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Posted On August 25, 2015 by John Cohen

3 Questions Caterers Have for Other Caterers

Have you ever been in a situation that makes you think to yourself, “I wonder how other caterers would handle this?” You’re not alone. We’ve got 3 questions caterers have for other caterers, along with solutions we recommend based on best practices in catering and business.

Giving out your cell phone number
Ever thought about giving out your cell phone number to a client “in case of emergency”? How do you know your client will define “emergency” the same way you would define it? Leaving half the entrees on the counter back at the kitchen when your event is 45 minutes from any real grocery story – that’s an emergency. Getting a call because your client ordered French cut green beans but now she really wants them whole – that’s not an emergency. That’s probably not a discussion you want to have on your weekend at the lake. While it may seem like a good idea with some clients, because they just seem so nice (the kind of nice where you want to be their friend), it’s best to only give your cell phone to your staff. All communication with clients should go through your office phone, company email, or a work cell phone you can turn off.

Our suggestion: Don’t do it. Use company communication tools only.

Offering free tastings
Free or not free, that is the question. There is a common thought that all caterers do free tastings. Many brides walk into a tasting expecting it to be free, which may be naive on their part. After all, who is going to pay for the food the couple, or even the bridal party, comes to taste? However, there are caterers out there who offer free tastings. They consider it part of the marketing budget. Other professional caterers apply the cost of the tasting toward the final bill once a client books their event. Some caterers don’t offer tastings at all.

Our suggestion: Give product with purpose. If you see tastings turn into bookings and that’s how you attract clients, consider it a marketing tool (and make sure to ask your accountant about writing it off as an expense). If you spend money elsewhere to attract new clients, determine a tasting fee and be upfront about it. Middle-of-the-road option: Limit your tasting to X number of appetizers, two cake flavors, etc., and charge for any extra samples.

Putting your prices online
There are pros and cons to publishing your prices online, and how you run your business will determine which is the right choice for you. If you have set menus that you use for most events, it’s easier to provide your menus and prices online. It gives customers a chance to review what you offer and see if you’re within their budget before they contact you, saving both of you time and hassle. On the other hand, some people may use your prices to assume what kind of caterer you are. For example, if they think your prices are too low, they may think you can’t handle a high-end affair, and vice versa. They won’t know what your food tastes like or how you can personally enhance their event because of your experience, your personality, and your services. Publishing prices could also give your competition an edge. Once potential clients have a chance to meet you and try your food, they may be willing to spend a little more than they originally budgeted.

Our suggestion: Do what makes sense for your business model. If you rarely do custom menus, consider providing your costs online. If you do mostly custom menus, save the money talk for after you’ve met in person or at least spoken on the phone.

What questions do you have for other caterers? Join the conversation on Twitter by tweeting your questions with #CaterQuest. Or, join the conversation on TPP’s Facebook page! One more option: leave comments below. Ask the TPP community to get answers to your most pressing professional catering questions!

How do other caterers do it? Infographic of info from blog

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Posted On August 17, 2015 by John Cohen

4 Surprising Things about Total Party Planner Catering Software

Supporting you and your business is what Total Party Planner is all about. That’s why we rarely talk about ourselves or our software in this blog (even though we’re really proud of TPP and what our clients accomplish with it every day)!

We use this blog to focus on things that will help you build a stronger catering business, such as marketing, catering trends, ways to grow your business, and management topics, to name a few.

But today, we’re going to give you 4 surprising things about Total Party Planner catering software that support you and your business – things you may not have expected.

1. We’re the first catering software company to create a mobile app. The companion app to Total Party Planner is already out, and it’s available at the App Store for iPhone® and on Google Play for Android™ devices. The mobile app just makes it that much easier for you to access your event-critical information while you’re out of the office. And the next version of the app is already in development! Some people believe in ABC: Always Be Closing. We believe in ABD: Always Be Developing.

2. You can access it anywhere. Since TPP is web based, you can access your account from anywhere. There’s no loading software onto computers, making updates, or worrying about backing up data. You get updates automatically every time you log in, and we are backing up your data every few minutes. Total Party Planner software allows you to work from home, the office, or on the road from any computer, tablet, or smartphone. If you have multiple catering locations (maybe even in multiple cities), you can access info and calendars for all your offices from one centralized place.

