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Posted On August 19, 2014 by John Cohen

The Art of Catering Food Conference 2014

We recently had the privilege of sponsoring the Art of Catering Food Conference hosted by the International Caterers Association (ICA) and Catersource. If you are unfamiliar with the conference, it is mostly dedicated to culinary training and industry trends. There were over 500 chefs in attendance eager for a jolt of innovation from world-class caterers.

Even though Total Party Planner was there as a catering software sponsor, I was completely caught up in all the excitement of the impressive demonstrations and tastings. To say my palate was pleased is an understatement.

Just a sample of the many highlights that the conference offered were:

  • Using the science of combining chemical elements to create robust flavors
  • Unique and trendy appetizers
  • Blending sweet and savory elements in all aspects menu creation
  • Tours of 3 of the largest catering facilities in Atlanta
  • Inventory control systems
  • A look into the crystal ball of where culinary trends are heading
  • BOH costing vs FOH selling
  • Charcuterie trending appetizers
  • Scallops: The OTHER shellfish
  • A wickedly delicious evening extravaganza combining food stations of various artistic themes
  • Pairing craft beers (a hot new trend) with foods

If that wasn’t enough, the featured presenter was Kevin Gillespie – contender on Top Chef season 6 and owner of The Gun Show in Atlanta. Kevin’s story of creating a restaurant around family stories and values literally inspired people to a standing ovation at the end. If you want to read more about Kevin, check out his website. We could (and just may!) dedicate an entire blog to Kevin.

For me, the ultimate highlight was introducing Executive Chef Adam Gooch of Purple Onion Catering before he presented his topic Sweet Meet Savory, Savory Meet Sweet. Being a long time user of Total Party Planner catering software, I was honored to introduce him and summarize his tremendous achievements in the culinary realm.

AOCF Introduction

To learn more about the Art of Catering Food, you can visit the Catersource website.

If you attended The Art of Catering Food and have a personal favorite or story, please share it with us!

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Posted On August 12, 2014 by Susan Pupa

Total Party Planner Announces Partnership with Social Tables

TPP_small-1-jpgSocial Tables Logo - High Quality

Total Party Planner, creators of innovative web-based catering and banquet management software, announced this week the launch of an integration with Social Tables, provider of leading event diagramming, seating, and check-in software solutions.  The interface, which allows event details to be seamlessly passed from Total Party Planner into Social Tables, is available to all users of both products.

“To integrate with an event diagramming program as sophisticated as Social Tables is beyond exciting for our user community,” said John Cohen, Total Party Planner’s Founder and President. “And the fact that Social Tables shares the same core values as us in terms of customer satisfaction makes it even more special.”

Total Party Planner’s team of developers engineered the interface with Social Tables as an extension of Total Party Planner’s comprehensive features for complete management of a catering business’s operations.

Social Tables complements Total Party Planner by allowing its users to make accurate room layouts, create seating arrangements, and check-in guests at events.  Customers will be able to take their event detail in Total Party Planner and pass the information to Social Tables, where they can customize their event layout and seating diagrams.

“Partnering with best-of-breed technologies is a core focus for us to ensure we provide the best complete solution for our customers,” said Social Tables Chief Marketing Officer, Trevor Lynn. “Total Party Planner has an impeccable reputation in the Catering and Events industry, and we are proud to work alongside them to improve the businesses of our mutual customers.”

Once the room diagram and seating chart details have been created in Social Tables, Total Party Planner users can easily and seamlessly access them from their event at any time.

“The integration of Social Tables with Total Party Planner was seamless,” said Teresa Olson, of Emerald Ridge Weddings in Menomonie, Wisconsin.  “It not only was easy to get to but also saved me time by not having to login to another website. I have all of my events right in front of me at all times so I don’t miss out on that event booking.  I couldn’t be happier with both of these products and their support teams.  Absolutely amazing!”

 


 

About Total Party Planner:

Total Party Planner’s comprehensive catering and event planning software was designed by caterers, for caterers.  Total Party Planner thinks and moves like a caterer, streamlines your business flow to save you time, manages costs and analyzes profits. What started as a time-saver for the family catering business has grown into a robust catering and banquet management program beloved by industry professionals nationwide.

