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Tell me your stories

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
I'm very new to the catering world. I just got all my business licenses and am ready to start promoting myself. Would others like to share their own business stories and help motivate me? I'd love to hear how you got started, how you promoted, nightmares, big breaks, etc.! I'd especially like to hear how you promoted your business and ideas on how get people to hire the new guy rather than the established businesses. Thanks for any and all advice.
Is there such a thing as Queen
of the Grill? Why do men only
get a royal title over the
barbeque? I should be queen.
Girls like to play with fire too.
Reply
Is there such a thing as Queen
of the Grill? Why do men only
get a royal title over the
barbeque? I should be queen.
Girls like to play with fire too.
Reply
post #2 of 14
I'm hoping people are just too busy to answer, and not just ignoring yoru question. I'm not in the catering biz, but I'm interested too.
Life without broccoli isn't really life, is it?
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Life without broccoli isn't really life, is it?
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post #3 of 14
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the post ricib! I was starting to get a little discouraged! :(
Is there such a thing as Queen
of the Grill? Why do men only
get a royal title over the
barbeque? I should be queen.
Girls like to play with fire too.
Reply
Is there such a thing as Queen
of the Grill? Why do men only
get a royal title over the
barbeque? I should be queen.
Girls like to play with fire too.
Reply
post #4 of 14
I can share a bit about what I experienced and some what not to do's perhaps, based on what I saw at the restaurant where I worked recently. They ahve a restaurant side, and a banquet/catering side, so I saw everything good and bad.

#1 - first and foremost, IF you hire people, make sure you can trust them to treat the people they are working with or "above", right. Don't hire someone who will he a harda55 24/7. There's such a thing as treating people like humans, not incompitents, when in reality, the person in charge of them may be the incompitent one. (The person who was "kitchen manager" for that side, was old and bitter. Always right, especially when she was wrong. And that was often. Often cursing people out for no reason, thinking it was motivating them, instead of making them hate her).

#2 - Hiring family and friends is ok, IF you are confident they won't screw things up. Don't be giving them out of this world wages to help. Not at first anyway. You need to make money too. I've seen people pay $12.50 an hour and make nothing or lose money, while they "help" walked out with a smile on their face, for the money made.

That said...
#3. - NEVER EVER think of or treat the people you hire (if you do), as just plain hired help. (common sense, but some people don't have even that).

#4 - Don't be afraid to make friends with other caterers, especially if you have different specialties. You never know when you might be able to help each other out. It's never bad having many contacts sometimes.

and lastly...
#5 - Be careful. You may think you have everything under control, but chances are, you might not.

Hope this helps.
Life without broccoli isn't really life, is it?
Reply
Life without broccoli isn't really life, is it?
Reply
post #5 of 14
Not to be discouraged Jenni Belle...

The business is so versatile and many people start in a variety of ways, when I first started my Personal Chef/Catering Business I was the guy from Flyer HE**---

In the gyms, supermarkets, cars you name it, if I could run off a hundred flyers and bribe my daughter or a couple neighborhood kids to go desecrate shop windows or bulletin boards with my flyers I took advantage of it.

Now I have a few websites that showcase my work, although my personal chef website needs a serious facelift because I have been sidetracked with RestaurantEdge and a million other projects.

When I first started it was just to bring more money in for my family, not really as a business, but just some extra weekend cash, word got out that I would cook whatever anyone wanted, put it in your fridge, give you heating directions and go away, it kinda caught on, but not so well that neither I nor my late wife could quit our jobs. I think that if we had the capital to sink into the business we could have made a decent run at it, but I let that boat pass...

Eventually, I started doing cooking classes and then that was when we started getting busy and making a good hunk of cash in a short period of time, my personality and passion for food along with my Jamie's pretty face and gift of gab was a winner...

In the past few years I have kept my functions pretty exclusive and do not market, nor seek work anymore, I run a large catering company in Knoxville,TN and if the work comes my way without conflicting interests in my primary job I pretty much will investigate it, but I really don't go out on the limb for them anymore...

So tell me specifically what you are looking to do...what kind of liscenses did you purchase? What is your experience in the field? Are you looking for more a marketing/administrative type guidance or a back of the house guidance? blah, blah, blah....

Gimme more, gimme more, gimme more
(and pass me another croissant please)

Peace, Hugs and Ben Franklin's face on money,
Cheffy
Trying to make a difference one palate at a time...

Want some more Cheffy Babbles????????
Cheffy's Blog
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Trying to make a difference one palate at a time...

