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To cater or not to cater this event -- opinions, please!

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
I was approached by the Development Chair of the local Conservative synagogue, who wants Sarada (the area's only glatt Kosher catering service) to cater the shul's major fundraising gala this summer. The event (approximately 150 people) will be held at a wealthy congregant's lake house, and will involve a cocktail hour and sit down dinner, for which they are charging $100/person (i.e., the only people who bother to attend are $$$ people). Sounds great, right?

Here's the rub: they want me to come in at $35/person, including all staff (they will provide the drinks, dinnerware and flatware, and do all the set-up -- we are responsible for clean-up). Last year, a local non-Kosher caterer (which is actually a spin-off of a frozen food company, and uses entirely frozen products -- YUCK!) came in at $31.00/head for the food, and $800 TOTAL for the waitstaff (plus a little extra for linens). They used a total of eight staff for 166 guests (I'm unclear how many of them were kitchen help -- my guess would be they used six waiters and two kitchen staffers).

I think I could probably come up with a $30/person menu (four inexpensive passed hors d'oeuvres, a chilled soup, a fish entree with a vegetarian option, a side grain, a side vegetable and dessert), and would be okay with 2 kitchen staff members plus my partner and myself (we would not charge for our time) but I am VERY concerned about not having enough wait staff -- I normally count on a minimum of 4 servers per every 50 guests, and have been told that the "ideal" server:guest ratio is 1:10. Our waiters are SUPERB, and we pay them well -- I've always been of the opinion that caterers should make the bulk of their money on the food, not on the staff, since underpaid and unhappy staff don't do any one a lick of good -- and I can't see how I can afford 12 staff at between $15 and $25/hour and make any money on this event. And I hate to sully our excellent reputation by catering an event where people get annoyed at having to wait too long for their food, or complain that their food is cold -- all because I could not staff it properly.

What do you think is the MINIMUM number of waiters with which I could squeak by at an event like this, assuming all top-notch waiters?

Should I or should I not give a proposal????

THANKS IN ADVANCE FOR YOUR ADVICE!!!!!

Dawn
post #2 of 17
I would explain to them that the numbers don't add up, and you'll have to pass even bidding the job. Then explain why.

Even if you thought of this as a PR gig, you should at least break even. And I don't see that happening unless you lower your standards. And there's no point doing that.

I would also be a little leery of them doing the set-ups etc. Volunteers whom you don't control are not the best hands. But the results---good, bad,or indifferent---will come down on you.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #3 of 17
I just went through an similar exercise...
Have aps that need little attention so kitchen staff can focus on dinner.
Make dinner a buffet with served entree...double sided with served fish on the end.
This is a fundraiser.
Passed and stationary hodos.....
Preset dinner bev (just need for refills)
Buffet dinner.....I'd add a salad, another room temp veg plater or selection of veg, and rolls to the fish entree with a vegetarian option, a side grain, a side vegetable
Have staff pull plates and serve dessert (avoid coffee if you can)
Less staff.
I pay my staff the same so am well aware of how having inclusive meals with staff rolled in can affect btm line.
There are alot of contingencies....like how far out is the lake house, will your staff need travel time? Do you have you're own equipment/service pieces or will you need to rent? I gather your partner &/or you cook. Do the dishes need to be washed, are they using disposable anything?
150x30-35....$4500-5250

8 paid staff....minimum 4 hours generous $1000-1200 should really cover labor.
The synagog is taking care of bev. and equipment.
Looks like some profit to me.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #4 of 17

here's a thought

Become a donor by

charging them the full price and then giving them a donation back to make it come out that they are only paying $35 per head. Do some high end hors d'oeuvres (they don't come out to much $) and then do some creative but not too expensive main course with incredible salad/sides. Use this as both a marketing opportunity as well as coming off as a really good friend to the organization. They will respect you more if you charge them $95 per head and basically give them a $60 donation if you follow the logic and math. THis way you also have a legit write off - your check to them.

We've discussed this several times over at the Catersource Forum and this seems like a brillant solution. Again don't skimp or be cut your standards, if anything go over and beyond so that you shine in front of all these potential big $$$$ clients. and then you can say, yes an event like this would cost $95 per head and up - we support the cause.
Chef Tigerwoman

Stop Tofu Abuse...Eat Foie Gras...
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Chef Tigerwoman

Stop Tofu Abuse...Eat Foie Gras...
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post #5 of 17
Good Ideas Tigerwoman.....If you cut your rates they will always look to you for a discount. If you write them a significant check you are all of a sudden benefactress of the year....how many times have I done fundraisers and reduced the rate.......:)
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #6 of 17
Thread Starter 
Interesting idea! If you charge a "normal" price for the event, then give back the "excess amount" as a donation, do you actually make a $30 meal or a $95 meal (and if the latter, wouldn't you end up losing your shirt)????? Do you get paid the full amount first, then write a check back to the organization?
post #7 of 17
Thread Starter 
Shroomgirl:

Unfortunately, the synagogue won't even CONSIDER a buffet (I was shot down as soon as I suggested it). This is one of those wonderful situations where they expect to get a Tiffany diamond at a K-Mart price -- it doesn't seem like rocket science that great food and great service are going to cost $$$, yet for some people, this simple concept is mind-boggling.

