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Dear Restaurant Blog;
My partner Gary booked a wedding for Labor Day Weekend. We were very excited when we first scheduled it, but it has become a nightmare. The Bride and Groom are constantly on the phone, asking us questions that they should already have the answer to. Now, they want to increase the guest list by 50 more people which means that we will have to close our restaurant. How can we handle this diplomatically so we do not upset them or our customers? We want to do more private functions but we sure don´t need this if it’s going to be another headache. Save us.
Harried in the Hamptons
Nobody said catering was easy-just profitable. You are in a situation that every catering professional deals with regularly. We must remember that a person´s party is an expression of themselves. They want it to be perfect. They want their guests leaving thinking it was the best event they had ever been to. And, they also want to make sure that it is impressive. Multiply that by 100 for a wedding.
From the sounds of your email, it is probably a sure bet that you didn´t have your services defined in a contract that was explained to the client before hand. Once you begin developing a catering business it is imperative that you have a standardized contract that explains the parameters of your services. The document will cover changing menu, guest lists, minimums and maximums, the extra charge for closing the restaurant, and numerous other incidentals that surface along the way.
We forget, as do the people who hire us that time is money. Your time is very valuable. Without being unreasonable, begin keeping track of the time it takes to answer the questions. If you are spending an exorbitant amount of time, let your client know that there will be an additional consulting charge. Explain, very nicely they have utilized the allocated consulting time allotted for the event. If the questions are legitimate, don´t worry about the time, but think of how you could have answered all of the clients questions in the beginning of the relationship. You may want to invite the bride and groom to have dinner with you and your partner to answer all their remaining questions. That is also a great way to up sell another item for the wedding.
Finally, closing the restaurant for the added guests is a very big decision. Are you charging the catering client extra money to close the restaurant? Are you doing anything for those customers who may show up on Labor Day weekend and expect to enjoy your restaurant only to be shut out at the door? Are you notifying customers ahead of time?
These are all very important decisions that you will need to weigh before just putting a sign on the door that reads "Closed for Private Function". If you handle the wedding in that way you will upset your regular customers and that is something you do not want to do.
You do want to use this experience as a guide for developing a catering contract. Write down all the pros and cons and then write out a simple agreement that you can use for upcoming events.
Catering is exactly that. Catering to people´s needs. It makes little sense to cater to one client and then upset a handful of others. Don´t sacrifice the good will you have established over time because of one catering customer.
I closed one of my restaurants numerous times for weddings and other special events. However, I gave my regular clientele adequate notice, made sure we took no reservations for that day, and frequently bought a lot of customer´s drinks when they eventually mentioned they were disappointed I was closed.
Once, at a very special, memorable event, the people having the party-in this case a wedding- invited most of my customers, so when the 350 plus seats filled up, they were all enjoying the wedding and nobody was turned away.
As far as your headache, it will go away once you realize the profits from a well run catering event.