Want some more Cheffy Babbles????????
Cheffy's Blog
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post #6 of 14
Thread Starter 
Thanks for replying Cheffy,

Where to start.......I like to design my own menus based on the event or function. I don't think every party deserves the same menu, and there's really no other caterers in my town that offer that type of service. Most of them have a very specific and very small menu to choose from. My philosophy is that for their party to feel special, their food should be special because nothing makes us happy like food can and does.

Now, about myself, I particularly like to make Hors D'oeurves and I love to barbeque. I have quite a mobile barbeque setup. But I can cook just about anything anyone requests.

As for my licenses, I have my state and city tax licenses, my health department license and a temporary event license from the HD as well so that I can cook as festivals and outdoor events. The kitchen I cook out of belongs to a friend of mine who owns a small pastry shop. She lets me use her facility free of charge as I have yet to use it very often. (At least at the time being!)

As for experience....well, I'm quite the kitchen virgin. hehehe...:D I've never worked in a professional kitchen before. I have had several jobs so far this year that have gone off beautifully. My first job was a sit down, 4 course dinner for 40 that went swimmingly. I have also done a couple of summer bbq's for 300+ that went very well. And just recently, I did a small simple but elegant wedding reception for 35 that consisted of heavy Hors D'oeurves.

I think I have the food prep and the likes under control, but what I'd really like help on is advertising. My town doesn't have a ton of caterers, but what we do have, well, they quite well known. How do I convince people to hire me over the other guy? How can I advertise on a small budget? I don't have a lot of income to be able to afford a big ad in the phone book, etc. etc. And I know that the quality of my food speaks for itself, but I guess I'm just looking for ideas....well, I don't really know what I'm looking for! :p I guess I just want encouragment! Plus, how do I manage to bring my business to life while I'm working a 40+ hour a week job on top of it?!?! I mean, I'm use to working a lot of jobs, I always have, but how can I really push my business without burning myself out. I don't really want to leave my real job until I'm making enough income with my new venture. I don't want and can't afford to dive right in.....I want a transistion from one to the next. Do you know what I'm talking about?

I hope that wasn't too confusing. And btw, I love your websites.

~Jenni
Is there such a thing as Queen
of the Grill? Why do men only
get a royal title over the
barbeque? I should be queen.
Girls like to play with fire too.
Reply
Is there such a thing as Queen
of the Grill? Why do men only
get a royal title over the
barbeque? I should be queen.
Girls like to play with fire too.
Reply
post #7 of 14

Catering golden rules

Started this catering biz with my wife back in '97, got a cheap little deli with an oversized kitchen and started from there.

You have to be like water: That is, you have to cover all of the gaps, cracks, voids, and shipwrecks while presenting a peacefull, serene surface.

Cooking skill is taken for granted, but management skills and salesmanship are more important: Who's gonna buy your services if they don't know about you, or if you can't provide a quote?

Find your niche and stick to it, because if you don't you'll be competeing with everyone else, in terms of price and quality, and your troubles will snowball...

Always use a contract, with all the information on it, make sure your customer signs it before you even start to purchase coffee creamers...

Never take on a partner after you start up, never accept a partnership in a mature business, and remember each employee is a potential asset as well as a potetential liability...

Never purchase from only one supplier/purveyor, always keep a second one in active, and always buy as good as you can afford.

And never be late....
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
Reply
post #8 of 14
Jenni Belle,

Hi, I have the same aspirations as you; however, I'm not a point in my career where I can "start anew". That being so, I do have a few questions. I love to cook BBQ, and have been told that my pulled pork is top-dollar. How do you cook yours? How many ppl do you normally feed? I would like to start an outdoor-cooking catering outfit in the next 5-10 years.
post #9 of 14
Thread Starter 
Thanks for asking captruss. I don't mind sharing. For my pulled pork, I like to use a loin instead of a shoulder or butt. I just like the texture of the meat better...and my customers notice as well. First I sear it on the grill and then slow cook it in the oven with a little of my homemade BBQ sauce for 5+ hours. After it has cooled somewhat, I shred it and then completely drench it in sauce. After that, I simmer the meat a little bit more so that it fully takes in all that delicious sauce.

As for the number of people I feed, this New Year's I will be serving my largest dinner for 100 people. I normally feed anywhere from 10 to 40 people at a time. I'm comfortable fixing food for that many people by myself. Too much more than that (like the New Year's party) and I have to hire some help.
Is there such a thing as Queen
of the Grill? Why do men only
get a royal title over the
barbeque? I should be queen.
Girls like to play with fire too.
Reply
Is there such a thing as Queen
of the Grill? Why do men only
get a royal title over the
barbeque? I should be queen.
Girls like to play with fire too.
Reply
post #10 of 14

Pulled Pork

When I did a pulled pork lunch for about 80, I used 54 lbs of pork butt. Brined 'em on Friday night. Dried' em and rubbed 'em early Saturday and smoked them from about 8 a.m. to a bit before midnight on two portable pits with offset fire boxes. (Apple and bit of oak.) Pulled 'em that night. Next morning, I added sauce and reheated for service at lunch.

