BANQUET HALLS, MEETING PLACES, PARTY ROOMS!
TYPES OF BANQUET FACILITIES CATERERS CAN PARTNER WITH
By Stu Leventhal
There are many types of banquet halls, facilities with large rooms to rent and gathering spaces available for hosting celebrations and events. A caterer needs to make friends with the managers, owners and sales personnel of all of them. A new caterer should be sure to leave stacks of business cards and menus at all of the Traditional party and celebration venues and event location suppliers in all the towns in their territory. Some of the most popular types of party space venues include; hotel ball rooms, conference centers, wedding halls, museums, churches and other religious halls, city and community centers, schools, especially universities and colleges, libraries, mansions, yachts and large historic restored ships…
Many specialty groups and clubs also rent out their halls and large rooms to bring in extra money. For instance; VFW Halls, Moose lodges, YMCA’s, American Legions. Local Elks Lodges, Lions Clubs, Knight of Columbus Halls and the list goes on and on…
Let’s not forget the many charming outdoor gathering places with great views; private and public parks, swim and athletic clubs, large corporate lawns, historic estates, botanical gardens…
Outdoor events can be a unique, pleasant and affordable way of making any event or celebration standout and be quite memorable. Many parks and nature reserves have large gazebos or roofed areas for weather protection or you can rent and throw up some event tents in a field or large lawn area near an attractive setting like a lakeside. Just be sure you file for the proper permits, reserve the date of your event well in advance and know the policies on alcoholic beverages when necessary.
Once you have introduced yourself to all the managers and key personnel at all the obvious venues in the towns you wish to service who are in the actual business of hosting events then you should start to get creative. A smart, caterer who wants to be known as innovative will always have one eye open looking for structures and open spaces that could make a good place for a celebration or an impromptu meeting or gathering hall. Your imagination is what sets you apart with your menu planning and party theme ideas. Your imagination can also make a name for you as the innovative party location specialist among your colleagues. A caterer can really set one’s services apart by coming up with a list of unusual and unique party location options that no other caterers in your community have thought of using. But remember most unusual settings come with unusual problems that you must be able to overcome if you are going to throw a successful event there.
Unusual wedding locations are always in-vogue. What bride doesn’t want her wedding to be remembered as the most creative of the century! But, any event, even lame business meetings and training seminars can be spiced up and turned from boring and basic into the talk of the town for decades to come, simply by locating them at an interesting untraditional place that’s not usually thought of for throwing parties and events.
Take note of any historic buildings, older, large, lavish estates and mansions in your catering territory as well as unusually exotic looking terrains. When you get some free time, contact the owners, introduce yourself as a neighborhood caterer and ask to set up an appointment to talk about the possibility of your occasionally leasing out part or all of their premises for throwing an event. You will be surprised at how many will be thrilled at the opportunity to bring in some additional revenues. This truly is one area a caterer can excel at simply by keeping an open mind and putting one’s full imagination to use.
*Just about any building with a spare large room can be adopted then decorated and outfitted for throwing an event. Any equipment you need can be rented. But, first make sure the town’s zoning board allows for large gatherings with food and drink services, if drinking is going to be part of the festivities. If music is part of the agenda, make sure there are no ordinances prohibiting loud music. Also be sure to account for guest parking close to the party spot. Check if you have enough electrical outlets to plug in all your necessary equipment and if not, find out the price of renting a portable generator that is big enough to handle all the necessary power you will need.
Events staged on the beach or on top of a snow capped mountain range are certainly awesome magical backdrops for any celebration. Just remember when working outdoors, you need to be able to get the guests and everything else needed to and from the event. Again you will probably need to rent generators to run equipment on remote locations and rent bathrooms if there are none or not enough to handle your sized crowd.
A new caterer obviously would want to first concentrate marketing efforts on winning over the many clubs and organizations inside his operating territory that do not provide catering services themselves. You must visit and talk to the managers and owners directly if you wish them to recommend you for gigs. Explain your business thoroughly and leave plenty of marketing tools so they can show what you and your services are all about to their clients. You might want to consider setting up an incentive program like a commission so the people who run these organizations will be more likely to steer business your way than to your competitors.
Take notes on each venue’s features and gather stats and data so you are aware of everyone’s pricing and know the head count capacities each of their rooms can handle. What rooms have stages and dance floors? What furnishings come with the rooms? Do they have extra tables and chairs, place settings, table wares and glasses? Full buffet set up? Or, are you as the caterer supposed to supply everything? Do not assume anything. Each event venue will have their own rules of operation. You do not want to get caught having to pay for something that all along you assumed, came free.
