Posted On January 27, 2015 by Susan Pupa
We are so excited to announce the winner of the Catersource Sponsorship opportunity! The candidates were all carefully considered and the final selection was chosen by our Board of Advisors. A huge THANK YOU goes out to everyone who submitted an application! We really enjoyed reading all of the entries and learning so much about all of the caterers who participated, along with hearing about the topics that are of interest to you at the upcoming conference. All of the submissions received were FANTASTIC! Selecting just one winner was certainly no easy task.
Now without further ado….
The sponsorship award goes to Davii Mandel of Mi Chicas Kosher Catering & Events from Spring Valley, New York!
Davii’s business has grown leaps and bounds over the past few years when she changed her business model and brought her daughter, Chany, on as a partner. She is excited for the opportunity to attend the conference and be able to bring her daughter with her. This mother-daughter team is hoping to gain knowledge and inspiration in the areas of tabletop decor, room decor, menu planning, tips & tricks, floral ideas, and are looking forward to meeting with experts in the field.
Congratulations Davii! We look forward to meeting you in person at the Conference & Tradeshow!
Davii and her daughter Chany of Mi Chicas Catering & Events
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On January 22, 2015 by Lauren Methena
Does everything really taste better with bacon?
Are you that person who can’t get enough of the stuff? Maybe you’re likely to experiment at Thanksgiving by making sure EVERY dish you make, from the turkey to the stuffing to the mashed potatoes, has bacon in it, as my sister did one year.
Or are you one of those people who have become jaded by the fact that chefs and marketing professionals everywhere seem to think they can sell more of something to us simply by adding bacon to it?
Pumpkin is another great example. I love pumpkin season. I look forward to pumpkin bread, pumpkin oatmeal cookies, and pumpkin curries! But even I have begun to question—does everything need to taste like pumpkin?
Just because we can—does it mean we should?
I offer for your consideration the top 5 over-used food flavors and other annoying food trends of today. How many of these have you experimented with in your own kitchen? And how do people react to these ingredients at your events?
There are two major problems with bacon-flavored everything. (We’re going to take the reason of “it can get tiresome” as a given with any of these flavors.) The first is that BACON ISN’T HEALTHY. It’s fatty and salty. Don’t Americans have a hard enough time with eating healthy? We have too much unhealthy food temptation around us all the time—and we give in too often. Do we really need to add bacon to everything on top of that?
The second problem is that it’s an exclusionary ingredient. It may seem like a lot of people want to jump on the bacon bandwagon. However, by adding it to a recipe, you’re automatically excluding vegans, vegetarians, Jews, Muslims, and people with health problems, such as high blood pressure and heart disease, from eating it.
That’s why I say—enjoy it in moderation. Offer a few fun or inventive bacon items at each event, if you must. But don’t go overboard. (And by the way, as a disclaimer, even my sister had to admit that her Thanksgiving bacon experiment, which included a bacon-wrapped turkey, was a bit much for one meal.)
I’m really biased about pumpkin, I have to admit. It would take a LOT of pumpkin before I would cry, “Too much!” However, this past fall, what bothered me is that it seemed like marketers were adding pumpkin to things just to get people to buy their stuff. Pumpkin lattes, pumpkin pasta, chocolate pumpkin truffles—even pumpkin Oreos (which, admittedly, were pretty good). Even if my palate doesn’t easily tire of pumpkin, my other senses did. Adding pumpkin to something doesn’t make it new, isn’t all that innovative, and doesn’t automatically mean that consumers will buy more of it. It was the seasonal manipulation that ruined it for me.
For fall and holiday gatherings, perhaps having one centerpiece dish that features pumpkin is enough. That way, that dish can really shine!
Somewhere along the way, wasabi became synonymous with exotic, adventurous food. “Look how crazy I am! I took ordinary peanuts and put WASABI on them!” “Whoa, dude!”
Wasabi is a fantastic addition to a lot of dishes. However, the snack aisle is now inundated with wasabi-flavored everything, from peanuts to potato chips! The novelty is gone. Wasabi has been relegated to that growing category of things hipsters are referring to when they say, “I liked it before it was popular.”
