Your night meals is great if someone prepared you a dress up baked spuds with sautéed onions and bell peppers, pulled smoked pork, coleslaw, corn chips, and plenty of cheese. The first step to getting hired as a caterer happens when a client calls, emails you or inquires through your website. Once you’ve been contacted, it’s important that you respond promptly. Be prepared to answer all their questions, make suggestions and generally handle yourself in a pleasant and professional manner. Be prepared: The first phone call will rarely result in a sale for a number of reasons. First, the customer may be shopping several caterers. Second, you probably won’t decide during that conversation exactly what’s going to be served, so you won’t be able to give a specific quote. Third, you’ll want to inspect the site of the event before putting together your final proposal.
Many clients will pressure you for an exact price quote during the
first phone call. Resist the temptation to do this. Even if the client
knows exactly what they want served, you won’t know how much the cost of
food and labor is going to be until you’ve had a chance to do your own
calculations. If you make up a quote on the spot, it may either be too
high, in which case you’ll lose the job, or too low, in which case
you’ll lose money — or you’ll have to raise your quote later, which
isn’t good for customer relations. Instead, try to satisfy the client
with a general price range and promise a full written proposal later.
clients will be reluctant to tell you their budget for an event, but
try to get a fairly good idea of how much money they have to spend or at
least how many people they’ll have in attendance and for what type of
occasion. You should be able to adjust your menus to suit their budget,
but you’ll have to know what that budget is first. There are many
cost-cutting methods you can use if the client seems uncomfortable with
your more expensive-sounding suggestions. For example, you can
substitute lower-cost ingredients with a similar flavor or use dishes
that are easy to prepare rather than more labor-intensive ones.
the first telephone conversation, your next meeting will likely be in
person, preferably at the site where the event will be held. Bring your
menus so the customer can review them and determine exactly what to
serve. Get a firm number of guests and put it in writing; let the
customer know that you’ll be planning your quote based on that number
and that any changes will affect the final price. Determine the style of
the event (sit-down, buffet, cocktail) and any particular equipment or
service needs the client will have. While the client may not immediately
know exactly how many people will attend, you should give them a
definite date by which you will need a final head count for which
they’ll be charged.
Take a tour of the site to see what equipment is available for your use and what you’ll need to bring. Decide where the buffet will be, if there is one, and where the bar setup will go. Discuss staffing needs, and be specific about who will provide what to prevent misunderstandings later. This information should also be included in your price proposal.
Take a day or two to calculate the final price, and be sure it includes everything, then call the customer with your quote. If it’s acceptable, send out a detailed contract that itemizes the prices, outlines mutual responsibilities and requires a deposit (typically 50 percent of the total amount) on signing.
Once you’ve received the signed contract and deposit, you’re ready to
start arranging for staff and purchasing food. A few days before the
event, call the customer to confirm the number of guests and other
details. If the customer wants to make changes to the contract, be as
accommodating as possible, but don’t let it cause you to lose money.
Make a packing list
the food for an event is prepared and ready to go, you’ll need to pack
it along with the serving dishes, utensils, linens and other necessary
equipment. To be sure you don’t forget or lose anything, prepare a
A day or so before the event, sit down with your menu. List the equipment you’ll need to finish preparing each dish on site and serve it. When you’re finished, double-check your figures, taking care to properly count multiple units of items, such as when different dishes require the same serving equipment. Don’t forget miscellaneous supplies, such as cocktail napkins, toothpicks, salt and pepper shakers and so on. If you’re taking care of rental furniture or flowers, make sure these are either going to be delivered to the event site or to your kitchen or will be available for you to pick up.
With your completed packing list, you can start assembling the food
and supplies. Pack the items you’ll need first on top so you don’t have
to dig through several boxes to find them. Place items close together so
nothing has room to shift and break. Use common sense: Don’t put sacks
of crushed ice on top of the bread. Make sure all containers of food are
covered tightly so they won’t spill if you have to turn or stop your
The packing list will also serve as a checklist
to help you collect all your items when the party is over. Leaving items
behind can quickly eat up your profits. Caterer Maxine Turner puts
waterproof labels on trays and other items that identify each piece of
equipment for inventory-control purposes. “If something’s missing, we go
back through the inventory sheets to see what party it was used on last
and contact the person who ordered the catering,” she says. “It’s
amazing what we have found. One lady had coffeepots, trays, and serving
pieces from a year before. It was a drop off, and we forgot to go back
and pick it up. She put it in a cupboard and forgot about it.”
At the party
you’ve arrived at the event site, unpack everything and organize your
service area. You’ll want to arrive an average of 60 to 90 minutes in
advance to make sure the food will be ready and available at precisely
the right time.
Start reheating or cooking anything that needs to be served hot. Make sure every tray that leaves the kitchen has been attractively garnished and arranged.
As the party gets under way, keep an eye on what food is being
consumed, and have more trays ready to go out as the empty ones are
returned. If you’re serving from a buffet table, continually replenish
the trays so they don’t look like they have been picked over. Throughout
the event, your serving staff should be collecting dirty dishes,
returning empty glasses to the bar and taking care of other things so
the party site doesn’t look cluttered and untidy.
One of the keys
to doing good job serving is to be present without being present. Your
staff should be as inconspicuous as possible. This means ducking out of
photos, not clanking dishes while someone is giving a speech or engaging
attendees in long conversations.
As your servers return the dirty dishes to you, rinse and pack them for later washing. After the event is over, clean any of the client’s dishes or utensils that have been used. Get out your packing list to make sure you retrieve all your own glassware, tableware, cookware and other equipment. Also, take care that you don’t accidentally take any of the client’s property. Check off each item on your packing list as you load it into your vehicle.
Leftover food should be wrapped and left with the client. Floors and
counters should be clean, but you shouldn’t be expected to function as a
maid service. Just leave the facility as you found it. You’re only
responsible for your own messes.
Some caterers demand payment of the balance due immediately after the event; others will send the client a bill the day after the party. Whichever you choose, be sure the client knows in advance what to expect, and make it clear that the bill doesn’t include gratuities for the serving staff. If the client decides to tip, the money should be divided among the staff after the party.
While you should always be on the alert for ways to promote your
business, you should never promote yourself at an event you’re catering.
“I never market myself at events,” Turner agrees. “We’re there as a
support to whatever event we’re doing, and that’s not the proper time
for us to advertise.” Her company name is on the aprons the staff wears
but not on anything else. And while she’ll provide a business card if
asked, she doesn’t put her cards on display.
A truly professional caterer, she believes, is virtually invisible at the event, where the focus should be on the occasion itself. “We don’t intrude. We’re not guests; we’re there to provide a service. Also, I don’t allow [my staff] to talk to each other when they’re in front of the client, other than to take care of business. Even if they have friends who are attending the event, I discourage them from stopping to talk. They’re there for a purpose, and that purpose is to serve the client.”