About Social Tables:

Social Tables, the award-winning provider of hospitality software, delivers the most dynamic diagramming and guest management platform on the market. The industry leading company consistently aids its 2,200 customers in achieving their sales and operational objectives. The company’s diverse list of clientele ranges from hotel chains such as the Hyatt Hotel Corporation to academic special events teams from Harvard Business School to corporate meeting teams such as Genentech.

 
Contact:

Susan Pupa
General Manager
Total Party Planner
866-868-7526
susan@totalpartyplanner.com
www.totalpartyplanner.com

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Posted On August 11, 2014 by Susan Pupa

Pinterest for Caterers

In our last blog post, we discussed how Pinterest can help with your internal event planning by generating ideas and giving you an organized space to visualize them.  But besides the internal ways that Pinterest can help your business, there are a number of other great ways Pinterest can give your catering business a boost.

First and foremost, the same Pinterest boards you create for your internal planning can be made public so that prospective catering customers can view your vision.  The boards work double duty, organizing your event while promoting your services at the same time.   Pinning events you’ve catered or items and services your company offers can quickly go viral on Pinterest as others are looking for ideas themselves, and re-pinning to their boards and projects.  When people view one of your original pins, and want more information, they click to get the full content, which takes them away from Pinterest to wherever the content is stored.  This will ultimately drive traffic to your website, and potentially generate new business.

In addition to pinning for a party that you have coming up, you can create boards of industry specific topics that you feel might be of interest to your audience.  Perhaps these could include tips for brides who are starting the wedding planning process or ideas for the office manager booking the company luncheons.  You could also share recipes for popular items.  Even if it isn’t your own original content, it will still help get your name out there, and your client’s will appreciate the tips and ideas you have to offer.  A quick search on Pinterest for “catering” returns a vast array of pins. Some are shown in the image below:

pinterest

Pinterest offers a range of tools to help your business reach more people.  A great tool is the “Pin It” button, which you can add to your website to allow visitors to pin items from your site, to their Pinterest boards.  If you can include some stunning visuals on your website, this is an excellent way to have your content go viral.  The same pictures that you include on your site or on Pinterest of your items can also be used in your catering software; you can add them to your Total Party Planner account for display on your proposals.

Pinterest also offers businesses analytics, so you can see just how effective your Pinterest efforts are in driving traffic to your website, or which of your pins are most popular.

To mention, while Pinterest can be a fantastic marketing tool for your business, there are some potential drawbacks to its popularity for caterers to be aware of.   Now more than ever, you are probably finding clients coming to you with ideas and requests for their events that they found through the site.  These can be difficult to accommodate – especially when they request certain menu items that are not something you regularly offer or are familiar with.   If custom menus are not something you typically provide, having to create these new items can ultimately increase costs.  Food costs may increase due to the need to purchase special ingredients for a single recipe, and then an increase in labor might accompany it due to the need to familiarize and perfect this new recipe.  These recipes may also include ingredients that are out of season, again increasing the costs.   In this new Pinterest (and social media) friendly world, it is best to be prepared for these special requests and consider suggestions from your own companies offerings that are comparable.  You may also wish to enter the recipes into your Total Party Planner account to have a better idea of what the costs might be.

For more information on starting a business Pinterest account, visit their website at http://business.pinterest.com.

Happy Pinning!

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Posted On July 1, 2014 by Susan Pupa

Pinterest for Party Planning

When client’s give you free reign to plan every aspect of their event, you probably have some go-to tools to get the creative juices flowing.  If you aren’t already using it for this aspect of your business, Pinterest is a great platform, to not only help you generate ideas, but to organize and bring everything together into a visual package.

I’ve recently had my party planner hat on, as I have been preparing to celebrate my daughter’s first birthday.  All you parents out there can probably sympathize with me on how the first birthday is a pretty big deal.  Not only is it a time for many of your relatives and friends to gather and spend time with your child (and perhaps watch them devour their first piece of cake), but it’s also a time for the parents to celebrate surviving that first year of parenthood!

To help me plan all the details of the party, I turned to Pinterest for inspiration. And there certainly was not a shortage of it available.  Pinterest allows you to “pin” ideas or anything you find on the web that you want save.  You organize them by pinning to a virtual “board”.  Think of it as your cork board collecting ideas for a project.   You can pin from anywhere on the web, or you can search Pinterest to see things that have already been pinned.  You can search other users’ boards to find ideas and see what others are pinning.

