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Compromising Quality

post #1 of 33
Thread Starter 
My partner and I opened a catering business a little over a year ago. It has been very successful thus far. Highs and Lows, but that is to be expected. August was a fairly slow month for us, so when an opportunity arose we jumped on it. Now, we question whether it was the right thing. I would like to get your opinions.

Here is the issue:
A local factory contacted us to send them a quote for a steak dinner for their 600 employees. We started high... giving them an excellent cut of meat. Obviously, they didn't want to wine and dine 600 people.. they just wanted to say a little "thanks"... They came back and asked if we could get the price b/w $10-$11 per plate :eek: Well... we contacted our supplier and they told us that there is a rib eye available, but they wouldn't recommend it, no one ever orders it... but it would fall within their budget. We contacted the factory to let them know and EXPLAINED to them about the cut of meat we would have to get. When we received the meat, it just didn't look good, didn't cook up very good... it was just plain BLAH. We put the typical spices on it... afterall, a good cut of meat really only needs salt and pepper. But from the looks of the meat... we ended up doctoring it up a bit adding garlic etc... It tasted "okay" but was certainally not the norm of what we are used to preparing. The factory didn't say anything "bad" about it necessarily, but we didn't get our usual ewws and ahhss. We now question whether or not we should have accepted the job at all. Our typical clientele certainly knows what it costs to get a good steak and aren't afraid to spend it.

What do you tell a client that gives you such a stricked budget and wants the world? Do you risk your name and compromise your quality. I say no way... Lesson learned... move on. How do you politely say "no" to a potential client?

Thanks for any feedback!!
post #2 of 33
What do you mean how do you say no? There's no such thing. To put it in another way, there's is nothing worse than having someone stand at the door with $6k in their hand and you have nothing to sell! Cummon! These guys contacted you!

There's always a compromise and you can always figure out something. Did the client want steak specifically, or did it have to be beef? Did it have to be traditional salad first, then meat/veg/starch, then dessert?

You can cut back on servers, you can have them provide cake for dessert, you could incorporate the beef in a different way, pot pie, a carved entree item or chicken/beef combo. Lots of things, but you know that already.
post #3 of 33
Thread Starter 
I hear what you are saying... trust me. But they specifically wanted steak... we offered several other options that would feed a crowd and easily meet their budget. Forunately, we didn't have to serve, we only delivered it. The factory was 20 minutes away from our kitchen...And we had to deliver in three separate shifts... including the grave yard... So needless to say... I'm working on 3 hours of sleep in a 23 hour period. But, you do what you have to.

Thanks for the input!
post #4 of 33
kuan, you're working to hard lately. :o
That's a question that you will encounter many times during the first few years. After you have built your clientel to a point where the income is pretty steady then you can start building your box. Then the challenge is to stay within that box.
Keeping in mind statistics show that, if someone has a good experience, they will tell approx. 8 people. If a person has a bad experience, they will tell 18 people.
Start to build your box now. Gather resources locally to refer people to. If you're in a compramising position like that and you want to say no, then guide them to someone who does that sort of business . 9 times out of 10 the experience will bring them back.
I've never believed in advertising for business. There is nothing better then word of mouth. You have to look at those 600 persons as your advertisers.
I know this is contradicting what will probably be posted to your question, but if your in it for the long haul, you really need to build a tradition.
I've gotten our box to the point where we only do business and delivery in a 12 mile radius of our retail shop. If the customer asks for something a little lower end, we then hand them a list of places to try and give them a little background on each. A good referal is always better then a no. We also do this for some of the higher end labor intensive detail work. It works really well.
These are just my opinions. But I can tell you, I made mistakes in the beginning, and each time I went outside the box, it came back to haunt me.
Well, that's my 2 cents :D
Good luck in your business,
post #5 of 33
This just came up for me this week....I've bid on a 200 (50 kids) person wedding ($60pp not including the $2000 room rental). After the menu went out they wanted Starbucks decaf and reg....I bid on a coffee, hot chocolate bar with liquors, syrups, whipped cream and marshmellows....basically a premium station ($8.50per adult). They came back with wanting a real basic setup for $1.50.....I said sure...but will go with a coco mix, no liquors, no syrups, no fruffy extras......just coffee, coco, 1/2 & 1/2, skim, sugar and sweetner.
It never dawned on me that someone would want to drink instant coco....they are dropping over $14000 on this event.