Gather any promotional materials each venue has to offer so you can show your clients exactly what the rooms and grounds look like. Your clients are looking to you as an expert, so be prepared to recommend all the different options that are available to them. Ask for permission to come back on a different day to take a few photos of events in progress, so you can even better showcase their venue to your clients.
Usually the most popular banquet halls only allow pre-approved catering services the use of their facilities, meaning, one is not allowed to cook yourself or bring your own food in or even choose just any caterer to provide your meal who is not on the hall’s pre-approved list. They will say this is because they have a reputation to uphold but generally it is because the halls that are in constant demand have arrangements with the caterers they approve charging them a finder’s fee above the room rental charge which can be any number up to but usually not over about 10% of the total amount charged for the gig. Also, many of these exclusive venues will insist on being paid up front before they will reserve your time slot plus once a gig is booked there is no refund for their commission if your client decides to cancel. You will have to agree to play ball by each of their individual rules if you wish to get approved to work on their premises. You can of course and should pass the extra fees onto your customer. The good thing about being approved by all of the exclusive event venues is that your status will be raised in the eyes of many of the top party throwers, your event planning peers as well as clients.
Many halls require the renter or event host to use their designated in-house catering service because that is how they make most of their money. But, a suave non-house caterer can still attempt to do business with them by developing some exclusive party add-ons that the house caterer does not want to handle themselves and thus become the exception to the no outside food rule. You need to develop a show stopper; a delicious signature dessert, or very time consuming to make appetizer, a beautifully designed cake, a dazzling champagne fountain or an elaborate ice sculpture. The idea is not to worry about making money on these add-on gigs. The point for you is to offer something that steals the show that the house caterer cannot be bothered with doing himself and that the customers in your community, once they see photos of it, taste it themselves or hear about it, will insist on having it!
*Your sole reason for doing this is to gain a lot of word of mouth publicity for your company from the exclusive parties that someone else caters!
Done properly this technique requires developing a signature specialty service that is too costly or difficult for your competitors to attempt copying. This may require you to invest in a high priced piece of equipment that does not economically make sense for others to purchase so they can compete with you. You offer to supply your specialty to everyone in the event industry in your arena and supply marketing pieces for them to promote it to their clients. You also market it yourself so everyone knows about it. In this way, every time your signature item is included in an event, even if you are not the main caterer you gain access to a slew of clients many of which would otherwise have been well outside of your circle of influence and reach. It is one of the best methods I know of for promoting a catering business.
BANQUET HALLS (101)
OWNING MANAGING OR RENTING A BANQUET HALL THAT IS THE QUESTION
By Stu Leventhal
The question of buying or building a banquet facility usually comes up a few years after a catering business is thriving successfully. You are already doing all the hard work; cooking, setting up and serving, why not take all the money for the gig by opening up your own hall and meeting facility? You can build your dream kitchen with all the equipment and plenty of storage and prep space. Throwing the parties will obviously be so much easier, on your own premises. No more packing everything onto trucks, keeping all the hot foot hot and cold food cold during the trip, then unloading carrying in and setting up! You now just have to walk or wheel the food from your kitchen into the banquet room and it’s all done! Sounds great doesn’t it?
You will make more profit since you do not have to pay for vehicles and travel time and the food will be served piping hot straight from the oven to the plate so the customers will be pleased. There are certainly a lot of pluses for a caterer to consider owning and operating from their own banquet hall. But owning your own banquet hall is a big commitment and will assuredly involve a substantial investment of money thus making it a step that should not be attempted light heartedly. Without proper planning, adding a banquet hall could be a disaster that pulls down your whole catering business. At the least, it will be a game changer that affects every aspect of how you conduct your catering business.
The real question to consider is whether gaining sales and catering gigs will become easier if you own your own banquet hall or more difficult? The reason I say this is because the bulk of the money spent on a catered event is not made from the rental fee for the hall. One can negotiate very inexpensive prices for renting a hall from hotels especially if you book a party off season and off popular week days. The hotel industry plans on making most of their money on renting rooms for the event and on patrons spending their money in other areas of their facility like their bar and restaurant for breakfast the next day and other meals not covered by the event. The cost for a typical event room to serve 100 people is usually no more than a few hundred dollars but the food, drink and entertainment costs thousands of dollars! So the big bucks are not made from hall rentals.
In fact, there are huge catering companies, even national and international caterers who do millions of dollars in business a year, who do not own their own halls. The point is, the banquet hall is a separate business from the catering business and if you own both, you should run your hall as if it is a separate business from your catering operation if you want both to succeed. Otherwise, they will pull each other down or hold each other back.
