One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is, “Why am I not doing more business? My catering volume seems to be stuck at (for example) $400,000 and no matter what I do, sales just do not increase.” This invariably leads to a wide-ranging discussion about expanded menus, market awareness, advertising, social media presence and more. The actual answer to this question, however, is a lot easier. The real reason that your sales are not increasing could be you!
Are You Ready?
As my company was growing, I was faced with a time-off dilemma. Since our business was mostly corporate, Monday through Friday was a busy time. If we added some weekend events, I would just work seven days per week--something I’m sure you have experienced.
One year in May our oldest son was due to graduate from an out of state university. This was a big deal, and there was no way I was missing it. The problem was that I would have to leave on a Thursday night and miss Friday’s business. Since at that time I had a hand in EVERY catering order that left our kitchen, and because I had not yet even considered training anyone to take my place, I had to figure how the Friday food would get out without me.
I Wanted a Slow Day!
My solution was to ask our favorite server--a highly competent person who would find us extra help when we had an event that needed more staff--if she could work that Friday and supervise the kitchen. We were doing about $600,000 annually at the time and Fridays were notoriously slower, so for once I was hoping we would have a slow day with only a small amount of orders.
She Said OK
Jenny was happy to oblige, and on Wednesday I started prepping her for Friday’s business. We had five orders at the time, and I exquisitely choreographed Jenny’s every move. On Thursday morning two more orders were called in; I rationalized that this day would still work and I left to get a haircut. Since I had at least 10 tasks still hanging, I had allocated exactly 40 minutes for my haircut including travel to the barbershop--and please note that I didn’t say salon as that didn’t happen for a few years.
I arrived at the barber’s place and he was running behind a half hour. I was so busy that I wouldn’t wait, and I drove back to the kitchen and knocked two more things off my list; I then went back to get my hair cut. Of course another two orders came in, and now the Friday that would have been slightly busy for me was now going to be extremely challenging for Jenny.
I Still Got on the Plane
Regardless of my insecurities--since I was well aware that if something could go wrong it might--I left on Thursday night. I tried to avoid contacting Jenny until after lunch on Friday, but a cell phone call from a slightly agitated customer wondering where his food was sort of interrupted my self-imposed relaxation time at the hotel pool. After a quick call to Jenny I had heard the whole sad, sad story:
“Well, another order came in this morning. I got my husband Bill to deliver it, but he locked his keys in the car with the food. I had burnt two lasagnas but I scraped them out of the pans and they were OK, but that took a little while so by the time I got out to Bill’s car we were a few minutes late. Everything’s OK though, so you have a relaxing time and don’t worry about anything.” (!)
What I Learned
After a follow-up phone call to the previously worried customer and following a conversation with Jenny I was able to ascertain that no real damage had been done. I quickly understood however, that if I was ever going to be ready for prime-time, I had lots of work to do. I realized that not being ready to leave my kitchen for even one day was negatively influencing the way my employees, current and potential customers, and even vendors were perceiving my business. Next time I’ll explain the impression I was presenting, and what I did to alter the misguided perceptions that I had created.
Let me know if you have any questions or comments!
Contributor, The Corporate Caterer