In my planning, I created a board dedicated to the party.  I then started searching using terms like “first birthday party” and “kid’s birthday party” to get some general inspiration.  Later, I got a little more specific searching for types of food, dessert, and décor.  I browsed other users “first birthday party” boards as well, along the way pinning whatever caught my attention.   Once I had a vision of what I liked for the party, I refined my board and shaped it into what I was hoping to include.   You can see an excerpt of my board here:

Pinterest Board

 

 

Using Pinterest for your internal planning is only one of the ways Pinterest can be used for your business.  Pinterest is also a great social platform where clients and prospects can interact with you and everything that you have to offer.  To learn more about Pinterest, visit http://about.pinterest.com/.

 

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Posted On June 9, 2014 by John Cohen

An “Island Style” Restaurant & Catering Story

On our recent trip to Turks and Caicos, my wife and I had the pleasure of dining at some really fantastic restaurants on this quaint Caribbean island. There was one place, however, that really made a lasting impression.

“Crackpot Kitchen” in Grace Bay Village and local celebrity owner Chef Nik knows that customer service is one of the best ingredients a restaurant or catering service can include in the culinary experience.

I would say that most of the service in Providenciales (or “Provo” for short) was simply cordial. Nothing more. From making phone reservations, being greeted by the hosts, served by the wait staff, and maybe checked by management – it all fell short of us feeling special at most of the restaurants.

It wasn’t until we dined at Crackpot Kitchen that we felt like we were truly appreciated. Our host could not have been happier to seat us without a reservation (frowned upon at most other places) and then Dameo our waiter took it to another level of excellence.

And then… out came owner Chef Nik. He personally visited our table and thanked us for coming in. What makes this even more special is that Chef Nik is a fast rising celebrity on this Caribbean island. We knew “of him” from the local magazines but never thought we would actually get to meet him.

Chef Nik-2

I should mention too that our 4-course meal was awesome!

Chef Nik is the star of the first cooking show in Turks and Caicos. Since he can remember, he was cooking for his siblings to help his mom out while she worked as a police officer. Eventually, all the kids wanted Nik to cook instead of mom!

His style comes from a unique twist on traditional ways to cook red beans and rice, okra and rice, stew conch and conch fritters, fish grits, and red bean soup. Chef Nik worked for years at several restaurants perfecting his craft and learning other cuisines such as Italian, Japanese and French.

In 2012 Chef Nik started his catering business and the concept for the TV show – which is part cooking and part comedy. He also started a Cooking Camp for kids 10 to 18 years old. The inspired children eagerly learn Chef Nik’s twist on native dishes.

Thanks to Chef Nik for a great experience and understanding fully that customer service is truly one of the best ingredients a restaurant or catering service can dish up!

For more information on Crackpot Kitchen please visit their website : http://www.crackpotkitchen.com/chefnik/

 

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Posted On May 27, 2014 by John Cohen

John’s Interesting Catering Finds at the National Restaurant Show

The National Restaurant Show is always a great excuse for restaurants and caterers of all sizes to visit the windy city of Chicago, IL. This year was certainly no exception.

The show has everything you can imagine (and more!) for our industry. Food, equipment, technology, demos, celebrities, education, parties, and did I mention food?!

From my two and a half days on the show floor, I compiled a list of cool things that I thought really stood out from the crowd. With thousands of exhibitors, this is a pretty tall task to uniquely define your product.

This list is compiled in no particular order of favoritism – but rather the random order that my pile of paperwork, cards, gifts, etc. were crammed into my bag.

