Catering Sales is an art based on understanding the principles of customer service and client needs. Deciding what tastes your customer has, and what their likes, dislikes, and needs are becomes a very important tool in catering sales.
Two incidents occurred early on in my catering career that served as examples throughout that career and also helped shape it. Ironically, they took place only weeks apart.
A very well known shampoo entrepreneur who had a fondness for Kangaroos had become a tremendous customer. When a caller with the same name requested catering information we assumed the client would enjoy "A Dickens of a Christmas" styled event.
We sent out the catering brochures, sure to highlight the popular Dickens´ theme and a day or so later the client called and thought the style would fit her needs perfectly. She would be having 36 guests on the Saturday before Christmas. When we asked if she would like to come in to discuss the event she said she didn´t have time but that she had heard of us and knew we would do a great job. We should have known it was a different person when we she said she had "heard of us." The client we knew enjoyed a private party at the store only weeks earlier.
Needless to say when we arrived at the house, on the Saturday before Christmas, it was a totally different person at a completely different house than we expected. The shampoo maven didn´t book us that year, but because we didn´t know enough about our client, we lost the original Kangaroo lovers party for almost 100 people.
The next lesson wasn´t as costly, but because of what we learned it made us more profitable over the years. AS the snow fell on Christmas Eve I really questioned whether I should have booked the event for a sub- matriarch of flour. Although we had catered for the client before she tended to be more fussy than particular, and that is often an attribute of one who proves to be difficult to please.
As it turned out, I couldn´t persuade Kranston to leave the store earlier. In her belief every catering event should be a complete culinary celebratory experience. Her hand pressed Christmas Tree and Santa Claus butters would serve to support this as each would individually appear with the dinner rolls at the holiday table that Christmas Eve. Believe me, at this house, dinner rolls were a big thing. A very big thing.
Arriving on time, we set up the kitchen and as I played butler, Kranston played maid, looking the part in her white blouse, short black skirt, and apron. While preparing the hand pressed butter ornaments for the plate the client entered the kitchen to check on the Lamb Meatballs. If they were not one inch in diameter my butler days could be numbered but instead of my meatballs, the butter caught her eye.
She snapped, "What are those things?"
In her best voice of holiday nicety Kranston explained they were hand pressed butter pads. Knowing the client was from the school of frugality, she added that there was no charge for the creation.
"Just butter the rolls before you serve them. This is just family," claimed the sub-matriarch, subliminally insulting the maid, the butler, and the Dough-Boy.
Kranston was the master of the upsell. Her vision should be text book. Catering is more than just food. And, if someone wants a maid and a butler, there are services that can accommodate that need.
However, when we as restaurateurs plan an event, we should have the vision, skill, and where with all to turn a catered party into an event. Be creative with all of your clients and make suggestions that they may not even think of.
One of the most popular upsell suggestions during the holidays is the horse and carriage ride. These are becoming available in more areas of the country and whether you live in the Snow Belt or the sunny southwest a carriage ride during the holidays serves as a romantic spark. Especially if you have a fondness for horses. Google carriage rides, or sleigh rides in your area and you will be amazed at how many appear. And, make a deal with the proprietor, a small commission for booking is often extended.
Another tremendous holiday add-on are carollers. Christmas Carollers abound during the holidays- they appear out of nowhere- and booking them is often difficult unless done in advance. But, again, this is a profit center for the restaurant owner. Google is also your answer for the carolers if you are not familiar with any groups in your area.
And, if your windows look upon the romance of New York, The Dickens’ Victorian Carollers will definitely attract a crowd and boost biz.
Finally, don´t hesitate to book two parties on the same night and split the horse and carriage and the carolers between the two. It is a tremendous way to add memories to any holiday gathering and the client will be ever indented for your creativity.
Kranston´s concept that catering should become a memorable event rather than just a dinner delivered proved to be our profitable saving grace. The entrée is merely the vehicle that covers the costs of the evening. The appetizers, salad, desserts, liquor, and added elements of catering are the profitable perks that really expand your bottom line.
And don´t forget the celebratory after-dinner drinks for the non designated drivers. A peppermint hot chocolate with whipped cream and a raspberry swirl was always a big hit at the Peter Rogers and Associates´ Holiday Hoedown.