Served it on fresh rolls, with a vinegary slaw, fresh cornbread, green salad (spring mix and spinach, with apples, melons and craisons) and brownies. Very little in the way of leftovers.
post #11 of 14
Do ya'll cook your BBQ over gas or charcoal? Wood/propane combo or wood/charcoal? I don't use propane because I can taste a difference in the outcome. I prefer to cook only bone-in boston butts vs. the whole hog. I don't like mixing cuts of meat that finish at different temps. I've found it makes the meat "mushier" and gives it a bland taste. I make my own sauces, but never drench the meat. I want my guests to taste the pecan and apple in the meat, not tomato sauce and sugar.

That being said, I can assemble an "army" of ceramic smokers that could smoke enough pork butt to feed 50 or so people. To me, if it ain't "low and slow", then it ain't BBQ. But I also have the competition BBQ mindset, where you are judged on taste, presentation, moisture, etc. How feasible is it to start a catering rig using just charcoal smokers? I can either operate out of my home (garage/shop) or rent a small building.

Down the road, my plan is to buy an Oyler pit that could cook up to 1,000 lbs of meat with rotating racks over wood burning heat.
post #12 of 14
My husband and I just recently went to Tennessee and purchased a 22' catering trailer. The trailer hauls an Ole' Hickory Pit that has 60 square feet of cooking space using a rotissere system. The Pit, itself, can run off propane or wood fuel (typically apple, pecan and oak) or a combination of propane and wood. If front of the smoker/oven is a 12 foot kitchen.

We are in the process of upgrading the kitchen to conform with California (Los Angeles County) health department laws so we can obtain a "Perminent" permit. However, right now the rig is legal for "street" events, and we have all the appropriate licenses and resale permits.

The reason why we got this rig is that we compete in California and Nevada BBQ Competitions. You can't use propane during competitions, so the ability to use strictly wood is great. But for catering, not everyone wants a BBQ menu, so the pit allows me to use it like a convection oven.

Getting off the ground is the hardest part. I do several things to promote the business. First, talk to people and let them know you cater. I network with other caterers. Most of the caters I network with only do BBQ or can only cook for up to 250 people. So whenever they have a larger event they call us to either help or to do the job. Because we do more than BBQ, if these caterers get a call for something other than BBQ, they refer them to us.

Put up a website. You may not get a lot of jobs right off the bat from it, but as your business grows, it's a good way to separate those that are really interested from those "just" looking.

Check with local schools, church groups and the like for fundraising events. With the rig we can easily cook for up to 1,000 depending on the menu. Our last event was for 1,000 for a fundraiser for my daughter's school. I sold the menu based on cost-per-plate and then gave them a "suggested" price per plate. The difference was the amount they raised for the fundraiser.

Do "food" tastings to entice clients from the "other guy". Or send out gift baskets to companies you know the "other guy" caters for filled with some desserts, appetizers, or snacks that you would fix at an event. We give out gift baskets with smoked cheese, smoked nuts, and roasted garlic stuffed in green olives that I make myself. Sometimes I include ingredients from a recipe that I have developed along with the recipe. I then label everything with our company name and some greeting, like "Happy Holidays" from "our company name".

I would also check with Rotary Clubs, Lions, Shriners, etc.. Usually they hold fundraisers. My sister went to a fundraiser for the Rotary Club in Newport Beach. Tickets were $125.00 each of which $80.00 went to the caterer. This year I am going to bid on the job! She said the food was mediocre. Mine isn't and I can beat the price, even with items like king crab, prime rib, and filet mignon.

Keep us posted on how you're doing. I know I am always looking for ways to get people to taste my food in hopes of getting that next job!
Pam Gram
The Pit Stop BBQ
"Catering to Your Needs!"
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Pam Gram
The Pit Stop BBQ
"Catering to Your Needs!"
Reply
post #13 of 14
Pam,
Very Cool.
Can we get a link to you site. I would love to see this rig.
Pan
FOR YEARS I LIVED TO WORK! NOW I WORK TO LIVE!
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FOR YEARS I LIVED TO WORK! NOW I WORK TO LIVE!
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post #14 of 14
http://thepitstopbbq.com

I need to do some updating to the site, but I've been busy with my other website clients, mine always seems to get pushed to the back burner. ;)
Pam Gram
The Pit Stop BBQ
"Catering to Your Needs!"
Reply
Pam Gram
The Pit Stop BBQ
"Catering to Your Needs!"
Reply
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