So here we are all set to cater, but how do you get customers? I had a slick PowerPoint presentation that I put together (my time in corporate wasn’t wasted) and I had what I thought was a good selection of food and fair pricing on my menu.
We did get one job, it was a friend of ours and though it was small it went well. From there it just sort of snowballed. People from each party we did would hire us for their parties. It was pretty easy actually, basically people were coming to us for jobs.
Our first year was an interesting one...
I say interesting as it was a learning year and we struggled a bit but got through it. I had what I thought was awesome training with cooking for the zillions of parties for the zillions of people over the years in my backyard, but nothing would have me ready what I was about to experience. One thing I have learned was that life might have a much different plan than what I had in mind.
You know the vision in my head has me busy and everything hum’s along smoothly. The reality of it was, controlled chaos on a good day for about 40% of our catering jobs.
You name it and it happened, more than once. The pit temp is all over the place for some reason, the meats are taking far too long to come up to temp, the wood is damp, forget to bring one of the completed foods, the customers changes things on the day I am cooking, getting cut like on every job, the list could go on for days trust me.
People always say you should write a book about your experiences so with that in mind I wrote down as much as I could when it happened. There was no way I could remember everything word for word if I didn’t. I am very happy that I did. What follows are actual conversations and things that happened while we catered.
One job that we had a hard time with was where I tried to cook Chicken, Hamburg’s and Hotdogs on one grill. Yea that didn’t work out well timing wise. This was the one and only job we served the food a little late. From that point on I made sure that we had the right equipment for the job. So I ordered up a 6 foot grill. Now I could cook everything at the same time. What made this party every more of a memory was this one woman. She had asked me to cook her veggie burger for her. But she didn’t want to have it cooked where I had cooked any meat.
I am saying to myself are you kidding me I have meat on everything I brought plus we were late serving and this woman wants me to stop and cook her veggie burger? Of course as much as we tried to hide the mess that this was turning out to be from everyone, it was clear we were not, what I would call, ready for this party.
So what did we do, Gina said take a weber chimney starter fill it up with charcoal. Lite the paper and when the coals get hot we put the one veggie burger in a fry pan and fried it up. In the mean time we had all we could do to wrap things up. What had saved us was the customer LOVED our food. They gave us a 200 tip. But we learned a lot that day. I revised the menu to be more of a manageable one for us. At least until we got used to catering.
Another customer we cooked a pig for. I was never a fan of cooking pigs. Not that they are hard they are very easy but I think you get more for your money buying butts, ribs etc separate. But that is my opinion. Anyway it was a very cold morning and the smoker was ice freaking cold. So I get the bright idea of lighting up the chimney starter and put in the fire box of the smoker. My thought was by the time we get the job the coals would be ready and being in the firebox maybe the smoker would be a little warmer. It takes hours to do a pig so not having to wait as long for the smoker to heat up would be nice.
So off Zach and I go, Zach half asleep and me running the timing of everything in my mind and hope to God it finishes on time. We back the rig up into the customer’s driveway and get out. The customer comes out and we start talking. While we are talking I open the door to the fire box and grab the chimney starter to dump the lit coals. Wow this was working out just as planned or so I had thought. I forgot about the handle of the chimney starter was made of hard plastic and was on fire when I opened the door. I try to get the coals out by picking the chimney starter up but when I did the plastic that was on fire plopped right onto the customer’s driveway.
So I look down and I had a little fire on their driveway all the while Zach is talking with them and I think how lucky am I the customer hasn’t seen it yet. So I step on it to put it out, yea not going to work all that did was take the fire off of the driveway and was now my sneaker was on fire. Now I didn’t want to look like a complete idiot but let’s face it here it was a little after 5 am in some guy’s driveway with my sneaker on fire, that ship sailed long time ago. So, I drag my sneaker on his driveway and now I have a streak of about a foot of fire on his driveway to my sneaker.
I was like WTF you have got to be kidding me, so stupid me takes my other foot to stomp out the little fire on his driveway. What are the chances of my other sneaker catching on fire, pretty good apparently. So now I am standing there with both sneakers on fire. I was like really? Then just like that the fire went out. All of this happened within a few seconds but seemed a lot longer. Still don’t know if the customer saw it but I didn’t hear anything from him. He had to have seen it, unless he was blind. Maybe he felt bad for me. LOL
We did another job that raised dogs. Not big dogs, little dogs, cute little dogs. All were small except for one and he was friendly I was playing with it in the house. By now we had pretty much had everything down to a science. All was on time and going along smoothly until I go to put the beans into the warmer in the back of the smoker. The hotel pan buckles in the middle dumping the beans on their driveway. We didn’t have any of the ingredients to make more, so Zach and Gina go to the store and I start to clean up the mess I had made.
