Sign Up for a Live Demo

Total Party Planner Blog

Posted On May 14, 2015 by Susan Pupa

Summer Catering Food Trends

Summer means one thing, especially in the south, tomato season. Tomatoes are one of the most variety filled vegetables (well, fruits) there are, both in type and ingredient possibilities. You can slice yellow and red cherry tomatoes for a hearty bruschetta, puree heirlooms for a fresh salsa, or dice a mix of tomatoes, onions, and cilantro for some fresh pico de gallo. Any tomato mix will bring brightness to your catering buffet. One of our favorite ways to add tomatoes to your catering menu is a cherry tomato salad. Toss cherry tomatoes, yellow grape tomatoes, and red onions with a light olive oil and Italian seasoning. Side note, you can also use this mix to make a colorful bruschetta.

Summer Crostini

Photo: Food Network’s Best Summer Appetizers

Another popular summer catering pick – fish. Light, flakey, citrus marinated fish, mmm. Our mouths are watering just thinking about a beautifully cooked piece of fish, served on a dock overlooking the water. Keep your summer fish dish (say that three times fast) light and airy by making it a lettuce wrap. We love a honey lime sauce (honey, lime juice, olive oil, salt, and red pepper flakes) drizzled over tilapia with a red cabbage and cilantro confit all wrapped in a crisp piece of lettuce.

One of our last favorite summer combinations is inspired by Spain. A flavor combination popular in salads, crepes, or crostini — pear, goat cheese, honey, and prosciutto. A fresh crisp salad of mixed greens topped with fresh cut pears, warmed goat cheese, a drizzle of honey and a few slices of prosciutto makes for a great first course on a hot summer wedding day. For a heartier main course grill the pears and place them in a crepe wrap with goat cheese, arugula, and a dollop of honey.

Being the food experts you are we know you probably already have your summer food menus set. Just in case you need a little inspiration or the summer has snuck up on you, though, we think these summer flavor combinations will make great additions to your arsenal.

Posted In Industry Information | Leave a Comment

Posted On May 8, 2015 by Lauren Methena

Catering to Kids Part 2: Increase Your Market Share through Children’s Parties

You can increase your market share through children’s parties. Catering to kids essentially lets you make money while you’re marketing yourself to future clients. Here’s the “why” and the “how”.

Why you should be catering to kids

1. Follow the trends
The trends are clear. Celebrities are throwing elaborate catered parties for their kids – and parents everywhere see this. Even without the celebrity influence, kids’ parties have been growing more elaborate with more games, fancy take-home party favors, and cartoon characters showing up to entertain the small guests. Some birthday parties look like carnivals!

There’s also a growing market for places that host children’s parties. For one set price, they include the venue, games, sometimes prizes and food, and (most importantly) clean-up.

As a caterer, you can take advantage of this trend by putting together kid party packages at different price points to compete with this market and take advantage of this birthday party trend. Your value-added proposition is that you not only provide the prep work and the clean-up – you’ll come to your client’s home or wherever they want to have the party. They’re not bound to a pizza place, a bounce house place, etc.

2. Prospecting
When you cater a child’s birthday party, you’re opening people up to the realization that they can afford a caterer and that you’re worth every penny – even for smaller events at home. Marketing-wise, you increase your visibility and set yourself up to create long-lasting relationships with the parents and other adult guests.

3. Cash flow
Use children’s parties to bring in cash and keep your staff busy during slower times of the year. These smaller affairs (not that all of them are small – see the first reason for why you want to cater children’s parties) can also be a great way for you to train rising caterers in your company who need to cut their teeth on some events, too. Let them handle the smaller events while you take a larger event that same day.

How to cater to kids

There are so many different ways you can make catering to kids work for you to increase your market share. Here are some tips as you explore which options make the most sense for you.

Balancing work and cost
The reason so many people dread children’s parties is because they are a lot of work. They’re intense. The kids are always high energy. They want food. They expect to be entertained. All the action takes place in a short amount of time (average party will run around two hours). Don’t sell yourself short on the pricing. Find high-profit-margin, kid-pleasing menu options. If you find that your party package prices are a little higher than other packages in your market, simply remind clients that you are personally preparing food, activities, etc. for their party. You’ll provide a more personalized experience that will be memorable and less “cookie cutter.”