  • Tech Slinger. Holsters for wearing our mobile tablets as accessories. OK, maybe it’s more function for wait staff than fashion, but a big statement as to where we are as a technology society. What a great way to always have your Total Party Planner catering software within reach too.productsthesideorder
  • My ‘Vendor Congeniality’ award goes to Prop & Peller Pretzels. They had to be one of the most happy, friendly, energetic staff we encountered the entire show. We met them at the very end of a long day when most vendors seem to mentally check out. Not this team- you would have thought the show just opened. Oh, and their pretzels were fantastic too!
  • With the growing demand for higher quality, healthier restaurant meals, HealthyDiningFinder.com is helping consumers eat better. A quick search by zip code will bring back a list of local restaurants and their healthy dining options detailed in full nutrition.
  • Legal moonshine? Yep. Ole Smokey Tennessee Moonshine comes from Tennessee’s first legal moonshine distillery. Just to believe it, I had to try it. My full body shutter from gulping half an ounce was proof enough for me that this was the real deal. I love their slogan: Shine Responsibly. You even have to be 21 to enter their website! Moooshine_blackberry
  • Broaster Company pressure fryers are fantastic. My brother and I called them the grease-less fried chicken makers. Because it’s pressure fried, genuine Broaster Chicken is more tender and juicy. I must admit we visited this booth on a number of occasions. I think we might have been considered addicted.
  • I’m guessing that everybody has had an experience with putting sugar packs under a wobbly table – even though ultimately it never stabilizes the table – right? So Flat Tech Technology developed a product that stabilizes any wobbly table. If I didn’t see it in person I wouldn’t believe it – but it really worked great! They have different products for various sized tables.
  • A really neat ‘novelty item’ was the custom wine shade by di Potter. These cute pieces of paper turn any wine glass into a lamp shade look-a-like. You can print a theme, accent an  event color, advertise specials, or simply use your logo. I also thought it was a great way to just show that a table was reserved. ws_tucketred_r
  • My ‘Mega-Food Booth’ award goes to Dietz & Watson. It was amazing how much food variety they were serving! Great presentations, recipes, portions, and most importantly taste. Family owned and operated they are focusing more on the healthy deli options that are “good and good for you”.
  • We noted last year that the vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free diets are not just a fleeting trend. The increased number of vendors this year offering these products continues to solidify this statement. But my ‘Great Tasting Vegan’ award goes to Vegetarian Plus. The vegan Kung Pao chicken and sparerib cutlets may have fooled even the most discriminating carnivore!
  • Taking off on the craft beer craze, Begley and Bills , a sub-company of Seelect, has developed a line of craft organic sodas. They are using a proprietary blend of sweeteners found in nature and they boast a calorie count of just 8. As a soda lover myself, I could definitely substitute this product for the traditional soda lines.
  • Social Media businesses and mobile developers were prevalent this year in every aspect. Again, just confirms we are an advanced technological society. A couple that stood out from the crowd were Fuwak and payForward. The representative at Fuwak (who I think may have been the owner) really  had the most passion for the product. I think he might be a modern day Don Lapre!
  • Kudos to the U.S. Post Office for not giving up on “snail mail” in this era of electronic ‘everything’! With a pretty impressive island booth, they were there to promote the power of direct mail campaigns. In fact, the reason that we stopped by the booth was because of a direct mailing piece we received as attendees of the show. So perhaps they are correct? In our case it worked well.
  • My ‘Name Dropping Advertising’ award goes to Hampton Creek Foods. Somehow they were able to prominently display a quote from Bill Gates about their low fat mayonnaise product. Good for them – I doubt Mr. Gates is interested in any kind of financial kick backs.
  • Check out the cool meatball/cake pop roller by Heavenly Cake Pops. Roll 21+/- balls at a time that are a perfect 1.25″ in diameter every time! I watched it from scratch so I know it wasn’t just a gimmick.easy roller
  • Summer time is picnic time! What better way to upgrade your picnics than with some trendy, delicious Iced Coffee from Farmer Brothers. The portable unit is practical and easy to use. Hint: the French Vanilla was crazy good. This team also gets runner up for the congeniality award. Super consumer experience in their booth.
  • Last, but certainly not least, my all time favorite sweet at the show came from The Christie Cookie. When they say that on average they have 50% more goodness (nuts, chips, etc) in their cookies they really mean it! The ice cold milk being served with warm chocolate chip cookies just put the icing on this sweet NRA find.

Well that’s about it for 2014. Thanks to the National Restaurant Association for another amazing show!

If anybody has a special find of their own, please leave a comment and let us know.

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Posted On May 9, 2014 by Susan Pupa

Better Marketing Strategies for Catering Part 2: How to Craft a Marketing Message that Resonates

Some people make marketing and messaging sound easy. Just tell a story. Keep it short—less is more. Show them, don’t tell them. Put yourself in your clients’ shoes. What’s keeping them up at night—and what solutions do you offer them? That’s all well and good, but how do you choose your words? How do you actually craft a marketing message that does all that?

That’s what we’re going to discuss—the actual nuts and bolts of how to craft a marketing message that resonates with your prospects and clients.