(Side note: Check out that fabulous “Simpsons” episode from February 2002 that featured Wolfgang Puck selling wasabi-infused rice crispy treats with a Portobello glaze at a private school bake sale. I reference it because it’s funny, and it proves my point that the wasabi trend is played out, if the Simpsons were making fun of it back in 2002.)
OK, I know kale isn’t a flavor necessarily. But as an ingredient, more manufacturers seem to be adding it to their food to make it seem healthier. I saw a package of veggie chips masquerading as regular potato chips with a little starburst in the corner: “Now with 2g of kale in every serving”.
What’s next? Kale-flavored jelly beans? Adding kale isn’t the magic ingredient that turns an average processed snack into health food. That’s just not how it works.
Gluten-free isn’t a flavor or an ingredient—it’s just a category of food that doesn’t contain any wheat or wheat byproducts. But it’s amazing how many people are now going out of their way to advertise their products as “gluten free”—even if they’ve been gluten free the whole time!
Granted, buying things that are legitimately gluten free can be tricky. Sometimes, there are gluten products in the seasonings of things like potato chips, where you wouldn’t think to look for gluten. But still, I laughed out loud the first time I picked up a package of jelly beans that read, “We’ve always been gluten free!”
BONUS: Potato chips and chip-like snacks
I was going to stop at 5—but then I thought about the trend with snack foods. Particularly potato chips. Who decided that potato chips should be a blank canvas for all other flavors? That we can just willy nilly flavor poor potato chips with any crazy food combination that pops into our hungry minds?
And who on earth thought flavoring potato chips like coffee was a good idea?
There are now chips that taste like pizza, cheeseburgers, and even Mountain Dew! And please note, as if to prove the entire point of this blog, when Lay’s had a contest to find a new potato chip flavor, bacon and wasabi were included in the line-up. In fact, the wasabi chip won.
The flip side of this trend is that everyone is trying to make healthier versions of potato chips. Potato chips are both the devil and the gold standard of snacking. We love them—but we hate them—but they taste so good—but we hate ourselves in the morning for eating them.
So everyone tries to make the next chip that will replace the potato chip. They try to make them healthy by making them out of kale and beans to lessen the carbs and increase the protein.
But can anything really replace the potato chip?
So, if you’re looking for me, I’ll be in the snack aisle, searching for some pumpkin-flavored, kale juice-infused, gluten-free bacon chips—in wasabi and original varieties. They’re the latest thing, I hear.
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On January 21, 2015 by Susan Pupa
The folks over at Capterra compiled this infographic about the history of software and added Total Party Planner. As the first catering software company to release a fully web-based solution, we’re thrilled to be included!
Posted On January 14, 2015 by Susan Pupa
Are your phones ringing off the hook yet with people booking Super Bowl parties, weddings, and Easter affairs? Okay, maybe not Easter yet. If they aren’t yet, just consider it the calm before the storm. You may remember from our last post that we mentioned we would be posting a Serving Size Guide that you could share with clients. The serving guide can not only aid in the overall ordering process, but as we mentioned in a previous post, knowing how many items it will take to serve a certain size party will help your potential clients budget their money and know if you all are a good fit.
There are a few things that your potential clients will want to consider when planning their event. Here are a few extra tips you can include with this Serving Size Guide to help your potential customers plan:
- How long is the event? Longer events will require more beverages and possibly more snacks depending on the type of event you have.
- Are you having a sit down dinner or just heavy hor d’oeuvres? If you are having a party with just appetizers you will want to plan for 12 pieces a person. If you are serving dinner with a cocktail hour you can go lighter on the hor d’oeuvres with 6 pieces a person.
- Who is attending the event? The 30 men attending your Super Bowl Party will predictably eat more than the 30 women who attended the bridal shower you threw. Consider your audience and attendees before you place your order.
- What time of day if the event? The time of your event will also determine the amount of food expected by your guests. A lunch-time event will be lighter on the main course than a dinner-time event. Are you having a cocktail hour or late night event? You can assume that most people will have eaten dinner before any event that is 8 pm or later.