There will be times when a customer wishes to rent your hall but supply their own food not through your catering operation. Perhaps the customer wants an ethnic meal that you are not familiar with preparing. For instance; authentic Indian dishes or a kosher menu. You will lose out on the dining room rental if you do not allow a competitor to cater part or all of those events. Meanwhile, the competing banquet halls in your neighborhood, that do not cater themselves, are trying to fill their rooms by networking with all the other caterers who are also competing with you. Can you see how this can make for a lot of alliances in your local industry forming against you?
Also remember, your dining hall will have a specific personality to it. It will have a certain look and feel, a limited size capacity, a certain ambiance or tone to it. Thus, it will attract a certain price bracket and probably a customer of a particular social status based on its look, the capacity of people the rooms can handle and the neighborhood it is situated in. Your catering operation will share that same personality by association. People will not look to you to cater events that are not in the same realm of the type of events that your banquet hall handles. Even though you still offer off premises catering, you may find you are losing out on the opportunities to bid on gigs that do not fit into the perceived type of gigs your banquet hall is associating you with and known for handling.
Before you consider taking such a big step, and commit such a large investment of time and money, let’s look closer at some more of the pros and cons for a caterer considering owning and operating their own banquet hall.
CONS FOR OWNING A BANQUET HALL
First of all, let’s not forget many, probably most, caterers chose to go into the catering business because of the low overhead and monetary investment needed to start up a catering company. Heck, many of us start by catering out of our homes using our own kitchens, ovens and refrigerators. Then we grow our business slowly. Becoming a property owner or renter is a big step in responsibility. Buying a banquet hall changes all that sense of freedom. You can no-longer just pack up the business and move it all to Florida. Your business will be tied down to a specific neighborhood now. You now have fixed expenses; a mortgage or rent, insurances, permit costs and licensing fees, utilities and maintenance costs that need to be covered each month even during the slow seasons. Yes, you can still cater off premise gigs too but the halls in your neighborhood are now your competitors instead of being your allies and partners!
If you have been doing your marketing properly then some of your business should have been coming from referrals from some of those halls who, now that you opened your own hall, have become your enemies so those sales must be replaced somehow. Plus, like I said, you do still have to fill your own hall a minimum amount of times per month just to pay expenses and make it cost efficient and worth owning and operating.
You now have the added cost and chore of marketing both your banquet facility as well as your catering business.
PROS FOR OWNING A BANQUET HALL
Your catering business will gain prestige and visibility just because you own your own banquet hall. You no longer have to share gig money with the locations owners of the events you cater. You can design and maintain your banquet rooms and premises exactly to your own specifications, wants and needs. You can design your kitchen specifically for your menus and have on hand all the equipment you need.
As owner of your own banquet hall, you have more clout for negotiating discounts or for developing partnerships with noncompeting services necessary for throwing a successful event such as; florists, bands and DJs, photographers and videographers. These discounts can be passed on to your clients or your partnerships can be leveraged in other ways to assure your clients are getting hard to compete with complete value package deals for their money. Customers love the convenience of being able to plan and buy the whole package from one coordinator, you! This will quickly turn into more word of mouth business for you at both the hall and catering levels.
During traditional slow weekdays and in the off catering seasons you can host your own events such as; dance parties and single night functions, karaoke night, comedy night, poetry night, open mike night, art shows and charity balls to bring in extra revenues.
The question of whether or not a caterer should open their own banquet hall really comes down to each caterer’s own preference and whether their community is already saturated with meeting rooms and party venues. A caterer will definitely gain notoriety by owning their own space but banquet halls are an expensive investment. The key to opening and operating a successful event hall is adequate research and preplanning. You need to buy or lease a lot of square footage as well as grounds to handle lots of parking. That is not going to come cheap!
Remember that people choose banquet halls because they are elegantly designed; nicer than their homes and work environments. That means you will have to sink some big money into designing and furnishing a competitively sharp looking establishment. Once you design your banquet hall you are stuck with that look and feel so you must really think about the type of events you will specialize in. What is the largest group of people you wish to be able to accommodate? Will you have one big room, or will you build a few rooms, so your establishment can handle booking two, three or more parties during the same day and time slot? Do you want to invest in a full stage area with high tech sound systems and lighting, permanent dance floors, built in bars, a specific ethnic theme? All these decisions will affect the types of gigs your banquet hall can host. In effect, these decisions will limit the size of the parties, social status and nature of the gigs your customers think of you as being able to service.