For those of you who are just beginning their catering journey, or for those who have been delivering food for years, I wanted to share the story of a small but dear-to-my-heart event I was able to land during the holiday season in our very early years.
Supposed to be Great
After an OK year of picnic catering, I was looking forward to the holiday season for some solid cash flow. Exactly where it was going to come from was unclear, and in retrospect, it should have been more obvious to us that so early in the game we might have a lean season. We did score a few events, but right around Christmas we didn’t have much to do, and honestly, we had bills to pay and cash was a problem.
We received the following inquiry from a department store manager. Today, the guy reminds me of John Ritter in Bad Santa.
Him: On the day after Christmas I always get a long line of customers who want to return gifts, and I want to give them a free beverage to help make them comfortable as they wait.
Me: Sure, we can do that! What are you thinking for beverages?
Him: Soda and water.
Me: Consider it done. Would a cost to you of $1.00 per beverage be acceptable?
Him: I guess so.
Me: OK, let’s figure out the details.
I knew I could buy junk soda and cheap bottled water at Sam’s Club for about 15 cents per unit. I also knew that if I did the job myself—I decided to take my 13-year-old son with as a helper—we could actually make 85 cents per guest.
It’s Not That Hard to Give Away Free Stuff
Armed with a few cases of product, we arrived at the store with a table and a plastic cloth. The line started forming, and we began to give stuff away. Actually, we encouraged the store customers to take a few bottles or cans, because the cash register in my head was already calculating.
After a good hour of, “would you like a free beverage?” I had to run back to Sam’s Club to buy more supplies.
The manager would walk by every now and then, and ask how things were going. He seemed to get a little more nervous each time. Finally, after a couple of hours he called us into the office and asked how many units we had given away. I honestly replied, “367,” and asked if we should keep going. He quickly said, “No! Please, no more! I’ll write you a check right now and then you should leave.”
That was fine with me because I had a net profit of about $300 in my pocket that I didn’t have earlier that day.
What This Means
I’m telling you this story because it was jobs like this that made me understand there was business out there if you were willing to find it, take it, and do it. It wasn’t glamorous, it certainly wasn’t a lot of money, it was a low-level job, but it allowed us to keep the doors open. I was happy that my son and I were able to turn what would have been a zero-dollar day into a profitable one, and it made me feel like something good could happen. Eventually, after years of work, it did, and we sold our business as it passed the $1.2 million mark.
I never did forget where I came from, and I learned to always respect every job—no matter how pedestrian it might be. $20,000 cocktail parties and box lunch orders for 10 guests were all treated with the same care and respect. Hope you have a great catering week!