* I did a vegan reception, on a nominal budget.....they had 4 different salads and rolls. Happy Campers and easy money.....apparently noone else in town wanted to even work with the couple.

Poor quality meat....usually when I've got a budget party I can talk them into lower priced stuff...hummos, pasta, veg, stews, etc so it's not been a compromise in product quality per se but in what I make.
Tough when the bills are due and they have ready cash. I empathize.
Several catering companies in town have 2 bus names....one for high end the other name for the budget biz. Makes sense in a weird way.
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #6 of 33
Its tough.

They want cheap QUANTITY food.

ID explain it to them(as yo u did) and be like this meat is NOT reccmended its plain and not the best. But its stil cookable so if they still say yes.

I would've served it to them
post #7 of 33
I am pretty much falling suit with everyone else...

No is not a word when you are new and 6-8 grand is knocking on your door sayin' "Can ya? huh?"

Instead of going into all of the varaibles-
If a ribeye is cleaned correctly and your marinate the living heck out of it, it is pretty hard to go wrong with proper cooking techniques.

Although very labor intensive, no matter what way you look at it you are still going to have to clean and cut around 50 loins (give or take depending on the size of your cut) if I was unhappy with the quality of the meat, I would clean and cut my product and mainate the living heck out of them or I would long marinate the loin and slow roast them and suggest a prime rib instead of a ribeye---my two cents

Back to the question at large...

Did someone follow up with the company rep and ask about the event, the follow up post event is just as important as the litigation of the event itself and should always be the last step before closing a book on an event...if they weren't happy then why? if they were then Why? was there anything you could have done better and if so, what and why?

It may not have been the food, it may have the service, the overall presentation, food temperatures or maybe some other component of the event was at fault.

Our job is to develop and execute systems that we develop/tweek to make it an overall enjoyable experience for all people involved from your steward that has to be there until 2 in the morning cleaning dishes to the customer themselves.

At the completion of every event I analyze every system that was in place in the event and ask myself, staff, peers and customers "How could I have made this better?" And I do a lot of volume catering (around 10 mill a year), and sometimes I am forced to work with crap but I depend on my own expertise along with that of my staff and peers to make sure that we take the garbage we are sometimes forced to serve and make it the best piece of crap you ever got for ten bucks a plate.

I wrote a pretty cool article on Systems In The Workplace that you may enjoy, if you want I can email you the link or post it here...

This is a good thread because I face this dilemma daily, maybe not in your aspect but I deal with it all the time....

Cheffy's Dos Pesos....
Trying to make a difference one palate at a time...

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

Want some more Cheffy Babbles????????
Cheffy's Blog
post #8 of 33
Thread Starter 
Well, actually the client was not "unhappy" In fact they ordered more of the same for this weekend. However, WE were unhappy with it. It just wasn't our "norm" This was our first experience with that large of a group with such a tight budget. It was definitely a learning experience.

I would love to read the article you wrote. Always looking for advice...

Thanks all!

post #9 of 33
I agree with most people here. It is hard to give up money like that, maybe even impossible, but I think you could have come to some better solutions to make both you and the client very happy. Did you buy pre-cut steaks? You could buy whole ribeyes at a lower price. Did you look into Flatiron steaks? Tri-tip or Ball-tip steaks? These tend to be less tender steaks, but they have good flavor and are usually pretty cheap. What about London Broil (grilled flank steak that is then thinly sliced)? Even skirt steak is an option. It's a tough piece of meat if not prepared and sliced properly, but I think the flavor is pretty decent and if done right is not a bad choice. These are type of things we did at the last place I worked. We had all our high end items, but we also catered to bus tours. They wanted an entire lunch for $9-12 per person, salad, entree, dessert and coffee, iced tea, or milk. We developed these lower end "steak" entrees to fit their budget. It works out for both of us. We feel we can provide a decent quality product on a very limited budget and they get "steak" for cheap.
post #10 of 33
The vegan wedding reception menu.....

baby greens with mandrian oranges, hearts of palm, sugar snaps with raspberry viniagrette

black bean and rice salad with parsley dressing

pasta salad with Auro Pro, meat sub that tasted like Italian sausage, zucchini, dried tomatoes, olives, red onions, red peppers, basalmic dressing

carrot and raisin salad with sweet onion dressing.