3. TPP software integrates with the software you use. Running your business is so much easier when different software works together. That’s why Total Party Planner is integrated with Constant Contact, QuickBooks, StaffMate, Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar, Google Maps, SocialTables, and many more applications our clients frequently use. Being integrated with the software you use every day means less doubling up on work or forgetting to add critical details where you need them. With the click of a button, you can update multiple programs across multiple devices, so you won’t double book (unless you want to) and you won’t have to turn the van around because you left the address sitting on your desk. With TPP, you have it all in one place.

John Cohen

John Cohen, age 10, helping in the kitchen of his family’s catering business

4. TPP is built from a caterer’s perspective. Some of you may know this, but others are still surprised by it. Our founder John Cohen is a caterer first and a software developer second. You know that cute little guy you see on our homepage? The one in the red vest? That’s John when he was just 10 years old. John grew up helping his parents with their catering business, which they ran for over 30 years. So, he really understands what it takes to execute a successful event. He saw an opportunity for computers to help his parents work faster, save some time and frustration, and make every event run more smoothly by helping connect the many moving pieces of catering and event planning. He’s been helping business owners in the catering industry ever since. It’s his insider’s perspective that really makes TPP stand out.

John Cohen today, leader and innovator in the catering tech industry

John Cohen today, leader and innovator in the catering tech industry

These are just 4 surprising things about Total Party Planner catering software that make us different from other catering programs. We build and update our program with caterers like you in mind. If you dig a little deeper, you’re likely to find other ways we can help you organize, maintain, and grow your catering business, too.

And if you ever need assistance or have a question, our Client Care Team is the best in the business. They can personally answer your questions and guide you through the program.

Still have questions or haven’t seen the software yet? Schedule a live demo to learn more and get your own questions answered in real time.

And we’ll keep looking for ways to support your business and your success!

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Posted On August 4, 2015 by John Cohen

Fall Food Catering Trends 2015: What’s got staying power and what will wow your clients

If you’re a smart caterer (and signs seem to indicate that you are), then you’re probably already thinking ahead to the next season. So, while mere mortals are soaking up those last few rays by the pool before having to buy school supplies, most small business owners like you are already thinking ahead to shorter, cooler days, hot apple cider, and pumpkin-flavored EVERYTHING!

This fall we’re seeing a few new trends, as well as some fall food trends gaining a stronger foothold in the market. Trends that started as fads are starting to gain in popularity, because they make a lot of sense to consumers.

Here’s your sneak-peek preview at the trends clients are asking for this fall.

Ruffled - photo by http://www.cyrience.com/ - http://ruffledblog.com/fall-wedding-inspiration-with-a-cider-bar/

Photo Credit: Ruffled Blog

Bye-bye Wedding Cake. Many couples are saying “see ya” to the wedding cake, claiming that it’s too heavy after a long night, a heavy meal, and a fair amount of drinking. Many servers will agree – they often end up toting around cake to guests who are not interested in the flavors they have or who are too full to indulge. Couples are looking to share every moment of their day with their guests, right down to desert, so they’re turning the tables on cake and offering other options. This year, expect to see doughnut towers, pie bars with every kind of pie imaginable, late night milk and cookies, and even fire pit s’mores. Having these ideas handy can help excite your client about planning their event with you.

Fancy Fruit. Fruit is starting to take center stage as it becomes more than just cut-up pieces thrown in a bowl on the side. And with dishes like fig jam and feta danishes, how could it not? Clients are requesting fancy fruit dishes, such as stewed strawberries and wilted spinach with brown sugar and balsamic vinegar (think summer strawberry and spinach salad but warm and sweet). You’re more likely to see these kinds of requests at high-end events. Another fun non-salad way to include fruit: party apples! These are apple slices covered in many tempting ingredients. Our favorite is a crisp Granny Smith apple smeared with peanut butter, rolled in oats, and drizzled with dark chocolate. Or perhaps you’d like pink lady apples covered in Nutella and roasted hazelnuts? These are easy for guests to eat during happy hour and look beautiful on a platter. Another “fruitful” dish we love is fruit-stuffed cornucopias – flaky pastry dough drizzled with honey and stuffed with seasonal fruit. What could be better?