While they were gone the dog that I had made friends with strolls by and as if my day wasn’t bad enough, bites me on my leg. Not just a nip I had to shake my leg to get the dog off. I look at my leg and it looks like a vampire got me. I was assured the dog had all of its shots but I still wasn’t all that happy. So now what do I do stop everything and go to the hospital or keep going? I kept going and prayed for the best. About this time Gina and Zach are back and they see me limping and asked what happened so I told them a dog bit me. At first, they thought I was joking, but when I showed them my leg they started to laugh.
I had one customer tell me that they are going with another caterer as they were cheaper I asked by how much they said 50.00 so I said ok thank you and hope it all goes well for you. A lot of people try to get me to lower my price by saying another caterer was cheaper and can I match it. I know the value of my work and the quality of my food. I don’t change my price it is what it is. It was important that I treat everyone fair and the same.
Low and behold the day of the party I get a call from the woman all frantic saying that the caterer never showed up or called. Can I do it? I told her no I was in another state, which was the truth. She proceeds to rant and I cut her off and say that I am sorry but I wasn’t the caterer you scheduled. But hey look on the bright side you would have saved 50 bucks…. if he showed up……click…dial tone she hung up. Sometimes there is a reason people are cheaper.
I have a ton of stories but don’t want to create the longest post ever.
Here are samples of actual things said to me.
1. Customer: Buying more will cost you less so my price should come down.
Me: (Trying not to laugh) When you go to the store and buy 2 packs of rolls then change it to 4 packs do they cost more or do they cost less?
Customer: More of course but that is different.
Me: How is that different?
Customer: I don’t know it just is.
2. Customer: I have a few 13 year olds coming do I have to pay for them as well?
Me: Will they be eating?
Me: Then yes
Me: Am understanding this correct, you would like for me to buy food only to give it to you for free?
Customer: Not me, the 13-year old’s.
Me: Lost for words.
3. Customer: I am having a party what can I get for 10/ head?
Customer: I know how catering works the more you make the cheaper it is.
Me: Have you owned or worked for a catering company before?
Me: You are not even close to being correct.
Customer: So what can I get for 10/head?
4. Customer: Do you do Hotdogs and Hamburg’s?
Me: Yes we do
Customer: Great how much for 10 people?
Me: We need a minimum of 50 people for that kind of job.
Customer: I only have 10 how much?
Me: We can’t do only 10 people we need at least 50 people.
Customer: But I only have 10 people. What do I do?
Me: It is only 10 people you can, and I am just spit balling here, cook them yourself.
Customer: (has his hand over the receiver of the phone and says to his wife I assume) He will only do 50 people not 10 I told you 10 was too small. Ok I will ask him. Takes his hand off of the receiver. My wife wants to know if we pay you in cash if you will do it.
Me: No I really have to go sorry and good luck hope you find someone.
Customer: What if it was 12 people?
Me: Thinking why did I start this business? LOL
5. Customer: Another caterer is coming in way cheaper than you can I match it? It was…
Me: As I interrupt her no I won’t match it.
Customer: You don’t even know how much cheaper.
Me: I don’t need to know I don’t change my prices. I think I am more than fair at my prices.
Customer: hand over the phone but I still can faintly hear He didn’t go for it what now? The rest I couldn’t make out. She gets back on.
Me: Sorry we can’t come to an agreement. Thank you have a good day.
Customer: Wait how much will you come down then?
Me: My price is what it is.
Our Menu (Understand I send my menu and pricing to these people before our conversation.)
1. Customer: I am having a wedding rehearsal dinner can you do a goat?
Me: That is not on my menu, so no.
Customer: Ok I will take the 3 meat option with 2 sides. I will have the chicken, pulled pork and ribs. Sides would be cornbread and beans.
Me: Ok not a problem.
Customer: Can you do a goat?
Me: (thinking what is up with this guy and a goat) That is not on my menu so no.
Customer: What if I bought the goat?
Me: We don’t do goats.
Customer: You should have just told me that from the beginning.
Me: Lost for words.
2. Customer: I will want ziti, lemon chicken, cob salad, eggplant….
Me: Excuse me but that food is not on my menu.
Customer: So, this is the food I would like I don’t like BBQ and you are a caterer aren’t you?
Me: You might want to go with a different caterer.