$15 pp for 200......$3000 not including staff nor tax nor tip nor bev nor cake
um I can't believe NO caterer would work with her. My btm line was better than ever. And all the food was cold!!!! One of the easiest parties I had in a long time. I don't want to be known as the budget caterer, but as one that will work with you.
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #11 of 33
If they insist on cheap steak, only one way to go. No roll PSMO.
post #12 of 33

Systems in the Workplace-Chef's Office Newsletter

I would love to read the article you wrote. Always looking for advice...

Thanks all!


The Chef's Office
November 2003
Systems In Our Workplace

Here we go again....Welcome back to the CheffyBabbles and the Chef's Office.

There have been quite a few emails about the last couple Chef's Office newsletters that had a general gist from some of the recipients that are Chef's/Managers/Owners that I would like to comment on.

Apparently, there are quite a few members that have been posting the Chef's Office in their kitchens/offices/bulletin boards as motivational pieces for their staff. I think that rocks; thanks, it is quite a compliment. I think that we really discuss some cool thoughts that trigger the brain housing group into thinking about a lot of aspects of this business that you don't find in any cookbook or textbook, and I, for one, find it provocative, inspirational and awesome. Thanks to all that send in articles, emails etc. ( Thanks Bento...you rock Buddy!!! )

This issue contains an article I had originally written for RestaurantEdge's newsletter and I thought that it would be a good one to post for our newsletter as well. The story behind the article is that we did a sit down lunch for the United Way to the tune of 1600 people not too long ago. That day Chef Bento, along with our catering manager, Chevre56, and myself had set up systems to make the event run as smooth as possible for both front and back of the house. As we always attempt to do, we held discussions before, during and after the event to analyze who and what we are and who and what we do (or didn't do). This day was an especially inspiring one because all of the systems fell into place and the confusion that often comes with performing functions this large, both in size and staffing, decided to take the day off. It just clicked in all aspects and I found it very inspirational.

During this time, I was asked by Eric Hahn, the owner of RestaurantEdge.com to write a series of articles for the RestaurantEdge newsletter about cooking in volume. I had already written a couple installments for his newsletter and when I got home that day I was so elated by the success of the United Way event I sat and wrote "Systems in Our Workplace". I especially liked this article because it doesn't matter what you do for a living, all people can associate and find some inspiration in this thought process.

Systems in our Workplace
Incorporating/Improving Systems in our Workplace

Sometimes, whether you are restaurant owner, a chef, a catering manager, a waitress, or any position in any profession for that matter, you seem to often find yourselves creating systems to ascertain your professional lives become a simpler version of what you face day to day.

In order to be successful in volume or a la carte production you must be able to communicate to and with your staff and associates what system is going to be in place and if need be, be able to explain why. No idea is a bad idea!!! That is how systems are born.

I had quite a few interesting conversations on this topic this evening, most specifically, we did a party of 1600 for lunch today, and it was a communication game that was played by many and it turned out to be a successful event bringing up some good points in post-event communication.

"Follow your system through"!!!! Some of us may be great at creating systems, but being able to take an idea, expanding on it to create a system and follow it through from beginning to end, sometimes is not that easy of a task.

Systems are created because of one thing...they work.

In our business, it is difficult sometimes to keep a professional working mannerism between departments and inter-departmentally because of the lack of communication. Subjectively, I believe that communication is the root of everything, not only in the culinary/hospitality industry, but in every profession. It is very important to let the left hand know what the right hand is doing regardless of who you are or what you do.