Deep-Fried Bites of Heaven. On the opposite end of the spectrum from healthy fruits are fried foods. Once popular in settings like the state fair, fried foods are making their way into more formal events in easy-to-manage bite-sized portions. Think deep-fried mac and cheese, fried mashed potatoes, and even mini deep-fried chicken and waffle bites. Mmm, now we’re talking!

If you’re looking for a way to keep your ideas and new recipes organized, Total Party Planner software has a recipe section, as well as the ability to populate your ingredient lists for each recipe you choose. What better way to keep track of your new fall creations? If you have any questions about how to do this, just reach out to our stellar client care team by email or by phone!

When you come up with creative new ideas for fall, make sure to share them with us @TPPSoftware on Twitter and at Total Party Planner on Facebook. We want to hear your recipes and see your fabulous pictures! Have an event that went unexpectedly well? Tell us all about it and what made it so amazing!

 

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Posted On July 31, 2015 by John Cohen

The Dos of the Dinner Party Chef

Elegant dinner setting for 8, courtesy of Mosaic Edibles

Elegant dinner setting for 8, courtesy of Mosaic Edibles

The dinner party, once reserved for the nation’s wealthy to make business connections, the original social networking, is making a comeback. Only this time, the dinner party is not reserved solely for the wealthy. Many people are getting in on the dinner party train, using it as a reason to get together with long-lost friends or celebrate a special birthday. With the resurrection of the dinner party comes the demand for more in-home dinner party chefs.

Dinner party chefs can be seen as one-person catering companies. When booking a private chef for the evening, customers assume they are getting a chef and maybe one server. They do not anticipate a full staff to show up for their dinner party. Running a one-person show can be a lot of pressure on a chef. You’re responsible for planning the courses, setting up the space(s), serving the meal, and cleaning after the party. If you are new to private catering, here are a few tips that can help make your planning and execution smooth sailing.

Use Technology. Just because you are the sole provider of the meal doesn’t mean you have to do it completely alone. Technology can be a great tool and in some cases take the place of a partner. Total Party Planner provides a mobile app to help you quickly access event information like menus and customer contact information. Yeah, the app can’t wield a knife at the prep station but it can help keep you organized on the go.

Set Up Snack Stations. Since you won’t have servers walking around with appetizers like you would at a larger event, you can set up snack stations around the living room. This will allow guests to help themselves as you start to prepare the main course. Place smaller dishes like olives or spreads near the bar where people can mingle when they first arrive. Place larger dishes such as flatbreads and finger sandwiches on the coffee and side tables where people tend to sit and chat once they have made themselves a cocktail.

Mix Up Dessert. Instead of serving dessert at the table, suggest to the hostess dessert be served in the living room. This is beneficial for both you and the dinner party. Serving dessert in the living room allows guests to get up and move around, breaking up conversation and allowing for a breather between courses. It also allows you to set up dessert while the guests are finishing dinner and then easily clear the dinner course without worrying about the commotion of cleaning or disturbing the conversation of the table.

We are excited to see the return of the dinner party and private catering chefs. It’s another excuse to bring people together around the table!

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Posted On July 22, 2015 by John Cohen

The Importance of Building Your Business through Catering and Event Partnerships

Customers aren’t the only thing you should be focusing on when it comes to building your business. Customers are important, of course, because they are the ones ordering and eating your food. However, if you really want to give your business a shot in the arm, build your business through catering and event partnerships.

Partners that could be good for your business may include vineyards, breweries, museums, bakeries, botanical gardens, tourist attractions… and the list goes on and on. Basically, anyone who doesn’t have their own on-site catering staff, which means they can refer you as a caterer.

Likewise, you can then refer your clients to these partners when they are looking for a venue and other things you can’t provide for them. (After all, when it comes to business and networking, you have to give to get!)

