EVENT PROBLEM SOLVING!
ONSITE PARTY SOLUTIONS!
THROWING PERFECT PARTIES!
SOLVING CATERING PROBLEMS ON THE FLY!
HOW CATERERS STAY COOL UNDER PRESSURE!
By Stu Leventhal
The best way to solve catering problems onsite is to prepare for the worst in advance. Knowing what usually goes wrong with events and preplanning solutions for the most common problems, just in case, will cut down on the gravity and drama of handling difficulties when they arise.
Let’s look at the most common catering problems and fears that all caterers must face at some point during their careers. Then we’ll discuss how to avoid them! As well as how to overcome them, when you find yourself involved in these often party ruining dilemmas! Now obviously we cannot tackle all of the problems that arise in the field here, so let’s look at the three most common problems. Our goal is to mold your way of thinking so you prepare for everything and expect anything because problems do and will pop up during a catered event! But if you do not panic and get a little creative, you can save the day. Your clients will be grateful and your legacy as caterer extraordinaire will grow by leaps and bounds!
- Handling Inaccurate Guest Counts – Your client orders service for 50 people but 75 guests show up!
Many times more guests arrive than RSVP’d. Sometimes this is due to a customer trying to trick you, the caterer, by giving you a phony head count. Other times it is due to the inexperience of the party thrower. Forget about the reason. Last minute surprises need to be welcomed and celebrated as the gifts they are. NEVER TURN THEM AWAY!
So, what is the solution?
First, straight from the gate, at the time of the sale, it is important that you stress for the party to be RSVP by a certain date and deadline. RSVP’s cut down on a large amount of surprise last minute guests. Next, make sure your customer knows unannounced last minute show-ups cost more and be firm about a twenty percent increase per each extra head. Only by letting your customer know they will pay with real money, will you get their full participation in getting all those RSVP’s answered by the deadline.
Make it clear that accurate head count is the most important thing for pulling off a great party! Stress, how running out of food is not going to make them, as the host or hostess, look very good!
Now, it may seem tacky but you must position your own greeter at the door who is counting the guests as they arrive. The earlier you know about the increase in guest count, the easier you can adopt to accommodate the extra people! If your home kitchen is nearby, you can simply call home base and have someone bring out more of whatever you need. On party day there should always be someone stationed back at the kitchen, just a phone call away, for this reason, as well as in case you forget to pack something that is needed.
For parties that are too far away from home base you should always check before the day of the event where the nearest food stores are located so you are prepared for these types of emergencies. Immediately send someone to the nearest store to purchase emergency filler items which do not have to be cooked and are inexpensive. Extra, lettuces are perfects for quickly bulking up or making an additional salad. Lettuce is good for lining the bottom of plates to make plates look fuller. Rolls are inexpensive, low maintenance and usually can even be purchased at convenient stores. You can cut up the rolls to make them go further. Anything that does not have to be cooked or takes little work to prepare will be a good stand-in as a quick last minute addition to the meal.
If meals are being served on platters, you will have to give smaller portion and add more garnishes to fill the plates thus stretching the food. You should always over prepare and bring along a little extra of the inexpensive side dishes for this purpose. Expensive main courses will have to be cut smaller to cover all the additional guests.
The magic tip for stretching out buffet style meals is to place your own personnel as servers at strategic spots of the buffet, usually at the most expensive items or at items that you know go fast. Your servers can be instructed to regulate the portions of any item that you do not have a lot of. This will assure the food lasts much longer than allowing the guests to self-serve themselves.
- The second biggest problem caterers have to deal with on the day of the event is when staff is scheduled to work but do not show up or call off last minute. Obviously, the solution is hiring good reliable people upfront! You should stress at the time of hiring, that you have a strict rule; anyone who does not show up for working a catering event is automatically fired. Be strict about this and you will cut down on the last minute call outs. But, sometimes things happen and the best solution is to always schedule at least one extra person who drives and has access to a car to be on call the day of a party. This person will get paid a small amount regardless of whether you call them in to work or not. When they are called in allow them to keep the extra amount for their inconvenience. Remember we also talked about having someone scheduled back at home base that can run out additional items when needed. This person can also be called on to drive over to fill in when you need an additional staff member onsite.
As soon as you know you are going to be short staffed you should immediately call the crew together and notify them that they will have to up their game to cover for the missing person. The show must go on! Offer the staff an extra bonus as incentive for extra hustle.
- The third biggest mistake or difficulty that caterers are often faced with is when someone forgets to pack something!
We have already discussed the importance of having the extra person stationed back at home base that can be called on to run stuff to the site when absolutely needed.
The best way to avoid having to call someone to bring out forgotten utensils and supplies is to have loading check lists that at least two people have to sign off on before the delivery vehicle leaves home base. Having three people signing off is even better.
Your delivery vehicles should also be loaded with emergency kits that have a few extra of each item loaded in case something is ever forgotten or something breaks or is lost in transit. Your vehicle supply should include; serving utensils, extra table cloths, center pieces, aprons, uniforms and white gloves if necessary…
Planning solutions ahead of time, anticipating difficulties and having back-up plans are what make the special caterers look like geniuses. Whenever possible, always do a pre-event visit to the actual site of the party. Many problems can be uncovered by a pre-party visit such as the need to bring long extension cords since there are no electrical outlets in an area where you need to plug in equipment. Pre-event meeting with staff can allow you to make sure everyone knows their role on game day! If the event is a very complicated one you may even consider having a dry run rehearsal. Thorough preparation is the key to throwing stunningly unforgettable events every time! Hiring and training a quality team is also paramount to your catering success!
Remember most party situations change from the time they are first being perceived and ordered to the actual day they are thrown. Keeping in constant contact with your client especially as the big day nears will help you cut down on the stress of managing last minute adjustments.
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PCMA – Professional Convention Management Association
The Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) is dedicated to professional convention management and advancing the meetings industry. Here is a resource for top-notch education tools and instruction for meeting planners, plus networking contacts for planning events, catering and much more… http://www.pcma.org/