Creating packages for every budget
When you’re thinking about your packages, consider things like how much work some of the extras are that you might want to include, such as games, for example. Think about who buys at the different price points, from low to high. What are they expecting?

Making each package customizable can make you look good and keep your customers happy. You don’t necessarily want to get into adjusting the prices up or down – I recommend keeping your price points firm. Just know in the back of your mind that you can easily substitute the veggie platter for some tater tots to make parents happy. Know whether or not some packages allow you to throw in an extra snack that isn’t listed without eating up your profit margin.

A lower price option that allows budget-conscience parents to provide most of the activities and prizes can be a good low-effort money maker for you, if all you have to do is show up, serve the food, and clean up when you’re done. Have tiered options, all the way up to a full-service option that includes food, music, games…the whole nine yards.

To entertain or not to entertain
Decide how much entertainment you want to provide at these parties – whether people are paying for it or not!

One inexpensive way to bring a value-added touch to these packages is to invest in some small-but-sturdy party games, such as corn hole and other outdoor/indoor game sets. Once you’ve invested in them, you can charge a little extra to bring them along and set them out at parties. Or, offer the games for free as a way to differentiate yourself and your service. For larger events, let parents know they can pay for staff to help with the games, then hire a young person who is good with kids to help during the party.

Another easy, inexpensive way to entertain your tiny guests is to make the food part of the entertainment. Get them involved in creating the food. This can mean anything from assemble-your-own tacos or nachos to having a cooking class and teaching the kids how to make something. Essentially – encourage them to play with their food. They’ll have fun, it will keep them focused and occupied for a good amount of time – and who knows? They might learn something, too.

Creating partnerships
Which brings me to my next point – partnerships. For some of these parties, what you’re essentially doing is offering to become the de facto event planner. (Sound familiar?) If you haven’t done this already, develop a network of partners for these parties. Think staff to run games, venues, entertainers, face painters, balloon animal people, even an ice cream truck owner. The more parties you do, the more your network will grow.

Dealing with food allergies
Nowadays, having a child’s birthday party also means being aware of common food allergens and best food handling practices to avoid cross contamination. Always check in with the parents and ask them to reach out to people on their guest list to see if any special accommodations need to be made. (And if you do have to make accommodations, don’t sweat it. It’s not that hard. Check out our previous series about catering to special diets .)

It’s not uncommon for parents of kids with allergies to bring food for their child to a party. However, it’s always good to ask – and you just don’t know how it will touch the heart of a parent if you have food that their child can eat, too. Feeling excluded, especially at a birthday party, feels pretty rotten. You can really win over your next most loyal fan by taking the time to make sure everyone is included.

Are you brimming with ideas now? Good! Go start making some plans for how you’re going to package and market your children’s parties! And if you want to read more about catering to kids at adult events, check out the first article in this series: Catering to Kids Part 1: Feeding Kids at Grown-up Events.


Posted In Industry Information | Leave a Comment

Posted On April 30, 2015 by Susan Pupa

Catering Cinco de Mayo Celebrations

Cinco de Mayo, a celebration beloved by both Mexico and America, is only a few days away. Quick history lesson: Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of the Mexican Army’s victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla on May 5th. This day now serves as a day of pride for some areas of Mexico (about 31) and Mexican Americans, similarly to the way 2 of our states celebrate Patriots Day. What better way to celebrate than with food?

In America there is a mix of traditional celebrations with authentic Mexican cuisine and modern celebrations with new takes on Mexican dishes. For those who are interested in celebrating with blending traditional and new cuisine we’ve put together a modern Cinco de Mayo meal for many! Try these modern takes on traditional Mexican meals for your upcoming catering events.

Burrito Bar – a hands-on take of the traditional burrito. Mix up the bar with authentic Mexican toppings and modern Mexican infusions. Include items such as roasted corn salsa, black beans, yellow rice, and chili rubbed grilled chicken. In Mexico, the salsa is used a spoonful at a time to enhance a dish and give a little extra kick, similarly to the way we use steak sauce. Include a freshly ground salsa (or two) into your burrito bar to really top it off.