This serving guide provided is based on a 4-5 hour event and is meant to be used as a general rule for suggestions, as of course, there are many factors to take into account when determining quantities.
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On January 13, 2015 by Susan Pupa
Show of hands, who saw at least one engagement on Facebook or Instagram over the holidays? It was probably a little closer to five, but who’s counting? Now that we are through the most popular engagement season of the year you can expect to hear from many brides & grooms to be. Many will start planning weddings that will occur within the next six months to a year and snagging a good caterer is at the top of the priority list.
USA Today projected a total of 2.2 million weddings for 2015, and we would venture to guess that they’re right. Make sure you’re getting your share of the wedding cake during this key booking season by communicating clearly with potential customers. We put together five tips for heading off some of the biggest complaints heard from brides and grooms when trying to pick a caterer.
Number one of the list of complaints from brides – pricing, or lack thereof. When searching for caterers the first things brides are looking for is someone within their budget. While it may make sense on your end for clients to select their menu items so you can give a more accurate estimate, to the bride this is very frustrating. They find themselves falling in love with menu after menu just to find out they can’t afford the meals unless they limit their invites to about ten people. In these situations, caterers who can at least provide ballpark estimates on their website or sample menus tend to peak a good portion of brides’ interests. This helps them save time, and really helps you save time, too. You don’t really want to spend hours creating estimates for brides you’ll never see because they can’t afford your services, do you? Since we’re talking about time saving and helpful elements, let’s hit our next point: Serving Guide.
Pricing and serving guides go hand in hand. The amount of people your client is looking to serve will affect the cost of the catering (we know you know that.) If you provide an online guide or sample menus, it is important to show how many people an appetizer tray or buffet will feed. If a bride knows they are planning to invite around 150 people they can do the rough math to figure out if you are within their budget. (If you don’t have a current serving guide to share with your clients be sure to catch our next blog post.)
You know what people love about hiring a caterer? Tastings. But, we’re sure you already knew that. For some brides and grooms, this will be the first time they have ever done a tasting. Their expectations may be low because they don’t know what to expect, or extremely high due to the Hollywood version of what wedding planning is like. Our suggestion is to do two things: 1. Make scheduling a tasting easy. Couples have plenty of appointments to make. Having to chase down one less vendor makes their lives so much easier and will make them very thankful. 2. Use the tasting to impress and clarify. Couples come in expecting to get a sample of at least something from every course, if not every item they’ve preselected. This is a great opportunity to show clients what the food will look like when served; is it on trays or are the bite sized morsels served on individual spoons? This helps give them a clear image of what will be happening during their big day. If they can picture you there you’re golden.
This sounds simple right? Well, you’d be surprised by the number of caterers who tell brides, “Well, you just tell us what you want and we can make it.” This may seem like a nice gesture of flexibility but in reality a bride hears, “Another decision you need to make. Be creative.” Brides might have a vision in their head of the type of food they want but they won’t be able to nail down every appetizer they were thinking or even the main course. Not every bride wants to be in control of every little detail. They are coming to you as an expert. Being clear about the style food you offer and your standard options can really help brides make decisions. Provide your “usuals” and then present the ability to be flexible with custom menus or packages.
This one is short and sweet; if you have other vendors you are comfortable working with, provide that information on your website or verbally let your clients know when they are in for their tasting. This can help check things off your clients list and in the end make their process easier.
If you didn’t catch it, the key for working with brides or newly engaged couples is clarity and simplification. As a wedding caterer you are there to help the bride, take a load off her plate (pun intended) and create a memorable day. If you can simplify the planning process with clear pricing, serving guides and vendor recommendations plus deliver a beautiful spread on the big day, you are sure to come highly recommended to all of that bride’s friends and family getting married from here to the end of time.