My favorite example of this disconnect was when some one in the community had Sarada give her an estimate for her daughter's bat mitzvah dinner, then e-mailed us the invoice from her last child's bat mitzvah and demanded to know why we weren't coming in as low as that caterer did. The erstwhile caterer: Mr. Bagel! I e-mailed her back explaining (DUH!) that you cannot compare a custom caterer preparing a meal especially for you to a local bagel shop giving you extra quantities of food mass-produced for the public, and that Sarada does not compete with Mr. Bagel or base its prices on what Mr. Bagel charges. Now, I am normally a pretty laid-back gal, but even after she gave me a lame apology, I was still more than a little peeved -- my poor husband got to hear me fume about Mr. Bagel for weeks thereafter! And we're still happily married -- now if THAT'S not true love, I don't know what is!!!! :)

Dawn
post #8 of 17
using Tigerwoman's idea you can break even.....not make a profit but use it as marketing, you in essence are glorified, still make your costs but you'll not have very much leftover except super PR.....this is actually a great idea, getting high end business is the name of our game. Now, I'd always have in mind how many "special ie marketing benefits" I do each year and for whom. If you want to do one and see what happens, have a quick response when others start knocking on your door wanting gimmees. "We are glad to support our synagog's effort to raise monies for blah blah, donating XXX a year is what we've allocated for the business."

For years I cut my rates for a non-profit in exchange for ads in the brochures sent to a kajillion high ends, full pages in brochures.....at the end of the day the only business I got was from the non-profit and that was by keeping in contact and asking what catering needs they have and that I'd like to bid on them.

Other non-profits that are glorious repeats, I just love when they come back year after year......I get there budget and work within in it to develop something like the thread above...limited staff, lots of food on a buffet, one staff dishing the entree if necessary. Guess it depends how flush you are.....it's easier to not bid on jobs when you don't need the income.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #9 of 17
I have previously had the same dilemma. What I have found personally is that when you oblige this audience with the low price point (not to mention that they usually want exemption for tax, understandable but also gratuties), then the PR you are really going after is catering to wealthy clientele who are looking for the bargain. Otherwise you wind up compromising your standards thinking of whether to use shortcuts to stay within budget.

Now there is one last note to consider....
I have been outbid by others who used a different philosophy. Small portions!!!
They did beautiful HD's but tini's....they plated lovely dinners, but small portions with garnishes that filled the plate (like low cost mini pepper tulips or daikon daisies) to arrest the eye.

I once heard from a caterer who worked with Martha Stewart. Martha would work with Soethby's who only wanted to pay $3.00 per person for cocktail receptions for 3000. Well her thinking was that this audience of well heeled women who are size 0-2 will only eat one hors d'oeuvre anyway. And it's easy to make everything look lavish with 3000 pieces. So she was able to make a profit AND still cater to a high end clientele.

My vote is never to bid on projects where you are not making a profit. This business is too labor intensive and requires perfection for customers to think they will get my services for free.
La torche de l’amour est allumee dans la cuisine.
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La torche de l’amour est allumee dans la cuisine.
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post #10 of 17
You could always go to your local culinary school and see if the class would be interested in helping for charity. Free labor
Thanks,

Jimmie

www.jjskitchen.com
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Thanks,

Jimmie

www.jjskitchen.com
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post #11 of 17

fundriaising woes

Yeah - most fundraisers don't pay off but it depends on your costs and also where you want to spend your charity dollars. I would rather donate my services to an organization I believe in than donate money - as my services can raise more money for them. But for the most part I have to agree with you that there is little future payoff - unless you need the experience or have zero exposure. Even at great events that we get paid well for - often there is no future business - or it takes years. Have had calls 3 years after an event.

THIS IS BRILLANT
NY women really don't eat. and that is just a fact. How else do you maintain that size 0-2. Now the question is how to go after that market but get them to pay. We always come back with lots of extra food at parties with lots of Manhattan women.

That's also why passed h-d only cocktail party allows you to control the amount of food.

We once catered a NYC party for 200 for $12 a head - but in reality it only took 2 servers and how fast can you get things out. They were happy and we still made decent money. and it was a tuesday night. Although when we got there they wanted some of the food put out buffet style - but I refused becauseit wasn't geared for that - I suggested they go to whole foods and get some chips, dips, fruit cheese and desserts - They were from a post production company and the production world is notoriously cheap. Yesterday I was asked to bid on a job for 25 people - 2 dinners in the middle of the night for a daily total of $18 per day for 4 or 5 days. I politely told them that it would be more in the range of 20-25 per meal plus plus (and even then it really wasn't worth it for only 25 people) and what could they expect for $9 a meal. Apparently they were getting "delicious fresh food" well not from me that's for sure. Customers - you have to love them.
Chef Tigerwoman

Stop Tofu Abuse...Eat Foie Gras...
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Chef Tigerwoman

Stop Tofu Abuse...Eat Foie Gras...
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post #12 of 17
Customers - you have to love them.