All the things we mentioned in the first paragraph are true. You want to tell a story. Everyone loves a good story. That’s why testimonials (particularly video testimonials) and personal anecdotes are always your first choice in marketing. A good quote from someone is more likely to feel like a personal recommendation to someone encountering your business for the first time.

Keeping it short is a must. Say enough to pique your audience’s interest and leave them wanting more—so they’ll contact you for the rest of the story.

And show them, don’t tell them. This video about a blind man shows how a slight change in perspective can make all the difference in the world. In the first part of the video, the blind man is not getting many donations. However, after a woman makes a slight change to his sign, the donations come pouring in. What did she say that made the difference? (You’ll have to watch the video or read our previous blog to find out.)

But how do you actually make the edits you need to create an effective message?

Let’s look at a specific example, so you can get an idea of what kinds of word choices and edits can make your message more powerful.

In Better Marketing Strategies for Catering Part 1: How Will You Talk to Your Audience, we talked about better ways to say, “We’re the best catering company for weddings and large corporate affairs, with flexible food options for every location and special needs diets.”

This message is too long and too clunky to be an effective tagline. It’s also very boring and generic. There’s no magic in this phrase. A general rule of thumb is that you need to catch your audience’s attention in the first five words.

One of the alternatives we came up with to this statement was:

The food you want, the service you need

How did we actually go from the really long statement about corporate events and weddings to this short, succinct eight-word phrase?

There were three major factors: 1. Word play and brainstorming. 2. Editing—lots of it. 3. Customer needs, wants, and desires.

If you look back at “Part 1” of this blog, you can see some of the brainstorming ideas we came up with. That flow of ideas led to this tagline:

From weddings to corporate events—flexible food, impeccable service when you need it

It’s good. There are a lot of things to like in this tagline. It hits all the points from our original phrase. “Impeccable service” sounds pretty exciting. However, the phrase is still too long. We felt like it was getting there, but it wasn’t quite right yet.

The first thing that nearly always adds power to your messaging is making it shorter. We asked, do we really need to state the kind of event we want to cater? That seemed like the most expendable bit of information; therefore, it was the easiest to cut. From there, we came up with:

Flexible food when you want it, impeccable service when you need it

Ah! Much better already. But then, in staring at that phrase, someone saw a parallel in the two phrases and a way to shorten it even more to its simplest parts:

The food you want, the service you need

And that is how we started with:

We’re the best catering company for weddings and large corporate affairs, with flexible food options for every location and special needs diets.

And ended with:

The food you want, the service you need

What’s nice about the last phrase too is that its brevity automatically adds a sense of urgency. What you want—what you need—we have both. Right here. Right now. Immediately. Call us.

It gets to some of the major concerns clients may have about hiring a caterer, too. Will the food be satisfying? Can you cater to our special needs diets? Will you be able to handle all our guests and give us the service we need during our board meeting? This tagline says, “Yes” to all those questions.

One thing that’s important to develop is awareness—which can grow and improve over time. If you’re not born with it, don’t worry. Keep working at it. But with proper awareness, you can start recognizing if a marketing message isn’t working. Is it too long? Too clunky? Just not hitting the nail on the head like you think it should? Doesn’t matter—even if you don’t know how to fix it, recognizing that something needs to be fixed is a huge first step. Because then, you can seek help in fixing it.

We hope that walking through this one example of how a tagline evolved helps get you thinking of how you can craft and edit your own messaging. Because with all the words that are out there in the English language, how on earth do you choose the right words that will resonate with prospective clients and spur them to take action? Now you have a solid example of the mindset that goes into choosing those words.

And remember, if all else fails, you can always hire a copywriter.

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Posted On March 19, 2014 by Susan Pupa

Better Marketing Strategies for Catering Part 1: How Will You Talk to Your Audience (and keep their attention)?

Once you’ve found the right audience for your catering company, as we talked about in the last Total Party Planner blog, how will you talk to your audience and keep their attention? How will you distinguish yourself—and then get potential clients to remember you AND call you too?

The answer: with distinct messaging that strikes at the heart of your clients’ biggest concerns.

What keeps your clients up at night? Fear that the food won’t be ready on time, and people will be standing around, bored and anxious? Fear of pleasing picky relatives? Fear of looking like a fool at a huge event? Fear that you won’t even show up?

What can you do to allay these fears?

It’s not enough to tell people what you do. You have to show them what you’ll do for them personally. And you do that with strong messaging.