Fresh Squeezed Margaritas – the only way to have a margarita. Traditional margaritas are served with fresh squeezed lime juice and 100% pure agave tequila over ice. It is said the most commonly used recipe in Mexico is 7 parts tequila, 4 parts orange liquor (of your choosing), and 3 parts lime juice. If you want a real Mexican margarita use Key Limes, which have a thinner skin and a tarter taste than the limes we get at a typical American grocery store. If you want to add a little twist (really, we mean little) try a citrus salt rim. You can do this by grating orange, lime, and lemon skins into kosher salt, squeezing just a little juice over the salt, and letting it dry for one full day.

Guacamole Bites – easy to eat guacamole. A favorite in Mexican cuisine, guacamole is made from ripe avocados and used on many dishes but most popularly used as a dip. While there are many variations of the dip, some calling for onions and cayenne, while others call for tomatoes and lemon juice, every guacamole is served mashed with sea salt and lime juice. The only thing to hate about guacamole is the difficulty it presents when trying to spoon it onto a plate in a large group of people. To avoid the pile up in front of the guac table, try pre-loading bite-sized chips with dollops of guacamole. This will save guests time and keep the station clean.

We’d love to see what you create for your Cinco de Mayo events. Share some of your modern Mexican dishes with us!


Posted In Industry Information | Leave a Comment

Posted On April 20, 2015 by Susan Pupa

Buy or Borrow: Providing Linens at Events

To buy or to borrow, that is the question. Well, more like “to be or not to be,” but we’re sure Shakespeare won’t mind that we tweaked it a bit. So, to buy or to borrow, linens that is. Many people will assume that linens are provided by either their venue or by their caterer. As the caterer and provider you have two options yourself; purchase a standard set of linens as part of your business or find a third party vendor you can work with to provide linens.

If you choose to purchase your own linens consider how to maximize your investment. Staple colors like white or black will serve more clients and events. You should also order a mix of round and rectangular linens. If you find that many of your clients request colors that could have multiple occasion uses, like navy, gray, or red, consider buying those down the road. Now, if you get a request for cheetah or hot pink chevron, consider it a trend and offer to work with a third party vendor to get special linens for that particular event. Providing linens with your catering service will make the planning process simpler for clients, and who doesn’t appreciate simplification when planning a large event.

Working with a third party vendor has its benefits, too. You have more flexibility and options to offer your clients. Working with a third party vendor who supplies event accessories and decor also saves you from having to clean and store the linens that may be taking up valuable shelf space in your building. If you choose to work with a third party vendor try to work out a standard partnership agreement, such as standard white linens can be rented for an event for 100 – 150 people for X amount of money. This can help you keep cost down and consistent for your incoming clients. Then work out a standard rate sheet for more custom linens, such a chevron, sparkles, bright colors, and mixing/matching, linens. This can help you give an estimate to your clients if they request more unique linens for their event.

There are pros and cons to buying your own linens and to using a third party vendor. Each are a little different and affect the options you can provide and the amount of money you have to spend. For most, it will filter down to the amount of money that would need to be invested upfront to provide linens as part of your business. However, you should consider the time and commitment it will be to also clean, iron, and store the linens. Either way, you can be a caterer that offers linens with their catering services.

Posted In Industry Information | Comments Off

Posted On April 14, 2015 by John Cohen

Reviewing Your Reviews

Have you ever had a memorable experience at a restaurant that you just raved about to your friends? The food was the best thing you ever ate, the servers were so gracious, and they even brought you dessert on the house because they overheard it was your anniversary? Do you go home and write them the best review on Yelp with 5 stars and all your praise? Probably not. You probably told a few people or commented to your spouse on the way home how nice they were and that you should “definitely go back.” Now let’s flip the situation – how many times have you had an awful experience at a restaurant and ranted about it online and to every person you ran into on the street? Now any person who looks for a French restaurant on Allen Street will see what a horrible time you had and will think twice before booking a reservation there.

