juice therapy movement. Yeshi has been sharing her thoughts and knowledge about what it takes to offer delicious, healthy food that people want to eat that also fits their lifestyle.
One service Yeshi recommends is the U.S. Department of Agriculture database on the nutrient values of ingredients. It is incredibly complete and gives you lots of information on calories, nutrients, and other properties of every ingredient you can think of. You can access and download the USDA nutrient database for free.
Other easy strategies include doing internet searches of some of your favorite recipes and networking with specialty restaurants and stores in your neighborhood (including Whole Foods Market and any locally owned natural or health food stores in your area). A quick internet search for “vegan brownies” or “gluten-free cookies” will quickly yield many delicious, healthy options that will suprise you—and delight your clients!
Trying to avoid eggs and dairy to please a vegan crowd, to offer food that’s lower in cholesterol, or to give more options to people with allergies? Check out one of our favorite sites, the Post Punk Kitchen.
Here are some more quick and easy ideas for catering to special diets and requests:
- Avoiding dairy? Try Earth Balance non-dairy butter spread in place of butter. Cooks up just like butter—you can even make a killer dairy-free frosting with it (check out this easy recipe).
- Daiya brand non-dairy cheese-style products can help you expand your vegan repertoire and reduce the fat content of many foods. Extreme Pizza offers a vegan pizza using Daiya mozzarella-style shreds, and both Tofurkey and Amy’s use Daiya products in many of their dairy-free meals.
- Want to bake without eggs? Substitute 1/4 or 1/3 cup applesauce (depending on your recipe and your preference) in place of every egg. It’s cheaper, healthier, and cuts out cholesterol and a potential allergen. Another great egg substitute—flax seed eggs. Take one tablespoon of ground flax seed and mix with three tablespoons of water. Let stand for several minutes. The mixture will start to become thick and gelatinous like eggs. This ratio replaces one egg. Flax seed also contains brain-boosting Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Experiment with different types of milk in your cooking and baking. Unsweetened coconut milk makes a great, creamy substitute for cow milk. Trader Joe’s brand of unsweetened coconut milk adds no coconut flavor. Experiment with different brands and types of milk (including rice milk, almond milk, and many others that are on the market) to find what works best in different recipes. And make sure to check if your client has nut allergies before proceeding with almond milk.
- Consider using recipes that can be made vegan or vegetarian upon request by leaving out certain ingredients or substituting ingredients, such as pasta dishes, sandwiches, pizza, and soups.
- Lentils make a great beef substitute in many soups, stews, stroganoffs—even marinara sauces. Different lentils cook up differently, so don’t be afraid to experiment to find the right kind for your recipes. Check out this quick lentil comparison guide. Lentils are also very high in protein, iron, and fiber.
- If you haven’t tried quinoa (pronounced kee-nwah) yet, do! Quinoa is a super food—it’s the only plant-based food that is a complete protein by itself, in addition to being a great source of fiber. Adding it to soups, stews, and salads can really boost any recipe’s nutritional value. It cooks up quickly and easily, just like rice. In foods such as chili, the small round texture of quinoa can fool people into thinking they are eating tiny pieces of ground meat.
- Try baking with agave instead of sugar when you need to sweeten desserts. Agave offers a great-tasting way to lower the glycemic factor of your desserts, so diabetics and folks looking to lower their sugar intake can enjoy them too!
- Try using high quality olive oils and different spice combinations (perhaps from local Indian or Asian stores, for example) that can add flavor without having to rely on fats and salt.
- Think fresh! When you use fresh ingredients (fruits, vegetables, meats, beans), the flavors will speak for themselves. Resist the temptation to over season them.
Once you find a few substitutes and tricks that work for you, you’ll quickly find yourself looking forward to those special requests from clients—because it will be just another opportunity for you to win applause.
You’ll gain a reputation for quality and flexibility, perhaps even gaining an edge in the competitive catering market, as you become known as the company to call when you have to please your vegan cousins and your aunt with Celiac’s disease all in the same meal.
Done properly, and with an open mind, not only can catering to special diets and lifestyles actually increase your marketshare—you’ll be doing something good for your clients and their health, whether they realize it or not.
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On July 16, 2013 by Lauren Methena
In our last blog, we started to explore the growing interest in catering to special diets with health coach, speaker, and caterer Yeshi Demisse. With more people choosing to abstain from certain foods for ethical reasons (such as vegans and vegetarians) or for health reasons (such as diabetes, allergies, heart disease, etc.), could catering to special diets be worth it for you?