These partners can help build your business just as well as customers who come straight to you. In fact, they may actually bring you more business. Many times, the first thing people planning an event do is choose their venue first, usually looking to figure out if they have to find a caterer at all or if the venue provides one. People who click with a venue’s event planner will likely listen to their suggestion on caterers. They value the venue’s expertise. By building partnerships with these establishments you can become top of mind as a catering option. People who may have otherwise never heard of you and had to rely on internet searches hear firsthand from a trusted source that you are the caterer they should have.

Building these partnerships can be a little tricky. First, you should establish if you are a good fit for the venue. If you are a high-end caterer serving $15 a piece hor d’oeuvres you may not be the best fit for a laid back beer garden with picnic tables and polished concrete floors. You may look more into museums, historic plantations, or vineyards. Now, here’s the tricky part; once you’ve established that you would be a good fit for that particular venue you can do one of two things – go the casual route or the business route. Depending on the venue you can casually go into on your own on a Tuesday in a I’m-totally-not-here-on-business kind of way to have a glass of wine or browse the paintings. On your way out ask to speak to someone for event management. This way you can: A. Make sure you do have the same style. B. You can say that you enjoyed your visit and would be interested in working with them in the future on an event. If you get the chance to speak with someone, keep it short, offer your business card and ask if you could have a more formal meeting another time.

If you have a connection to the venue you can go the more business route. Ask for an introduction from a friend if that’s a possibility. If you’ve previously met the event manager you can put in a friendly phone call or send an email to request a formal meeting to speak more in depth about opportunities to work together. Upon your meeting, provide them with price sheets for your services; let them know what your expertise is in (barbeque, high end catering, southern, seafood, etc.). This approach is more direct but can still be friendly.

Our greatest tip for building partnerships is to be friendly and genuine. To establish long partnerships you have to establish solid relationships. Being reliable, professional, and friendly will take you a long way in building your partnerships. These people can help grow your business if you develop a positive, reliable relationship. Go forth and find friends, or at least good business partners.

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Posted On July 17, 2015 by John Cohen

Tips for New Caterers

Being a new caterer can be hard. Well, not “can be,” it is hard. No matter how much you plan, there are experiences you haven’t had yet which makes it hard to plan for them. We’ve known a lot of new caterers, though, and we’ve heard a lot of new caterer’s stories. Here are a few tips we’ve gathered from our first go ‘round caterers.

5 new caterers software tips

 

Image credits: The Noun Project – Paone Creative (Lettuce), Arthur Shlain (plates)

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Posted On July 9, 2015 by John Cohen

Optimize Your Website for Mobile Use

Have you ever been on a website where the font was so small you had to pinch your fingers in and out on your screen to make the font legible? Or have you been to a site where you can actually read the words (yay) but you have to scroll both up and down and left to right (boo)? This seems simple right, scrolling left to right, what’s the big deal? Well, much like the turn in the 2000’s where people slowly stopped using Flash in exchange for HTML5 on their websites; people will start bouncing out of non-mobile optimized websites. Once people realized they didn’t have to double click into websites or listen to annoying music play while they scrolled for content on a black website with lime green font, they didn’t. They moved to cleaner websites that were easier to read and access. That’s exactly what viewers are doing now with websites when it comes to viewing them on mobile. If it’s not easy, they move on.

The big question now: how do we stop them from moving on? Making your website mobile friendly is one of the best ways to keep your bounce rate low. What do we mean “mobile friendly”? Mobile friendly implies that a website is set up to scale to the proper orientation and screen size of the device the customer is viewing your website from. This may mean having a slightly different look by rearranging icons, content, and menu bars. For example, view a website on your desktop or laptop and then try to view that same website on your mobile device. What are the differences you see? Does the menu bar look different; has some of the content moved or even disappeared from the home screen? These are all changes due to building a more mobile optimized website.

Making this change may require the use of an expert. If you choose to hire an expert to mobile optimize your website be sure to check their credentials and ask for samples of work.