Online reviews are the new word-of-mouth. Unlike word-of-mouth, online reviews never die down, though. They are out there permanently for anyone to see. People are now turning to Google Plus, Yelp, WeddingWire and other review websites to find the best caterer, wedding planner, dog groomer, and nail salon in town. You name it they can find a review for it. Now more than ever consumers are valuing the experiences others have had with businesses. They take the word of someone they don’t even know rather than risking a bad experience.

This new age of review-reading consumers has made it a must for businesses to keep up with their online presence. One of the first tasks you should complete as a business is set up your own Google Plus and Yelp pages. If you are a caterer that has been around for a while you may find that a Google Plus or Yelp page has already been claimed for you. These were probably set up by Google themselves. If you find this to be the case you can claim your page from Google or Yelp, it will just take a little legwork. (These links will help you navigate claiming your business on Yelp and Google.) Once you’ve claimed your page you can comb through your reviews. If you find that you have a generally positive review set you are in great shape! Keep up the great work and see our post on building reviews online.

If you have claimed your page and find that there are a few negative reviews do not panic. There are ways to increase your ratings and improve upon these reviews. Consumers like two way communication with brands now, especially when it impacts something as large as a wedding or event. Here are three things you can do to improve your reviews:

  • Start by responding to those who have left a negative review. Apologize for their poor experience and express that you have improved your service based on recent feedback.
  • Offer a discount for the customer to come try the service again.
  • Reach out to past clients to see if they can review you online as well.

There are also three things you do not want to do to improve your reviews:

  • Respond negatively or defensively to those who have left poor reviews. This will only reinforce the negative review.
  • Try to delete the reviews. It is unlike that you will be able to delete a review without filing a claim with Google Plus or Yelp. (If there is an extreme case on vindiction you can reach out to the review sites and have the review removed.)
  • Ask employees and/or relatives to leave reviews in bulk. Consumers can tell when fake profiles have been created for the purpose of reviewing a website. They become suspicious if you suddenly got 30 reviews in a two week period. Go the honest route and engage with consumers who genuinely enjoyed your catering services.

Posted In Industry Information | Comments Off

Posted On April 8, 2015 by Susan Pupa

Remarketing Your Catering Business

Have you ever looked at a pair of shoes at an online retailer? Maybe you decided you wanted to try them on in the store so you didn’t purchase them online. Then you moved on to Facebook and oh, there are those shoes you were just viewing. What a coincidence. Then you go to check your favorite food blog for their latest post and darn if those shoes aren’t on that page, too. Soon, you feel like you’re being stalked by this pair of shoes. So how does this happen? Turns out they are using a little tool known as Remarketing.

Remarketing is an online digital marketing tool used to display previously viewed products to consumers that are already interested in them. Now, it may sound a little creepy, but in reality it is not. What it is, is a smart use of the information you’ve gathered about consumers who are already interested in you. Once a consumer visits your website, maybe to check out your menu or your prices, you can recapture their attention again once they’ve moved on to another website. This can remind them that they wanted to revisit your website to do more research or maybe they had already made up their mind but haven’t gotten around to booking yet. Remarketing is, if nothing else, good for building brand recognition.

So how do you implement a Remarketing campaign? Well, if you use a third party Search Engine Marketing firm they can take care of it for you. If you are in charge of your own Search Engine Marketing you can set up a Remarketing campaign through your Google Adwords account. What you want to do is determine a few key websites you’d like your ad to show up. Another important step that some often forget is to also determine websites you do not want to show up on and keywords you do not want to be associated with. For example, if you chose to show up on the but you happened to show up on an article about severe food poisoning, you probably wouldn’t think that was the greatest association. (Look up Remarketing Fails if you’d like a good laugh.) In that case, phrases and pages to avoid might be more important than pages you’d like to show up on.

Remarketing is a great tool to help you recapture interested consumers. It is the best way to capitalize on people you already know are looking at your product. Instead of blanketing the market and hoping you’re getting the attention of someone who may be interested, focus on those you know are interested.

Posted In Industry Information | Comments Off

Posted On March 30, 2015 by Lauren Methena

Catering to Kids Part 1: Feeding Kids at Grown-up Events

Catering to kids can be tricky – feeding kids at grown-up events can be even trickier. How do you please the adults without pandering to the children? Or do you give in and serve them chicken fingers and French fries while the adults have grilled salmon?