And if you decide to cater to special dietary requests, how can you cater to special requests easily without changing your entire menu and business—and without driving away business from folks who still want their chicken wings and mozzarella sticks? How do you strike a healthy business balance, so you’re adding to your clientele, not trading one set of patrons for another?
Yeshi doesn’t think you have to sacrifice one set of clients for the other. “Offering healthy options isn’t exclusive—it’s inclusive. People with no food allergies, diseases, or strong food preferences—everyone can benefit from eating healthier,” she states.
She also notes that catering to vegan, diabetic, and other health-conscious diets is just like any other kind of catering. Once you have your go-to recipes and substitutions that you like to use, this type of cooking quickly becomes second nature.
Yeshi knows that this growing number of health-conscious patrons is still in the minority. She blames this on “lack of awareness or simply because their tastebuds are accustomed to salty, fatty, unhealthy food. It is not an easy habit to break. Even sick people would prefer the types of food they are used to although it has contributed to their health conditions.”
Other barriers may prevent caterers from venturing into healthier food options. The cost for healthier, higher quality ingredients can discourage caterers and customers. The trick is finding locally sourced, seasonal food and comparison shopping between food distributors. In other words, if fresh greens are out of season and incredibly expensive in the fall and winter, offer some nice squash and root vegetables instead. You’ll often be able to offer a higher quality product for less.
Also, dietary needs vary from one individual to another. Yeshi says, “Even people with the same [health] issues have specific needs that are relative to the overall constitution of the individual. However, gluten-free, low-sodium, low-fat, sugar- and dairy-free options can easily be incorporated into any menu.” Yeshi adds, “I also believe training kitchen staff in healthy cooking styles is critical, since besides ingredients, the way we prepare food contributes to the quality and the healthiness of the meal.”
Yeshi knows firsthand the healing power of healthy, nutritious food. Throughout the course of her training, she has studied with prestigious doctors such as Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. Andrew Weil, to name a few. Early in her food and nutrition education, she got to learn from Dr. Ann Wigmore herself in 1988. Dr. Wigmore was the person behind wheatgrass juice therapy—a movement that exists to this day. She has also studied macrobiotic and living food (raw) diets, or lifestyles, as she prefers to call them.
“From my personal experience,” says Yeshi, “both diets [wheatgrass juice therapy and macrobiotic] are very healing despite their different theories and approaches. It is important to explore them both from one’s own personal needs. Although they are referred to as diets, we have to acknowledge that they are both lifestyle choices, and we have to look at the concept as a whole.”
Yeshi’s first restaurant emphasized healthy options from her native Ethiopian cuisine and gluten-free options. She also gave cooking classes on healthy eating, menu planning, living foods, macrobiotics, sugar- and dairy-free desserts, and much more. That’s when she was approached by an alternative healthcare doctor who treated critically sick cancer patients. She needed someone who could prepare healthy food for the patients in her center.
Most of her patients did not know about healing foods, nor did they have the energy to cook for themselves. Under the doctor’s guidance and recommendations, Yeshi started offering specific foods tailored to each individual’s needs, as the doctor deemed necessary. Patients came to the facility for a specific period of time for detoxification and other types of treatment. When they went home, they would go back with the food Yeshi had prepared for them that was specifically recommended for their healing. The feedback, and the results, were astounding.
“Working with this doctor, combined with the feedback I received from patients, strengthened my dedication to offering such services,” Yeshi remembers. This experience was part of what made her and her sons decide to make their current restaurant, the Nile (Ethiopian cuisine), 100% gluten free. She still offers macrobiotic meals on-demand, emphasizes healthy cooking, and gives diverse cooking classes in the area.
So how do you actually start to offer specialized food as a caterer? How can you make it a seamless part of what you offer, without a lot of extra expense and trouble that can spell chaos in your kitchen?
In our next blog, we’ll explore specific ways you can start offering special items to your clients, including where to find recipes and easy ingredient substitutions, as we discuss if catering to special diets is worth it for you.
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On June 25, 2013 by Lauren Methena
Healthy eating is supposed to be all the rage now—so why aren’t more people doing it? As you get an increasing number of requests to accommodate out-of-the-mainstream diets (i.e., vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, low-sodium, diabetic-friendly, and many more), does that increase represent a large enough marketshare to make revising your menus a good idea? Could catering to special diets be worth it for you? Could offering healthier food actually increase your marketshare?
From an ethical perspective, as a caterer, do you have a responsibility to help people find healthy food choices that nourish and satisfy them, rather than offering them the same unhealthy choices again and again?