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On January 5, 2015 by John Cohen
The presents have been unwrapped and the paper all cleaned up. We’re sure you’ve been busy sharpening that brand new knife set or whipping up some desserts with the newest edition to your kitchen. We hope you all enjoyed your holiday and found some time to relax. As New Year’s Day just passed, we thought we’d talk about setting some New Year’s Resolutions. Now, we’re not talking about joining a gym or dropping certain unfavorable words from your vocabulary. Those are personal resolutions, which we applaud you for making those too, but what we’re talking about are business resolutions. If you remember from our last post, we talked about taking some time over the holiday to reflect on your business. Now we’re going to ask you to put the thoughts that you gathered to work. Below are three possible resolutions you may consider for your business based on your reflections.
New Year’s Business Resolution: Employee Planning
Most of your resolutions may stem from frustrations you felt throughout the year. Some of the most common hurdles revolve around employees and general business practices. If you found yourself frustrated with your new hires – wait staff, prep staff, or event staff – dig further and see where those frustrations stemmed from. Was it turnover? Was it the preparedness of the staff during an event? These two things may go hand in hand. If you had a high turnover rate your staff might not have received as much training because there were consistently new people. They might not have been able to find their groove as a team or as an individual. If you found yourself with a high turnover rate in 2014 you may want to make your New Year’s Business Resolution to set a plan in place for retaining new hires. You can read more about creating an employee retention plan on Entrepreneur.com. Creating this type of plan will help you hire and keep the right people, helping your business run more smoothly.
New Year’s Business Resolution: Update Equipment
Another common stem of frustration for caterers is a lack of updated equipment and technology. This may be a harder frustration to spot, because to you the oven was just replaced five years ago and you bought a new computer seven years ago. The technology available today can make catering abundantly easier, but has also made your equipment purchased ten, five, sometimes even three years ago out of date. If you found yourself frustrated with the amount of time it took to bake 100 quiches for the Vanderwood’s Easter Banquet it may be time to invest in a new oven. If you found that your staff was constantly showing up without necessary equipment or you repeatedly misplaced paper order forms, your New Year’s Business Resolution may be to invest in some new technology, like iPads, and an electronic software, like Total Party Planner, that can help you keep items, lists, and event information electronically.
New Year’s Business Resolution: Grow Our Recognition
Not all resolutions stem from frustrations. 2014 may have been the best year you ever had as a catering company. Maybe it was the first year you felt really confident in your skills and you feel ready to take on more events in 2015. If so, congratulations! We always love a success story. Now, how are you going to gain new customers? The thing to ask yourself is, “Did I successfully feed and entertain clients this year who raved about my food?” If you answered “yes” — great! If you followed “yes” with “but, most people had never heard of my company until that event,” then your New Year’s Business Resolution is to grow your brand recognition. Take a look at what you’re currently doing to promote your business. Do you have a website, even a simple one with a single landing page? Do you have business cards you can handout during events? Do you have any form of social media? Do you have branded materials (shirts for you staff, a logo on your van, or even pens) for the events that you cater? All of these things help build consumers’ familiarity with your brand and in turn grow your brand recognition.
It is said that 2015 is going to be a good year for multiple reasons. According to Bloomberg, the economy is continuing to look up. Make sure that you are making it a successful year for your business. Happy New Year! We look forward to talking with you all in 2015.
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On December 26, 2014 by John Cohen
It’s finally here. The holidays you’ve been helping so many people celebrate over the past month. Congratulations on successfully helping others celebrate this holiday season with your exceptional food that helped make their event that much more enjoyable! Now, it’s time to take a break and focus on you.
This week is a great time to reflect on your last year. Remembering the highs (and lows) of the year can help you determine your goals for the 2015. Take advantage of the knowledge you have from this past year and use it to strengthen and grow your business. Here are a few things to ask yourself as you prepare for the New Year:
Think back on the best events of the year.
○ What type of event was it?
○ What was it about that event that you loved?
○ Are there more events like that one you could book for the upcoming year?
Now think about some of your less enjoyable events.
○ What made them not as great as others?
○ What type of event was it?
○ Was it the style of food requested?
○ Was it something about your own process that made it more difficult?