Do children have a different sense of taste than grown-ups? Are we somehow predisposed to like fatty, salty foods, such as chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese, in our early years? Or do we as Americans give in to our children’s whiny food demands too easily?

Consider this example of a typical weekly menu in a French elementary school. The children are being served things like cucumber and tomato salad and veal marinated with mushrooms.

Not only can we not imagine being able to afford such meals in a typical public school in the U.S. – we automatically assume, “My child would never eat that.”

Most pediatricians will tell you 3 things:

1. The less fuss you make about meals and food in general, the less fussy or picky your child is likely to be (in other words, don’t turn every meal into a fight – they’re either going to eat something or they’re not).
2. Serve a large variety of foods to get your child used to trying new things and to show them how exciting food can be.
3. They’ll eat when they’re hungry. No child has ever starved because they weren’t served hot dogs/chicken nuggets/whatever their favorite food is every night.

While all of this is great advice, how do you as a caterer include children in a one-off event? While your personal food philosophy may be to try everything once (and the really good things twice), you have no influence over how the kids at your event have been raised or fed leading up to the event you’re catering. So, how do you feed the kids and make everyone happy?

Here are a few tips for catering to kids at grown-up events:

Talk to the organizers.
How do they feel about having children served a separate meal? If they have a strong stance one way or another, you may not have a lot of choice in the matter. However, this is definitely your chance to put forth any ideas you have of including children fully in the event – and that includes serving them meals that are similar to or the same as the adults.

Serve a variety of food.
With enough choices, you’re sure to find something everyone can enjoy.

Make some of the children’s favorite things.
A friend of mine once told me that whenever she served a food she wasn’t sure her son would eat, she made sure to serve at least one or two things she knew he liked in the same meal. That way, he was still trying new foods, tastes, and textures, but she could be reasonably sure he wouldn’t leave the table hungry. Sometimes, it was as simple as serving his favorite vegetable or some applesauce with the meal. If you can, find out what some of the children’s favorites are and include those items in the meal – whether it’s a plated meal or a buffet.

Make it easy for them to eat.
You’ll have better luck with getting kids to eat overall, especially younger kids, if you serve them foods they can eat easily. Think of things they can pick up in their hands like finger foods, such as green beans, and things that will be easy for them to chew and swallow. If the food tastes good and they can manipulate it easily, they’ll be happier and eat more of what you serve them.

Make it fun!
Consider serving the children the same food as the adults but served in a fun way! Maybe the green beans will make a smile, while a piece of chicken breast can be a large nose, and the eyes can be two dollops of mashed potatoes with a caper for the middle of the eye. Get creative – and watch the delight in the children’s (and their parents’) faces!

With any luck, the food you serve may open a whole new culinary world to the children trying scallops or brussel sprouts for the first time!

Or, at the very least, you’ll avoid a mealtime meltdown, so everyone can enjoy their food.

What tricks have you tried – successfully or maybe not so much – when catering to kids at grown-up events? Please share your ideas with our readers! We’re always looking for new things to try!

Posted In Industry Information | Comments Off

Posted On March 24, 2015 by John Cohen

Meltdown Management in Catering

Large events can be stressful, especially for those who are not used the hustle and bustle. High stress levels can result in meltdowns, from your staff or from the client. What do you do when your employees or clients seem to be having a breakdown in the middle of the event? This seems to be a question that stumps many. Here are three suggestions if someone at your event is having a moment:

1. Get them off the floor – if you’ve ever waited tables you know the key to not making a scene is getting the individual having a meltdown off the floor, or in this case, out of the party.
2. Determine the problem – is it a personal matter or an issue that is under your control? Sometimes people are just overwhelmed and need a minute to breath by themselves. If there was a conflict between one of your personnel and a party attendant find out the circumstances and details of the conflict before you approach either party.
3. Address the issue – once you’ve determined the cause of the issue, determine the right resolution. If your waiter is simply overwhelmed because it is their first event, they may simply need a few minutes to refocus. If the issue resides with the party host or an attendant, determine if the issue can be resolved in that moment or if you’ll have to find a resolution post event.