When preparing a meal for 2 that just got sat in Suzy's section or whether you are doing a plate up for 6000, the system process must be the same. An event for 2000 should be just as simple to plan as that 2 top in Suzy's section. Why? Because systems are in place, and the information is available if necessary. If the information is not readily available, then someone needs to "make it happen". Create that system that is going to make life easier.

In every stage of cooking, whether volume or not, systems must be created, if they are not, then you are setting yourself up to fail, or putting yourself in a psychotic frenzy with one eye on the clock while you just stuck your hand on a pan you just took out of the oven with the oven mitt that is on the other hand! Been there, done that, " ain't a lot of fun" ha ha!!

In general, the hospitality industry as a whole, is a stressful job, creating a system that is going to make life easier should always be your first and only option. It's all about taking a problem, attempting a solution and "making it happen"

All systems are dysfunctional in a sense, the operator of the system has to ask themselves how they can take it to the next level, how can it be better, what is it that they don't like about the way the system works and take it to the next level to make it better. Well, you get the picture.

For some of us it might be as simple as knowing in a 50# bag of corn I get 52-57 ears, or it could be what is coming in on the truck, (or better yet, what ISN'T on the truck!!!), where or how tables and displays were set, room layout, service procedures, breakdowns, labor control, the logistics of taking a system to go from point A to point B with the minimal amount of confusion. If you are going to work on an event, regardless if it is 1 or 10,000, you must respect the entire event, from the booking of the party to the ordering, scheduling, all the necessary preparations from beginning to end, overall execution and ultimately, the clean up and analyses of the event. We must understand the role that each system plays/played in the overall orchestration of the event, whether in volume or a la carte, analyze the system, make it better, and most importantly, "make it happen" not only happily, but in the words of my friend, mentor and teacher Chef Bento, "...make it happen in style..."

Cheffy has spoken....

Well, as always, thanks for hanging out with the CheffyBoy, am looking forward to the emails and the inspirational thoughts and articles of my friends...stay tuned for the next issue, I plan on continuing this conversation from an a la carte perspective along with comments from my fellow culinary warriors and the explanation of the Zen-oriented comments that sometimes appear in my writings.
If you are new to the mailing list and would like to view The Chef's Office Archives, I have them archived along with some pictures on my site at RestaurantEdge.com

Peace, Hugs and Cookies,
Michael "Cheffy" Hayes
Trying to make a difference one palate at a time...

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

Want some more Cheffy Babbles????????
Cheffy's Blog
post #13 of 33

what & where are some good Meats

[QUOTE=gtavs] Well... we contacted our supplier and they told us that there is a rib eye available, but they wouldn't recommend it, no one ever orders it... but it would fall within their budget. We contacted the factory to let them know and EXPLAINED to them about the cut of meat we would have to get.
No harm done in selling this party. There are a couple of errors on your part. It seems to me that you only have one purveyor for meats. Big mistake. You don't have the option of shopping around. There are plenty of great steaks around. I have to agree with what Chef Mike suggested. I even have a couple of more steaks that I use for cheap parties. Bistro filets or ranch steaks through Sysco. Very cheap with great flavor. The best part is that they are pre-cut in a cryovac package. I pop them out and marinate them in a garlic herb oil for 24 hours before I mark them. There is massive amounts of savings in just labor alone. If you had to cut the meat for 600 people that would be an all day affair just to cut them. That is one full day of labor saved which translates as money in your pocket. The steaks are about $2+change per. So the meat eats up about 25% food cost at the most. The vege, starch, salad, sauce are no more then $1. So your food cost is around the 35% mark. That isn't bad for large volume cheap parties. What you have to control is the labor cost any way you can. Buying a cheap but good flavor, precut steak is the best way to cut out a lot of labor.
Secondly, I think that telling your guest that you are about to serve them a steak that is bad, poor quality or below par (however you versed it) is a big mistake. You plant seeds in peoples minds when you tell them that. This may come back to haunt you. A better way to inform them is saying that you will purchase the best steak available for the money they are spending.
Now you stated that all a good cut of meat needs is salt and pepper. This may be true to a degree. You knew that you were purchasing a cheap steak. There is a dire need to marinate cheap steaks in a good herb and garlic oil. It will tenderize and improve flavor. Especially if you put some lite beer or white wine. Don't use red as it will change your steaks color into purple. However the addition of alcohol increases foods cost so that may not be an option.
At any rate you need to have another meat purveyor. Purveyors are notorious for putting you over a barrel when they can sniff out that they are the lone purveyor providing you with meats. I have to keep mine honest all of the time by having them bid against each other. I just step back and count the pennies which result into dollars of savings by the end of the month. One holiday season I saved over $3000 by this method alone. That was my raise and my bonus.
Have fun
Hard work never killed anybody but it sure has scared a lot of them.
Hard work never killed anybody but it sure has scared a lot of them.
post #14 of 33

