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Attracting $150.pp vs $30.pp Events

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
I have been reading several posts over the years and the continuous frustrations that caterers have with the low bidding projects, fundraisers for the well heeled and compromising values of the very things that make us thrilled to be in this business.

Why are we competing with our fellow colleagues to accommodate low bids, especially for the well heeled clientele? I think it is time to elevate the expectations and level of this business rather than competing nickel and dime consciousness. THis is a labor intensive business that requires perfection at each event, each platter presented with visual sophistication, and responsiblilty for food safety and the well being of each of the clients we feed.

The more the competition lowers bids, the more the customer will expect it.
If clients want low end, let them go to the Costco's, BJ's and prepared food facilities that can accommodate those low cost events.

I recently had the oppty to work as a private chef for an extremely affluent client. At over $75million per year (which is $1.4mm per week!!!!!) they easily afford the best of the best....homes, RE taxes over $30K, yes they complain of their private jet fuel at $1600 per hour, will purchase wines for $800. and cognacs at $1600. per bottle. They will spend easily $1000. per plate for fundraisers and tens of thousands for their "trophy kitchens".

Maybe it's as easy as - All we collectively have to do is ASK. And begin a collective consciousness that we deserve to be acknowledged for all the creative, labor intensive creations we so enthusiastically make for our customers.

So, I started to do just that....no more $30. menus. (No iceberg lettuce, no wraps, no competing with COSTCO expectations) I recently received a call whether I would do a Dinner for Two. I used to turn that business away, and now I am happy to accommodate for $1000. plate. Customer accepted and booked the oppty again when their parents flew into town.

Do you prefer 150 people at $30. or 45 people at $100.? I'm much happier since I raise the minimum price point and allows for more culinary creativity.

I would love to hear from my culinary colleagues who have made similar decisions for their business.
La torche de l’amour est allumee dans la cuisine.
La torche de l’amour est allumee dans la cuisine.
post #2 of 10

You sound just like my husband, Dennis (a smart cookie if there ever was one, and a terrific business manager) -- whenever I get depressed that I got out-bid by another lower-quality caterer, he asks me if I would prefer to kill myself cooking for 50 different clients and earn $5,000, or work hard to earn that $5,000 off of just one client and relax on the beach the rest of the time? In fact, Dennis thinks that we haven't had ENOUGH clients try to bargain us down or just reject us over our high prices.

OF COURSE you are both right. I don't know why it's so difficult for me to "just say no" and/or not get panicky every time I fail to "seal the deal;" no doubt at least part of it is my overwhelming ego (how can ANY ONE not value Sarada's food over the competition, regardless of what we charge????).

Fortunately, we're headed into the summer season -- that's when all the wealthy Kohser-keeping New Yorkers and Floridians flock to the Berkshires, and we get plenty of business that actually pays our bills.

Thanks for the wake-up call!

post #3 of 10
I am no longer in off site catering, but when I was the people I worked for faced similar problems with the "competing with Costco" crowd. Unfortunally our market size was not large enough to raise the minimum price point. We still needed the $10 BBQ and chicken finger weddings. So what we did, was create two different identities for the company, one was upscale with a $45 per person minimum with the appropriate skilled chef's, cooks, and waitstaff, and the other was the basic catering targeted toward the office party and family reunions. Each identity had a different marketing strategy and in the end both were profitable.
post #4 of 10
You can't make a deal with your competitors because it's called price fixing. The price you get will depend on your market. Price yourself out of the Costco market and you'll attact affluent clientele, but beware to pay the price of not being able to deliver on your promise.

So, when you can't deliver, you drop out of that market again and end up where you started.

Maybe you just gotta be related to a famous movie producer. :O ;)
post #5 of 10
Having a famous name, great looks and no need for cash are tremendous advantages in ANY business venture.
post #6 of 10
Called competition, and there will always be someone to try and take business for less money.