Is there are cooking style you saw at a conference, on television, or at a restaurant that you wanted to try out but never got around to?
Did you attend an event for someone else and see a process or décor style you wanted to try in your own catering?
Was there a convention you wanted to attend last year but didn’t get the chance to, such as Catersource in Las Vegas?
Think back on this year’s events and ask yourself some reflective questions. Write down your goals for the upcoming year. Maybe you’d like to get more weddings in your event mix or maybe you’d like to try more private dinner parties. Are you new to the catering world or did you find yourself scattered during a lot of events? Your goal for the year might be to implement an organizational system, whether that is procedures for your staff or finding a software program like Total Party Planner that helps keep you organized. With a new year comes new opportunities.
We know thinking about the new year ahead may seem more stressful than relaxing and all you want to do is sit down and finally eat one of the dozens of cookies you’ve had to make for everyone else. Before you know it, though, the New Year will be here. Try not to become overwhelmed with planning for 2015. There’s no need to determine the best plan for execution and redesign your entire business plan over Christmas dinner. Just taking a few moments over the holidays to think about what you enjoyed and disliked from 2014 and determine goals for 2015 can put you ahead of the game when you do return to the full swing of work in January.
No matter what you’re celebrating this week – Festivus, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or your own special holiday – use this time to re-energize yourself and prepare for the New Year. From all of us here at Total Party Planner, Happy Holidays!
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On December 17, 2014 by Susan Pupa
Have you ever noticed on sitcoms or dramas with lots of office scenes that they show some sort of food cart that strolls through the office throughout the day? And then do you think to yourself “what kind of office is actually hiring a food cart to come around during the day?” Well, more than you would expect. Office food carts, also called push carts, or pushers for short, are becoming more and more popular in offices.
These carts are becoming the new office perk – bye, bye Keurig. Many offices have started toting either in-office carts or hiring food trucks to come to the office for lunch at least once a week. Companies say that providing these kind of options help build a great company culture and in turn create great productivity. Instead of everyone leaving the office for lunch, employees will hang out and get to know one another over a shared meal. What a great selling point to bosses, huh?
If you have been trying to find a unique selling point for your business or an attribute to add that will set you apart, or even if you’re just trying to get started in the catering business, food carts may be your best bet. Before you get started make sure you have all the necessities. In most cities you need a city business license, a food vending license, and they need to know if you’re operating with fire (wood, gas, or coal). Having this paperwork taken care of before you start booking your lunch gigs will keep you ahead of the game and out of hot water with the city.
If you’re looking to be successful with your food cart, you want to make sure you hit the right target audience. We don’t just mean people who like your food, but marketing yourself to businesses that might be interested in having a pusher in the office. You’ll find that businesses like tech companies, startups, advertising agencies, and large corporate offices with a focus on innovation are more likely to see the value (and spend the money) in providing their employees with an in-office food cart. Be sure to make a list of these types of businesses in your area and reach out to them first. Not to say your local dentist office or law firm wouldn’t enjoy a food cart, but they just may be on the B List of companies to reach out to.
When deciding on the type of pusher you’re going to, well push, be sure to make it something unique. Find something different about your business and flaunt it. Do you make the best homemade Pop-Tarts in town? You might be very successful as a breakfast cart. Remind business owners that breakfast is the most skipped and least planned out meal of the day. Employees will love some fresh baked pastries and coffee when they arrive on a chilly morning. Do you use only the freshest, local vegetables and make the best darn balsamic vinaigrette around? You might appeal well to businesses isolated from anything but fast food. Employees would probably swarm you for a fresh tossed salad.
When approaching businesses, be sure to highlight the uniqueness of your cart and the reasons the employees might enjoy such a treat. If you see a selling point, like limited options around, be sure to point them out during your business pitch.
Do you have a good idea for a push cart? Have you started your own catering food cart? Let us know how you got started!
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On December 9, 2014 by John Cohen
Happy National Holiday Card Day! That’s right, December 9th marks the national day of sending out holiday cards. Well, technically it’s National Christmas Card Day, but if you read our post last week you’ll understand why we’ve renamed it National Holiday Card Day.