Hey, what do you think about "meat tenderizers"?

I don't mean bashing it to death...even though it's already dead...!

I've tenderized lesser tender cuts of meat by pounding it thin and freezing, for Mexican applications.

So what about Adolphs and whatnot?

Never used 'em, just curious.

post #15 of 33

Cheap meat

I am the Head Journeyman Butcher at my company and I have caterers/restaurants coming to me all the time with the same problem. They want a good quality steak that they don't have to charge an arm and a leg for. I normally recommend a high quality cheaper cut. Choice Angus beef but not Ribeyes and New Yorks. London Broil and Flank Steak are definitely good options. One I particular find works well is a Balltip Sizzler steak. It is a bottom sirloin cut, it is tender and quite flavorful. I sell my Balltip Sizzlers to caterers/restaurants at about $3.50 ~ $4.00 per pound.

It sounds to me that you got in dairy cow beef or some other really low grade. You can tell cow from a true steer because cow fat is yellowed not white. The meat also tends to be dark and purple.
post #16 of 33
Great thread thanks for reviving it....
BBB, thank you for letting us in on how to detect lessor quality meat.
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #17 of 33
You're welcome. I know all kinds of weird stuff. LOL
post #18 of 33
ok, so how do you clean a pig's kidney.....they come slit and attached to the carcus half.

There's a thread on rillettes and pates on the pro chef forum that asks pork fat questions....got any answers?

Yippee a Butcher to ask butchering questions!
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #19 of 33
Have yall ever tried using a "pinner" for lesser cuts of steak? In order to tenderize them. Saw one in Sur La Table the other day and wondered about it. I remember a talking to someone who cheffed at a steak house that shall remain nameless that talked about selling meat as prime aged that was actually cheaper grades that had been pinned...

Just wonderin'?
post #20 of 33
so is a pinner like a pizza spiked roller thingy?
what is it?
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #21 of 33

Cleaning a Pig Kidney

The only way I know how to clean a pig kidney is pretty straight forward. Cut a slit down the side, just large enough you can work. Cut out any veins. Then boil it for awhile, change the water, then boil it again. Viola, cleaned pig kidney.

A pinner is a device that pushes pins into the meat, breaking the meat down. Like a tenderizer, but less obtrusive, all a pinner leaves are tiny pin sized wholes and sometimes impressions on the side it was pinned on. It's really hard to tell after it's been cooked if a pinner has been used.
post #22 of 33
ok, so this morning I'm standing in front of the meat cooler at Restaurant Depot...and there are a whole lot of cuts I've never heard of in my life....
many I've got NO IDEA what so ever where they came from and how they'd best be used.

I bought a ball joint and made beef bourgonon.
of course, flank, chuck, strip, ribeye and tenderloin as well as skirt and brisket are found in generic stores....top round, round, sirloin, top sirloin, T bones....

Ok so there were flaps, balls, joints....all kinds of body parts that I'm baffled by, tomorrow I'll get the names written down. HELP please!
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #23 of 33

The problem.

LoL ok. The only problem we may run in to is that different regions call different cuts different names. (yes, it's frustrating) I probably know 10 different names for each cut of beef and I'm sure that's not all of them. It can even vary from store to store in a town. For instance, Flank steak used to be referred to as London Broil. So in some places it still is. What we call a Rump Roast in the North, they call a Watermelon Roast in the South. I'll give it my best shot though.
post #24 of 33
Hi shroom, Big Bad Butcher described it pretty accurately (the meat pinner). Here is a link to the Surly Table page.