Who would we cook for without them?
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #13 of 17
fat pets?

seriously annoying when people compare high end products to a low end bid and expect you to match it...

i used to do software design, i put in a bid to develop a database management solution (not software... solution much bigger) it was about 3 months of studying and understanding their current system, a month of planning the needs and capabilities of the new system about 2 months of coding and about another 2 months of testing, this was with 11 people working on the project for a company with over 2,000 employees and a customer database in the hundreds of thousands...

the woman compared me a bid from a guy who was going to install microsoft access and sage and do a few custom forms for them...

i was going to be coding a completely new, customized system developed to cater for every single need they could have out of the box....

needless to say they use access and sage and i cook lol

never drop your standards
post #14 of 17
Thread Starter 
"Never drop your standards" -- words to live by!!!!!!!

One of the best things about this site is learning that I'm not alone in my grievances. My latest: the rabbi of the same synagogue that wants me to give a low-ball bid on their high-end gala asked me to come up with a proposal for his eldest son's bar mitzvah. The budget he and his wife gave me was $30/person for the 150-person Friday night dinner and $37/person for the Saturday evening buffet. They told me they were going to cook for the Saturday morning kiddush, themselves, to save money (DUMB, DUMB, DUMB idea, but I managed with great effort to keep my mouth shut).

While these prices are quite a bit lower than what Sarada usually charges, my partner and I went out of our way to come up with something that met their needs -- this is a SMALL community, and we figured it was a mitzvah for us to do something nice for the local rabbi's family.

Well, no good deed goes unpunished. Despite that we gave a proposal USING THE NUMBERS THE RABBI GAVE US, in the end the family decided not to use us "for economic reasons;" instead, they booked a non-Kosher caterer (who cooks Kosher-style meals using the synagogue's kitchen) who is NOTORIOUSLY bad (the standing joke in the community is that if you attend an event catered by this particular outfit, you should eat beforehand). The really galling part, however, was when the rabbi's wife said to me, " I don't know how he does it, but __________ was able to give us THREE meals for the price that you could do two!" Uh... try using inferior ingredients and making third-rate food!

Thanks for all the advice -- I'm leaning toward not giving the proposal (in the end, I just don't think it pays to kill ourselves to make bubkes -- especially since we are SOOOOOOO busy in the summer, and since we do so many other charity events for the synagogue (we have a deal with them whereby whenever we do an event for them at cost, they give us use of their kitchen for free for an event of the same size)). In any event, stay tuned -- I'll keep you posted!

Dawn
post #15 of 17
Respectfully, Dawn, I cannot imagine what you're thinking. I've been a "shabbos goy" since the early 1950s, when I'd carry my Jewish friend's money to the movie theater on Saturday, because his parents would let him go to the movies, but not carry anything to the theater. A synagague's rabbi gave you budget figures with which to work and you couldn't find a way to accomodate and make a small profit? Do you think either he or his wife will ever recommend you for any catering job, now? This is a word-of-mouth recommendation business. You have to learn how to make budgets work. That does not mean compromising on quality or panache. It means making modifications to engender good will and generate new business. Who, in this rabbi's congregation would not be invited to his son's bar mitzvah? It's a caterer's prospecting dream.

The other caterer got the job because he probably told the rabbi, "I really appreciate this opportunity to cater both Friday night and Saturday night. It'll be very difficult for me to work around your self-catering the Saturday luncheon. So, consider this. I'll also cater the Saturday luncheon with the food at my invoiced cost. You merely pay for the cost per hour of my staff. I'll be happy to contribute my time for this wonderful event."

Been there and done that!

For the next time you get such an offer. Here's my blintz souffle recipe for 650 servings; for a decent sized Saturday post services luncheon. It's simple, uncreative, takes minutes to make, and folks will ask for the recipe.
Blintz Souffle Recipe-650 servings

This is for eighteen large shallow steam line foil pans: 36 servings per pan

54 packages of frozen blintzes, 18 per pan, 324 total blintzes

270 eggs= 23 dozen

4.5 lbs butter melted

9 cups orange juice

1.5 cups vanilla

5.5 cups sugar

5 tablespoons salt

20 lbs. sour cream

Grease all pans with melted margarine then lightly spray with Pam. Place blintzes nine across in two rows across greased bottom. Blend rest of ingredients until smooth and creamy. Pour over blintzes. Allow to rest at room temperature about an hour before baking. In convection oven, bake uncovered at 325 degrees until set. Reheat with foil on pan.***Caution*** they must be watched carefully while baking in the convection oven
as they will “finish” quickly.

***Additional sour cream will be needed for topping
post #16 of 17
pass pass pass pass pass!

Trust me on this as a volunteer in several arts organizations you may and I do mean "may" get one new customer out of it. But you will hopefully build exposure for your company (but at a very big investment cost). Attendees at these type of events have one of two things on their mind (being seen and seeing). They are too involved giving other guests their resumes that support their right to be attending the event or too intent on prooving their art knowledge to care very much about the caterer other than wanting the food to be fabulous and service to be above reproach.

As a former caterer, the amount of work you are describing is way too much for the return in my opinion. I like KYHeirloomers advice!
post #17 of 17
I wonder whatever happened to Sarada?
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