3. Customer: After reviewing your menu you are very heavy in BBQ is there something else you offer?
Me: That is what I offer. Nothing else. Our name has BBQ in it so I don’t think I was misleading you.
Customer: I just thought you did other things and not as much BBQ.
Me: I have to ask why you would think we wouldn’t be doing as much BBQ when our name is Zach and Lou’s Barbeque.
Customer: Click….. dial tone…she hung up.
4. I forgot to bring a can opener, so I ask the customer if I can use theirs to open one can of beans. She proceeds to throw it off the porch and it hit the ground and the handle breaks. I was still able to use it but when I gave it back to the customer I was told that I must pay for the can opener, so I gave them 10.00 for it. The customer was questioning the actual price of the can opener and didn’t think 10 was enough. Mind you they had a Ferrari in the driveway. So, I go pull out my phone and go on Amazon and it was only 7 bucks, so I asked for 3 back.
5. I had one customer, so hell bent that we were shorting him that he was counting each piece of chicken I had cooked for his party. Of course, he found that I had cooked more but still it was strange watching this guy carry on about how caterers always screw the customer.
1. Customer: Do you have insurance?
Customer: How much is your coverage and for what illnesses?
Me: We are booked on your date sorry.
2. Customer: I have a few vegetarians on my guest list what do I do for them?
Me: Don’t invite them
3. Customer: Can I have your pulled pork recipe?
Me: No it is like intellectual property, can’t do it.
Customer: I am not asking you for property I am asking you for your pulled pork recipe.
4. Customer: Is your price per head?
Customer: So what happens if I pay you for 50 people and they don’t eat all of the food?
Me: I bring to-go containers for everyone so that they can take it home.
Customer: Will I still be expected to pay for the uneaten food or will you give me some money back?
Me: You are expected to pay.
Customer: Well that doesn’t seem fair at all.
Me: What was your date again?
Me: I’m sorry we are booked that day, my son just told me.
5. People try to get me to cook extra food that they brought the day of the party thinking that while I have the smoker and grill hot and can just throw their food on. It is a slick way of trying to get me to cook for free.
6. Customer: Do you raise and kill your own pigs?
Customer: Why not?
Me: Not worth for us to do it besides wouldn’t know how if we could.
Customer: So you don’t know anything about this pig you are cooking?
Me: I know it is dead.
Customer: Obviously, but I don’t feel comfortable eating it.
Me: It has a USDA label on it.
Me: How do eat anything just curious.
Customer: This conversation is boring me.
Me: Now you know how I feel.
7. While lighting the sterno the tip of the torch got sterno on it and when Zach turned it on it blows lit sterno on the table cloth.
8. Customer: I know exactly how you catering guys work so no funny business with the pricing.
Me: Not a problem my prices are right there for you to see.
Customer: Ok then time to negotiate then.
Me: Maybe you misunderstood me, those are my prices not much more to go over.
Customer: What do you mean? We must settle on how much you are going to charge me and what do you give for free?
Me: I don’t change my prices for anyone they are what they are. I don’t give anything away for free.
Customer: That doesn’t sound right. How do you negotiate catering jobs then?
Me: I give the customer my price list and they know what to pay, pretty easy actually.
Customer: Say I wanted to hire you, but your price was not in my budget, do you come down?
Me: I can adjust the amount of food to meet your budget if you like to see what that looks like.
Customer: I want everyone to have a little of something, so you must come down in your pricing.
Me: That is my pricing sorry.
Customer: You are never going to get any business with these negotiation skills.
Me: to myself OMG how do I get out of here?
9. Customer: If you must go to the bathroom you will have to go outside, we don’t want mud tracked into the house.
Me to Zach: I guess all of the party guests that were walking in the mud have to go outside as well? Laughing.
A little while later guests were going to the bathroom behind the shed in their back yard.
10. Customer: Can you throw in plates and utensils for free?
Me: No I am sorry can’t do that.
Customer: Caterers always throw in something for free.
Me: I don’t.
Customer: Why not how much could they cost you anyway?
Me: That is the point exactly, I have to pay for them they are not free to me.
Customer: How do you get jobs without working with people?
Me: How long would I stay in business if I gave things away for free?
Customer: How the hell would I know?
Me: I just laughed.
11. Customer: (pointing up this monster bank) Can you get your smoker up here?
Me: It's a smoker not a mountain goat.
Customer: Laughing says you are one funny son of a bitch I give you that.
End of part 4 Next up our vending experience and I would think that you would be very surprised as to how we started that side of our business up back then.