National Holiday Card Day (wow, that really is a mouth full) and the holiday season is a great opportunity to reconnect with your past customers. Did you have a couple you really connected with while catering their Spring wedding? How about a corporate client that just celebrated being open 25 years? Now is a great time to wish them a happy holiday, send them the best in the upcoming year and hopes of getting to reconnect with them soon. Clients appreciate vendors who make them feel like they weren’t just another job. Not feeling like “just a job” but feeling like “wow, they really cared about our event” is the difference between “ehh, just pick someone” and “we have to have Nelson’s Catering for our party!”
The idea of sending cards to each client may feel a little daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Websites like Red Stamp can help you get digital cards out quickly and efficiently. They can also help keep a little cash in your wallet. But, if you’re the old school, handwritten note type, Red Stamp can also provide you with printed cards and pre-addressed envelopes. If you can, be sure to add a detail or two from each event or something special you remember to help reconnect with each customer. We know it’s the holidays, though, and you have tons of parties to prep and serve. If you can’t personalize every note be sure to thank people for their past business and wish them a happy holiday with their family. A personalized note is great, but a general note is better than no note at all.
If you’re really in the mood to get fancy, December 9th is also National Pastry Day. Who wouldn’t love a Thank You pastry? Sugar cookies make a great thank you if you want something to ice and write on. A quick scan of Pinterest and you’ll be full of ideas. We personally would love to receive these bite-sized gingerbread houses!
Photo Credit: Makezine.com
On that note, we’d like to thank all of you for being loyal clients of Total Party Planner. We enjoy and appreciate working with each and every one of you and helping you make your business well organized and successful. We wish you all the best in your holiday catering and in the new year.
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On by Susan Pupa
This month, we spoke with Joni McClain, proprietor of the beautiful McClain Lodge, an idyllic event destination located in Brandon, Mississippi, to see what brought her to Total Party Planner and what advice she has for others in the catering and events industry.
Tell us about your business.
McClain Lodge is an event destination located in Brandon, Mississippi. We are located on 830 beautiful, serene acres. We have a quaint chapel that holds up to 120 people for weddings, an area called “Under the Oaks” for outdoor weddings and events, as well as a banquet hall that can accommodate guests of up to 400 people reception style. We also have accommodations – an 1840’s Guest House with 5 bedrooms, a lodge with 5 bedrooms, and a new addition is 16 cabins.
We have a catering company, McClain Catering, that serves our in-house guests, and we also do catering at a customer’s venue of choice.
What brought you to begin using Total Party Planner?
We grew rapidly… within one year, we opened our catering company, and added 21 additional sleeping rooms. We needed a computer program that could help us manage these additions.
How has Total Party Planner helped your business?
Total Party Planner has helped us tremendously by giving us the tools to meticulously manage each room (accommodations), catering jobs and event venues. Before Total Party Planner, we were managing our business the old fashioned way… through pen and paper. Now, at any given time, our chef, our Event Director, and I can look on our laptops, smart phones or iPads at any time and any place to review details of an upcoming event. Now we’re cooking!
What sets your company apart from others in your area?
We have 60+ combined years of experience in the Event Planning, Catering and Restaurant Operations for total event production services. We are unique in the fact that not only do we offer a beautiful, serene setting to hold a special event, we also have on-site accommodations. The addition of 21 rooms in one year has escalated our business. We have found that guests love to have one central location to host their event, have a superb catering company to prepare meals, as well as having the luxury of spending the night on the property.
What do customers expect when doing business with you?
Each of our customers expect us to treat them as though they’re the only one we’re dealing with… and we do. As all of us know, no two events are alike. We spend countless hours going over the details of their special event as if it’s the only one we’re working on. McClain Lodge is blessed to have an incredible staff equipped to work with each customer through the entire process of an event.
What advice would you give a new caterer?
I would advise a new caterer to hire the right people. Pay more if you have to for your chef(s), front of the house and back of the house employees. We feel that it is critical to have all members of our team to be at their best at all times.