If you have recently built your own website or feel that you can venture this update on your own, Google provides several tools to help you create a mobile friendly version of your website, including a tool to check if you are already mobile friendly. Hey, you may not even know it! If you’ve used websites like Wix or Squarespace to build your website recently, they have built in tools to help you design and organize your website specifically for mobile. Often there is a way to toggle between phone, tablet, and desktop size views at the top or to the left of the screen.

While this may seem like a backburner change, it should become a priority. People shopping for catering services may be leaving non-mobile friendly sites for those that are easier to use. With more than half of people accessing websites from their mobile devices it is important to view this change as an investment, as the use of mobile will only continue to grow. Don’t be left scrambling to catch up. Invest in your business by keeping up with technology.

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Posted On July 1, 2015 by John Cohen

Catering for the Fourth of July

It’s just a few days until our most patriotic holiday. Let’s give a big shout for the red, white and blue! Fourth of July cookouts can be anything from a high end not-so-casual event to a down-home comfort cookout.

Many times these events include food cut into stars and lots of little flags combined with dishes made of whip cream, blueberries, and strawberries. Not every dish has to be dusted with shapes or food in the patriot color scheme, though.  Themed events are a great time to let your creativity shine.  We know that catering isn’t just about the food anymore, either. It’s about the style you bring to an event. Here are a few ideas to help inspire your Fourth of July events.

A Rustic Fourth

The rustic look has been in for a while for weddings but it can be carried over to other events as well. Think of it as catering for our great forefathers. No overly fancy serving dishes but no paper plates either. It’s your in-between a Hampton’s celebration and neighborly backyard barbeque; the middle ground between fine china and Chinet. You can mix patterns of red, white, or blue without having to include stars or stripes. Use more wood and less ceramic for centerpieces and leave tables exposed when styling a buffet or table.
Style: Mixed floral prints, wood and lace, exposed tables, flowers, handwritten signs

Mini Pies

Photo Credit: Colin Cowie Weddings
Wood and Lace Table
Photo Credit: Celebrating Everyday Life
A Modern Picnic

Jazz up the typical cookout with a modern feel. Bring white frames with graphic designed images for labeling food or stations. You can also wrap beverages in graphic labels and buy geometric printed hotdog boats instead of the good ol’ white paper boats.
Style: Geometric prints, san serif fonts, simple patterns, clean lines, printed signs

hot dog station

Photo Credit: Hostess with the Mostess

hot dog and soda

Photo Credit: The Idea Room

The Classic Patriot

And for those who just can’t say no to a good red, white, and blue extravaganza you can have a classic July 4th decorated event. It’s a simple mix of large white elements like buckets or lanterns with flags of all sizes throughout the tables. Don’t forget your U.S.A themed foods – blueberry and strawberry fruit trays and firework colored cocktails.
Style: Simple large décor, no food labels, red, white and blue, flags galore, fresh flowers

Patriotic Table

Photo Credit: MODwedding

Have a happy and safe holiday!

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Posted On June 25, 2015 by John Cohen

Why Caterers Want Wedding Coordinators

Have you ever been prepping for a wedding with your team and suddenly a bridesmaid rolls up to you, frantic, because the bride happened to peak out the suite window and can see none of the tables have been dressed or set? Did she think that was your job? How about standing around after dinner waiting to be paid? You don’t want to interrupt the champagne toast by tapping on the bride’s shoulder for payment, but you’d also like to go home. Who do you turn to? Let us guess what those events had in common – there was no wedding coordinator. Are we right? We thought so.

Working with a wedding coordinator, or providing full coordination as part of your services, is not just a big help for the bride and groom, but it is also a big help to all of the wedding’s vendors. The coordinator at a wedding, or any event, is often the one who sets expectations, helps the vendors know where to set up, establishes a timeline, and takes care of payment and tips at the end of the reception. Really, you want a wedding coordinator just as much as the bride and groom. Now, we’re not saying never take a wedding that doesn’t plan to have a coordinator. Just know what to expect from a bride without one.