I took a different approach then trying to price fix. I got a stack of my competitors business cards and keep them with me. We then started a client qualification form. We ask the questions of them. If it becomes apparent this will be a low budget gig, I hand them my competitors card and tell them these guys specialize in utility catering and can help you. And I hand them a bunch of the quotes from my competitors where they have done stuff for no profit margin. I want the potential client to understand I am not in the category of a utility caterer, I want them to hear the competitor called a utility caterer, I want them to have quotes from my competitor saying they can do it for $9.00 per plate, and I want my competitor to be forced to book the deal at that price.

It does several things for me:

Makes my competitor busy for that weekend and can not accept a real profitable job so I get it.

Makes my competitor work for nothing all weekend and I love that

Makes sure everyone knows my competitor is the Utility caterer where you go if you want it cheap. And allows me to say we don't do that ulitity catering. We do high end.

Makes my competitor unable to pay real wages for good help so they suck at doing what they do even though it is bottom end stuff.

Means that any screw up on one of the many I send to them will cost them dearly due to low profit margins.

And best of all in the 10 years since I adopted the strategy it allows me to purchase cambros, ovens, trailers, trucks, etc. from my former competitor at the bankruptcy auctions!

And that is how I now have 6 mobile catering kitchens serving the area. Never stoop to their level, just make sure they have all the business they can handle at the no profit margin level. And it makes equipment like 10 cents on the dollar when you can purchase it at the auction.

Profit is about strategy not price arrangements, get a strategy and stick it to the losers that low ball everything. They will go Chapter 7 or get tired of working for nothing and quit the business. And you get to buy good equipment hardly used for a year, cheap!
I am a reduction of my youthful mistakes mixed with the roux of a few adult successes
I am a reduction of my youthful mistakes mixed with the roux of a few adult successes
post #7 of 10
Thread Starter 

All I can say is....


Loved your strategy and the brilliance of keeping the competition busy while I continue to attract the clientele I want. Wished you posted last week when I got a call from a production company to function as pvt chef for actor filming in town for the month. Had not (firmly) insisted on following my instincts and policies and decided to do a trial run with sub standard equipment, unpredictable schedules, literally at last minute, and gruelling hours. Had not dealt directly with the actor and with third party (mis) information, was evaluated on culinary performance based on the information provided.

So many lessons, so little time....Thank you sooooooo much for your post. It made me laugh!!!
La torche de l’amour est allumee dans la cuisine.
La torche de l’amour est allumee dans la cuisine.
post #8 of 10
Utility caterer! I've never heard it called that before! Excellent!
post #9 of 10
My first large scale catering event was in 1964. I consider myself retired, but on rare occasion will produce an event for a friend.

In 43 years I've never criticized nor compared my firm with a competitor. I wish them all nothing other than success.

I take great pride in being to provide all levels of service. If someone wants Costco deli platters with cocktail service, I've always been game to provide it with grace and panache. On the other hand, if it's black tie, caviar, and imported Kobi filet mignon, we can do that as well. I have a profit margin that I maintain. I learned long ago that providing quality box lunches for an executive board meeting may bring very high end future business.

Truthfully, were someone to call me and wish to contract a $1000 per plate dinner for two, I'd probably decline. If it were for twenty, I'd grab it, although my personal "take" for the deal would probably be far less per plate, as I'd hire the best chefs and servers available and pay them very, very well.

I have never considered what others may bid nor have I ever lowered a bid unless the menu was amended by the potential client. We establish the food, service, set-up, etc. I determine what my costs are and what I need to charge to maintain my gross maintain margin. I present the client with the detailed costs to him. If he accepts, we shake hands. If he declines, we also shake hands, but I request that he be honorable and not use my menu.

When I was a kid, I would travel with my father to see a particular butcher. This butcher was right down the city block from another, much larger, butcher; a guy from whom my father never bought anything. One day we went to buy a rib roast. Our butcher was sold out, so my dad bought another cut.
When we left the shop, I asked my father why we hadn't just gone down the block to the larger shop and gotten the rib roast he wanted. My father replied, "Our butcher pays his help before he pays himself. The other guy always pays himself first, then pays his help with what's left."

I think honor and integrity will make a catering operation prosper.
post #10 of 10
Very, Very well Said RSteve.
Enjoy Life ~ Eat out more often
Enjoy Life ~ Eat out more often
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