These are the questions so many caterers and restaurants face, and we brought these questions to renowned health coach Yeshareg Demisse (affectionately known as Yeshi) to get some practical answers for Total Party Planner readers and clients.
You see, Yeshi isn’t just a health coach and advocate. She is a hard-working restaurant owner and caterer, serving up exotic ethnic food from her homeland in Richmond, VA (a relatively conservative place, usually associated more with barbecue and soul food than with healthy eating, despite having one of the highest number of locally owned restaurants per capita in the country). She currently owns and runs the Nile Ethiopian restaurant with her sons. The Nile has been going strong for seven years. However, she’s been studying and teaching about the healing properties of food for several decades.
“My belief in natural healing is a childhood passion,” says Yeshi, “Growing up in my home country, Ethiopia, I always opted for my grandma’s or my mom’s home remedies over visiting the doctor.” So receiving formal training in the healing properties of food was a natural next step for her.
While Yeshi was working with the United Nations Development Programme in New York (1982-1996), a Japanese colleague turned her on to the healing potential of a macrobiotics diet. “My colleague was in the process of curing a stomach cancer by following this diet,” Yeshi says. The encounter led Yeshi to take her first cooking lesson at what was then the Macrobiotic Center of New York and introducing this kind of food and lifestyle to her family.
The catering arm of their restaurant doesn’t just cater Ethiopian food. They actually provide a wide assortment of recipes, but their specialty is catering to specific kinds of diets—low-fat, low-sodium, vegan, gluten-free—you name it, they can cook for it. Their main emphasis is on meals for people with diabetes. And it’s guaranteed to be some of the most delicious food you’ve ever had.
That’s the message that Yeshi sends when she speaks, teaches cooking classes to kids or adults, and discusses menu options with any of her catering clients. That healthy food can be delicious—even cravable!
Her loyal following of fans would agree—but how does she do it?
“People always assume that healthy food is bland and has no taste,” Yeshi states. When asked what caterers can do to persuade people that this just isn’t true, Yeshi offers, “In order to dispel this belief, caterers need to incorporate appropriate and healthy seasonings and herbs, which also reduces the need for salt and fat, in order to satisfy consumers’ taste buds.”
Her second piece of advice—convenience. “Providing conveniently packaged, freshly made healthy meals could contribute a great deal to getting people to eat healthy. More than anything, creating awareness is critical.”
The disconnect between what people know is good for them and what they actually want and crave comes from many factors, Yeshi points out. It’s not just about the food but about our lifestyles. People eat on the go, while driving, commuting, and even working at their desks. Lunch could be a pre-packaged microwave meal or fast food. “The food industry pushes convenient food loaded with numerous unhealthy additives and preservatives,” says Yeshi. “Caterers can play an important role in shifting such habits by providing information on the health benefits of what they are offering.”
In our next two blogs, we’ll talk to Yeshi more about her experiences using food to heal people. She’ll tell us more about how she worked one-on-one with an alternative healthcare doctor who asked her to cater for her center and her patients, who were battling cancer. We’ll also talk more about easy ways you can take existing recipes and transform them into special request items by leaving out or substituting certain ingredients.
Could catering to special diets be worth it for you? We’ll also talk about how being known as the go-to caterer for special diets could boost your reputation—and your business.
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On June 10, 2013 by Emily Powers
It’s time to turn the spotlight once again on one of Total Party Planner’s amazing, talented, and successful clients. This time, we turn the spotlight on Collyer Catering in Connecticut. There, the chef/manager team of Mark Sharon and Reed Collyer (who are also husband and wife) has been running Collyer Catering since 2000.
They state on their website that they felt the market for innovative, handcrafted food was under served in their area, so they started Collyer Catering to fill that niche and that demand. They write:
“We believe deeply in hand-crafting nearly everything that leaves our kitchen, a process we feel results in a superior product, but our expertise extends beyond food to every element of an event.”
We wanted to dig a little deeper, so we reached out to Reed to get her point of view on catering and how Total Party Planner software has helped Collyer Catering grow.
TPP: Why do you cater? What got you into the business?
Reed Collyer: I have been catering since I was first asked to help at neighbors’ house parties as a teenager. I have always been passionate about food and bringing people together. My husband, our chef, wanted to strike out on his own in 2000, so it was the perfect match!
What convinced you that it was time to try some catering software in your business? What were you hoping to get out of it?