First rule of messaging: Show them, don’t tell them.

Check out this video about how words can make an impact on consumer response. It’s less than two minutes long—but be warned, you may be moved to tears.

(Just in case you can’t watch it right now, we’ll give you a brief synopsis. But knowing what happens doesn’t diminish the video. Make sure to watch it as soon as you get a chance.)

In this video, a blind man has a sign that says, “I’m blind, please help.” He has a cup for collecting loose change. A few people toss coins at him.

Then, a woman comes along and writes something new on the other side of his cardboard. Suddenly, people are giving him money left and right. When the woman returns, the man asks her what she wrote on his sign. She says that she just said the same thing he said.

But that’s not entirely true. She told a better story—a story that struck a nerve of empathy with the passers-by who more willingly shared their change with the blind man.

What did the woman write on his cardboard?

“It’s a beautiful day, and I can’t see it.”

Changes the perspective a lot, doesn’t it?

So, how will you change the perspective in your messaging? How can you strike an emotional chord with your audience?

Practice makes perfect.

Before we sign off, here’s an exercise for you to try.

Think of what it is you want to say about your catering company. Just as an example, maybe you want to say, “We’re the best catering company for weddings and large corporate affairs, with flexible food options for every location and special needs diets.”

Just rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?

Write your own messaging or mission statement at the top of a large piece of paper.

Now, underneath, how many different ways can you say that exact same message? Set a timer for 15 minutes, and see how many taglines you can come up with. Compete with yourself.

When you’re brainstorming, THERE ARE NO BAD IDEAS. Write them all down. Because a bad idea may lead to a brilliant idea. You can go over them later and judge which to keep and which to toss. But for now, don’t hold back.

Consider changing how you tell the story, the perspective of different readers, and even separating the messaging. Perhaps the better strategy is to have a wedding message and a corporate message.

Here are some different combinations from our example to get your creative juices flowing.

For the wedding day you dream of

For food worthy of your important events

The icing on the cake to life’s celebrations

A wedding meal even your choosiest guest will enjoy

Delightful food for your most joyous occasions

Celebrate the joy of food, friends, and family with My Catering Company, LLC

Satisfying food that keeps the focus on you

Satisfying food that keeps the focus on your meeting

For clients and guests, serve them only the best

From comfort food to special diets—we’ve got you covered

From weddings to corporate events—flexible food, impeccable service when you need it

The food you want, the service you need

It’s hard to show brainstorming in a blog. However, hopefully you can see the different focus in each tagline. Some focus on the food. Some focus on the event. Some try to combine ideas. Others focus on one idea. Depending on your niche, these are examples of the different angles you can try until you hit upon what you think will really resonate with your ideal client.

In fact, take a look at the last two taglines. The last one actually evolved from the one above it. However, since we’re running out of space, we’ll have to show you that evolution in another blog.

So, play with your story. Put yourself in your clients’ shoes. What do they really want to hear from you? That’s when you’ll capture the magic of messaging.

Happy brainstorming—and happy storytelling!

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Posted On March 4, 2014 by Total Party Planner

The 2 Biggest Marketing Mistakes Caterers Can Make (and how they’ll mess up every business decision you make)

Two of the biggest mistakes caterers can make that will also mess up every business decision you make have to do with your audience. Do you know your audience and how to reach them? If you don’t have a really well-defined answer to this question, then you are likely wasting your marketing and prospecting time.

The two biggest mistakes caterers can make are:

1. Chasing after the wrong audience, and

2. Going after an audience that is too broad—trying to be all things to all people.

Fortunately, we here at Total Party Planner have 4 antidotes to this problem—4 questions to consider that will help you define who you are as a caterer and how to find the clients who are the right fit for your business.

1.  You Can’t Be All Things to All People.

OK, this first item is a statement, not a question—but it is an important realization. Even well-established businesses can get side-tracked by jobs and clients that wouldn’t fit their usual client profile. Are you a no-nonsense, low-cost, no-frills caterer? A high-end, all-the-bells-and-whistles caterer looking for the big-ticket events? Do you want to focus on corporate or private events? Small dinner parties? Entertainment catering? Do you want to specialize in vegan catering or barbecue? Depending on where you live and work and what the demand is, there is probably a niche market out there—how well can you fill it?