If you’ve been a caterer for several years you know the tips and tricks to keeping wait staff calm and event hosts happy. You may rarely experience the meltdowns we spoke of, but if you’re new to catering or experience issues often during catering events, the following can help you avoid some major event drama.

1. Train and prep – this is the key to keeping your staff comfortable and ultimately helping them stay collected during the event. A well trained staff member can answer questions, feels comfortable serving, and knows what to expect when they walk into the event. Be sure to inform both new and old employees about important details such as food ingredients, not just the main ingredient, the proper signs to look for to see if people have finished their meal, and how you’d like them to dispose of extra food or finished plates.
2. Communicate openly – this goes for clients and for staff. The more upfront and clear you are about expectations for the event, the less people will have to question or be frustrated over. Do not assume clients know exactly what they’re getting, even if they tell you they’ve had a caterer before. Be clear about your role and what you provide as a vendor.
3. Be understanding – should a problem arise, remember you are the one everyone will be looking to during the event. Remember your staff may be nervous or a bride a poor handler of stress. Deal with what you can in the moment the best that you can and move on.

Meltdowns get the best of everyone. Just remember, you were probably in someone’s shoes just like that. Do your best to prevent what you can and resolve what was unavoidable.

Posted In Industry Information | 2 Comments

Posted On March 18, 2015 by Susan Pupa

Catering Baby Showers: Themes & Tips

First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then comes a bow wrapped baby carriage. Spring is a popular season for the arrival of new family members. And with the arrival of new babies comes baby showers! Catering for a baby shower is a unique experience. This infographic gives you a few hints for catering a baby shower this Spring.


Baby Shower Catering

Image Credits:
Rattle – Tyler Glaude
Fish – Fellipe Camara

Posted In Industry Information | Comments Off

Posted On March 10, 2015 by John Cohen

The Down Low on SEO

SEO. SEM. SMS. OMG. The lingo of digital advertising can be confusing. It’s hard to keep all the acronyms straight and know what each one does. Not to worry, we can help you figure it out. Well, at least SEO – Search Engine Optimization.

What does Search Engine Optimization do for you? In short, Search Engine Optimization is used to help your website show as a proper result on a Search Engine Result Page (SERP) such as Google. SEO is affected by many aspects of your website, including back end meta tagging, website ease-of-use, navigation, and more. Having your website properly optimized can help you rank higher as an organic search result, which increases the chances of your website being visited and ultimately you receiving more calls.

Properly optimizing your website can be confusing. So here are a few tips to help you get started and increase your rankings.

  1. Develop a list of keywords to include in post titles, content, and back end meta tagging. Be sure to use a mix of branded and unbranded keywords. (For example, if you are Tulip’s Bakery in Brooklyn, New York you may choose keywords such as Brooklyn Bakery, Bakery in New York City, Tulip’s Bakery, Tulip’s in NYC, etc.)
  2. Create original content for your website. This includes adding non-stock images to your website, posting new content to your website’s blog, and adding rich media content (such as videos) to your website.
  3. Keep your Meta Descriptions short. Google tends to cut off website descriptions after 160 characters. Be sure when you use them they are concise and potential web visitors will be able to read the full description.
  4. Create a user friendly website. Google and other search engines scan for things such as ease-of-use of your website and your bounce rate. If you bounce rate is high because the content does not appeal to the user it resulted for or because your website is frustrating to use and has hard to find content Google will rank you lower on the search pages.

You can find more about Search Engine Optimization from Google. After defining your keywords and putting them into practice you can use Google Analytics to see where you rank for certain keywords or phrases. Remember, though, that Google changes the algorithm and what it looks for often so be sure to check in or read an article every now and then about what Google is looking for now.


Posted In Industry Information | Comments Off

From the Kitchen to the Books, We’ve Got You Covered.

  • Calendars
  • Proposals
  • Staffing
  • Kitchen Worksheets
  • Inventory
  • Recipes
  • Costing
  • Profit Analysis
  • Invoices
  • Receivables
  • Custom Reporting

Experience Total Party Planner first hand. Attend a free demo.

Laptop Computer