We had purchased another software [program] a few years ago, …, and while I researched before buying, every time we needed the software to adapt to our business needs, it required another costly upgrade. Plus I wasn’t happy with how difficult it was to modify for our business model. I had just reached out to them for a quote on several upgrades, and they wanted close to $3,000 for the updates. I was at the Catersource show speaking with other caterers and asked what they used for their business. Total Party Planner was named time and time again, so I visited the booth and was sold!
Why did you choose TPP over other software?
I like the constant support and willingness to make changes based on the customer feedback. Our businesses are always changing and evolving, and TPP has the flexibility to grow as we do. The support team is always responsive, helpful, and above all available!
What is the most surprising positive thing that happened to you (or to your business) after you started to use Total Party Planner Catering Software?
We are now perceived as a much more professional company. The proposals and invoicing templates in particular help us present ourselves as the established company we are. I always had to explain my quotes and invoicing before. Now they are straightforward and understandable.
What’s your favorite feature or trick you can do with the software—and how does it help you?
Exporting to QuickBooks saves me countless hours on bookkeeping. I also love the staffing feature, which saves us three steps from the old method of booking staff.
Have you been winning applause for your events? We want to hear about it—and about how using Total Party Planner helps you win more of that applause. Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to hear your story!
Posted In Client Feedback
Posted On May 23, 2013 by John Cohen
This week I had the opportunity to attend the National Restaurant Show in Chicago. What an amazing experience to see 2,000+ vendors in action selling everything under the sun for the food and beverage industry.
Outside of the obvious products you would expect to see at a food show, there was a plethora of heavy equipment, uniforms, advertising media, cleaning products, technology, and educational opportunities. Even the United States Post Office had space on the show floor!
After literally visiting thousands of booths, I decided to put together a small list of things that were truly unique, or perhaps items that our Total Party Planner catering software users could use. So here it is.
Disclaimer: I am not being paid to endorse any of these products. I also have no first hand experience with any of them. Again, they were items that stood out from the normal. They are listed in no particular order or preference.
- Ozark River Portable Sinks : A clean, sleek, professional way to bring hot and cold water on-site with options to mount paper towel holders. The hot water is generated from a common 110 outlet. Definitely a great way to replace the 5 gallon water buckets for cleaning that you might be using now.
- staybowlizer : a patented device that secures bowls of all shapes and sizes from unwanted movement during mixing or filling. Also acts as a double-boiler. You really have to see the demo to appreciate this unique item!
- Fruit in Hand Fruit Starter : Fresh tasting flavors of ripe fruit added to any drink. I had a sample of mixed berry added to lemonade. Personally I enjoyed the small chunks of what seemed to be fresh fruit in the drink. They were also serving the fruit on a brie cheese stuffed pastry shell – which is what separated themselves from the other hundred vendors with a beverage product. Delicious!
- Marinara Tower : Probably the MOST unique item I came across at the show. It replaces the chocolate fountain with more savory options such as meatballs, mozzarella, calamari, etc. Samantha (the inventor) and her mom were great to talk to and I just loved the personal aspect of how they were launching this new product. Check out the website and read Samantha’s story.
- Meatless Meatballs by gardein : There’s no denying the fact that vegetarian and vegan requests are becoming more and more common. These soy based meatless meatballs were as close to the real thing I have ever tasted.
- Custom Concessions : On January 15th we posted a blog about the rising trend of food trucks. Well, if you want to have one built to spec, this company is the one to call!
- Cvap Cafe : food holding cabinets. According to the demo chef, we were served full cheeseburgers that were prepared over 2 hours earlier and stored in their holding cabinets. I couldn’t tell. They really did taste fresh off the grill.
- Manner Guard : mouth guards for the true germ-o-phobe! I threw this one in just for fun. This seems like more of a product for a dental office… but who knows… perhaps someday the FDA will require all food service workers to wear one. You can say you saw it here first!
- DissolvableLabel : for about the same price as the masking tape you might be using to label containers, you can now get fully dissolvable professional labels in a variety of formats. We watched the demo and they did indeed dissolve nicely in water. Shipping charges might put you over the cost of masking tape, but these are worth checking out.
Well, there were certainly thousands of other products to see at the National Restaurant Show. It became hard to distinguish who had the best frozen yogurt, gelato, chips, pasta, sauce, pastry, breads, seasoning, vegetables, desserts, soda, etc. because there were so many of them. That’s probably why you don’t see any of those listed in my unique finds list.
If you can, I would not hesitate to recommend you visit the show next year. If you did attend, and want to share some of YOUR favorite finds, please leave a comment!
Posted In Industry Information