Jaccard Meat Tenderizer: Tenderizer has mulitple blades for any boneless meat cut - Meat & Poultry - Specialty Tools - Kitchen & Bar Tools - Sur La Table

Think it looks interesting to try for fun. But I would think would be pretty labor intensive for quantity cooking unless you could find one with more rows of pins. This looks like a single row? :D
post #25 of 33
The Butcher guy is right ... a copy of "Cutting Up in the Kitchen" by Merle Ellis may be very helpful. and may be found on line at various sources. Even Amazon has it. Highly recommended!

Amazon.com: Cutting Up in the Kitchen: Books: Merle Ellis

post #26 of 33
As I recall, the smaller of these units has one row of pins. But there's a larger unit with three rows.

Yeah, using one is labor intensive. But less so than pounding with a mallet. And the original cut pretty much retains it's size & shape.

The pinner serves two functions. First, it actually breaks down connective tissue, thus tenderizing the meat. And, second, it provides a myriad of paths a marinade can follow into the interior of the meat, thus contributing more to both flavor and tenderness.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #27 of 33
hmmmmm, so pinning and brining are not only flavor enhancements but tenderizing too? So brining opens up the cells to let in moisture....
what would sugar do in a brine?

thanks Shel, wasn't Merle Ellis on television years ago.....seems I vaguely remember this butcher show on Public Television.
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #28 of 33
Yes, he had a television show on, I believe, PBS, maybe another station. He also had a newspaper column that appeared in a few papers. He came from a family of butchers - at least I think his dad was a butcher, maybe Grandpa Ellis as well. And, of course, he had his own shop.

There used to be a produce guy - Joe Carcione - The Greengrocer - who did a show in which he'd tell the audience what was a good buy that week, how to recognize good produce, and so on. He was an early consumer advocate. I loved those shows. Merle would do the same thing, and show the viewers all sorts of neat tricks with meat and poultry.

I've got an old hard cover edition to his book, and he just makes understanding meat so easy and simple, plus he offers up ways to save money by buying or preparing certain cuts. The only thing I don't like about the book is that since it was originally published some years ago, the prices referenced in the book make me cry. It's tough being reminded of great steaks @ 19¢ a pound, and whole chickens for a nickle apiece :lol:

OK, so I engaged in a little hyperbole.

post #29 of 33
Shroom, I'm not quite sure what you're trying to say.

Pinning, except indirectly, doesn't contribute to flavor. It's strictly a way of tenderizing cheap cuts of meat, because you actually break down the connective tissues. Pinning combined with marinating does contribute to both flavor and tenderness, which is what I said.

Marinades serve a two-pronged purpose. They add flavor and contribute to tenderness. The deeper into the meat the marinade pentrates, the greater the effect on both flavor and tenderness.

How did brining enter the picture? Brining is usually salt based. Marinading is usually acid based. The two serve different functions.

For a piece you're going to cook, brining supposedly makes the cut more moist. I have no idea what sugar would do in such a case. For a piece you're going to cure, however, sugar negates some of the flesh-hardening aspects of the salt.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #30 of 33
guess I'm not communicating well these days.....lots on the fire.

this was a recipe for some knock down drag out incredible lamb....
Take lamb belly, cut from about the top of the rack through to the breast. Remove the shoulder blade, and trim any excess fat and skin. To create the brine, go for one gallon of water, one cup of salt, 1/2 cup light brown sugar, and 1/4 cup crystal hot sauce. Brine lamb belly for one week, making sure that it is submerged.

Remove the belly from the brine, and allow to sit uncover overnight in the fridge. Prepare this rub mix:
164 g paprika
48 g chili powder
63 g salt
8 g oregano, dried
17 g cayenne
12 g white pepper, ground
8 g red pepper flakes
23 g garlic powder
6 g sel rose

Sprinkle the bellies with the rub mixture (there will probably be leftover rub), and smoke the bellies until an internal temperature of 150 F.

Just wondering what the sugar in the brine brings to the party.
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
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