2.  Who do you like to work with?

Another way to ask this is: Who is your ideal client? Some clients are going to be more demanding. Different kinds of events will demand different things of you and your staff. Do you like being able to take your time and add a personal touch to every dish you create? Then perhaps smaller, more personal events are for you. Or maybe you like the thrill of providing gourmet box lunches to VIPs at a 10,000-person tradeshow. What is it you really enjoy doing—the kind of thing that got you into catering in the first place? The more you enjoy what you do, the better job you’ll do—not to mention that you’ll be more relaxed and in your element. That’s likely to lead to better word-of-mouth referrals—and a better reputation overall.

3.  What are your specialties?

There are many creative ways to tie in what you love and what you’re good at that will help you distinguish yourself from your competitors. Specialties can include anything from food and desserts to décor to your special way of dealing with certain kinds of events and personalities. What are you really good at, and how can you translate that into finding the right audience for you? If you’re really organized and well connected with folks in your area, maybe you can promote yourself as an all-inclusive event organizer. Maybe you are really good at sports and want to focus on outdoor events—corporate picnics, family reunions, and other occasions where you can organize some team building and sports play. Get creative and have fun! Then, your clients will have fun too.

4.  How will you reach your audience?

Now that you’re starting to get a better idea of who your audience is, where will you find them? Where are they hiding—and what kind of messaging is going to convince them to call you for their event? The best ways to find the audience you seek are to talk to people, network, and do some research on the Internet and in local media. When you attend networking events, don’t just say, “I’m a caterer who specializes in big weddings and corporate events.” Say, “I’m looking to meet the corporate event planner at XYZ, Inc., as well as brides who are getting married in the next 9-12 months with guest lists over 200.” The more specific you can be, the more you will help others find the right audience for you. (And remember to ask them whom they’re looking for, too, so you can return the favor.)

And as far as messaging goes, your messaging should strike at the very heart of the biggest concern of your clients. Are they more worried about the quality of the food or about making an incredible impression on their guests? How can you put their fears to rest by exhibiting confidence, knowledge, and sensitivity to their needs?

The problem with not knowing the answer to these questions is that you could be making business decisions based on the wrong information—which can lead to wasting time and money,

That’s why discovering the answers to these questions will not only make your job more fun—they should make your business more profitable too.

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Posted On February 17, 2014 by Total Party Planner

Catering Staff Doing The Right Things Right

This past weekend my wife and I made dinner plans at a restaurant in Virginia Beach that we had never been to. We were really excited to try it since we read so many great reviews. There was one staff member, however, that had us leaving with questions about the management team.

Upon our seating, we were presented with a rather extensive wine list. Because it was Valentine’s Day weekend, I wanted to make sure I selected something memorable. I also know my wife really likes a more fruit forward Pinot Noir. So I suggested we wait to talk to the Sommelier before ordering our wine. Oh but wait… the Sommelier wasn’t available because he was handing out Valentines roses to the ladies that night.

What??!!

I kept telling my wife how much this reminded me of an old saying that a mentor would repeat to me time and time again: “Always make sure you have the right people doing the right things right.”

So, who made the decision to have the Sommelier hand out roses? Shouldn’t he have been Sommelier-ing (is that a verb?). If I were the general manager, I would have probably had the hostess hand out the roses upon seating guests.

So without talking to the Sommelier we ended up just playing it safe and ordering 2 glasses instead of a bottle. A loss for the restaurant.

Now think about this for your catering operation. Do you have the right people doing the right things right? Some examples of mistakes that I have come across are:

  • Utilizing any and all staff members for servers. Key mistake! The servers are the face of your company and directly reflect you. You want your best personalities out there. I have actually had entire experiences ruined from poor service – not necessarily bad food.
  • Hiring family members because they need a job. It’s not necessarily that you shouldn’t work with family, we did it for years, but are they the best person for a role? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
  • A staff member (or yourself!) not trained in website design in charge of building, or updating, your website. I know there are some great tools out there today, however, there is still no substitute for a professional who knows about design, blends, flow, content strategy, SEO, etc.
  • A salesperson who may only be money, not guest satisfaction, focused. Sure the sales are important but I don’t know a caterer on the planet that puts sales over applause at the end of the night.
  • A closed minded marketing manager. Every company, whether it’s catering or catering software, needs to be open to new trends, ideas, feedback, and even social media. Don’t get left behind!

Can you think of other examples where it may not have been the right person doing the right things right? Share your story with us!

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