What does that mean, exactly? Glad you asked. Brides usually aren’t fully aware of the difference between a wedding coordinator and a catering manager. To her, a caterer serving dinner means they handle everything that goes along with dinner. That may be true for some, but not all caterers provide full event services including the setup of tables, linens, decor, placement of china and flatware, plus serving staff and clean up. If you are the first vendor interaction a bride has had, be sure to set the standards up front. Let her know exactly what services you’ll be providing, what your payment breakdown will be (all at once or spread over a deposit and final payment), if and how staff should be tipped, and who the point person should be at the wedding for any questions. You should also request the same information from the couple as to not interrupt their special day. All of this information can be provided to the client and your staff through the reports generated in Total Party Planner catering software.

There are many caterers that have figured out a great system – partnering with a wedding coordinator. Many caterers have found it beneficial to establish relationships with multiple coordinators. Outside of the organizational skills they have and their help the day of the wedding, partnering with a coordinator brings many opportunities. Finding someone you trust means having a reliable source that can push business your way. If they have a bride who has yet to find a caterer, you are the first she suggests. Working with the same coordinator also means you are familiar with their style so the execution of the event is smooth and should we say it, maybe even flawless.

So how do you begin working with a coordinator? First, try to find someone you have a natural connection with. If you get to work a few weddings this season that have coordinators, see if you “click” with anyone. It’s better to start from a natural place than to force a relationship. Second, determine if you can become a preferred vendor for them. You can offer to also have them a preferred vendor. Whoever gets the bride first will suggest the others services. Some caterers even offer discounts to brides working with their coordinating partners. This can help drive business for you and for the coordinator. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal to us!

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Posted On June 16, 2015 by John Cohen

Catering Marketing Mix Check

It’s June! Who can believe it? Seems like the year is just flying by, right? June is important for many businesses though, especially catering companies. June kicks off one of the busiest catering seasons of the year – summer wedding season. June is also a good time to do a mid-year Marketing Mix check. It’s a time to review your success over the past six months, re-access your goals, and plan for the next six months.

You may be thinking, “What is a marketing mix?” A marketing mix is the combination of marketing efforts made by a brand or company focused on your product, price, place, or promotion and the tactics being used to reach customers. A good marketing mix will be just that, a well-planned mix. As a business owner, you want to be sure you have a goal in mind and that you are placing advertisements or creating marketing efforts to help achieve those goals.

Let’s look at an example. Looking back at 2014, you may have received fewer event bookings around Christmas in 2014 than you would have liked. During the events you did cater, you may have heard many guests commenting that they “have never heard of you, but your food is great!” This should stem two goals for you; building brand awareness and booking more holiday catering events. After determining your goals, determine what types of marketing would help you achieve each goal independently. Is your target market on Facebook or are they heavy Instagram (who just opened up advertising to more than just a few big-gun brands) users? Do you have a low number of reviews on Google or Yelp? Have you recently updated your website to include content about your ability to cater for holidays? Ask yourself these questions (and many more) then select the marketing outlet to resolve those questions and create a timeline to implement over the next six months. If we were you, we’d suggest focusing on building your brand recognition June through October with a mix (dependent on your audience) of website content updates, Facebook advertising, and SEM. Then late October through December we’d focus on highlighting your holiday catering abilities through Facebook advertising, SEM retargeting, and print ads in local publications that focus on holiday planning (they could include articles on buying the right gift, what to make for Thanksgiving sides, or anything related around holiday planning.) This mix reaches multiple, different audiences as well as focuses on your two different goals.

So why did we pick to focus on building the brand recognition first? As the old saying goes, you have to walk before you can run. It is much harder to book events if no one knows who you are. Customers are more likely to select a catering company they have heard of or one that has positive reviews over a company that appears to have never catered an event before. After you build your brand and the trust of the customer you can start to work on building recognition of your services.

Your goals may be different than our example but the gist of our advice is to gut check where you are. It does not aid you to advertise blindly. Determine where you are and where you’d like to be as a business. Use your marketing mix to achieve your goals. Our suggestion is to be consistent with your look and feel through your marketing mix. If you use stock photos use the same style of stock imagery – don’t use one image on a white background and another of a soft lit, uniquely photographed event. Consistency builds your brand and makes your recognizable.

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