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Negotiating around getting short-changed

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
Hi all,

This is my first time posting. My partner and I are very new at this with only a handful of off-site catering under our belts, and so we're still learning.... and very much need all the help we can get.

That being said, we were contacted through a personal recommendation to do a last minute job for this Sunday - a fundraiser for 160 guests.

In planning for this event, we were told that last year they paid another caterer between $80 - $85 per head and ended up losing out, so now they wanted us to come in on a budget of between $55-65/pp based on 2 hours passed h.d's, 2 hours buffet sit-down dinner, coffee.

Based on a menu which already includes some high priced items (6 apps in all, of which there will be shrimp, black bass and smoked salmon; 1 chicken, 1 meat, 1 veggie, 1 fish kebab; jasmine rice; organic greens with citrus salad) we quoted them at $60 per person. This includes coffee, tea, and all the ice for the evening (they are providing their own beverages).

So here is the biggie: we had shrimp or salmon for the fish option in the kebab, they inquired about monkfish. We told them that it's a wonderful idea but we didn't mention it because it is cost prohibitive based on the PP they are going with, and that if they chose that option we would have to charge them $3/pp extra. In return, they wanted us to contact their fishmonger even though we informed them that monkfish medallions are at about 70-80 premium over salmon, and even shrimp. Finally we got through to the fishmonger, who of course quoted a $9/lb vs. $5-$5.40/lb for salmon. We are planning to buy the fish wholesale either way, but either way it monkfish will come at a premium vs. salmon. They still want the monkfish, and they don't want to pay the $3/pp, trying to sweep the whole issue under the table.

How do we negotiate around this? Or do we simply leave it as is, and turn around and just shortchange them?

For 160 guests, we were to make 1 kebab of each option plus 25% extra of each kebab. Now we are thinking of simply making less than planned kebabs of monkfish, and using less fish per skewer than originally planned.

Thoughts? Advice? I feel like we've already WAY low-balled ourselves on this event based on it coming in through an established client, and based on our hoping to get more business out of this via the guests.
post #2 of 9
$60pp, 160 guests.....$10000 approx. not sure if this includes tax, tips, staff, rentals, etc. their wine/booze.

When I have a client wanting to pay $10000 I'll eat the $3 per pound cost...your only going to portion in 5-6oz anyway so $1 per skewer.
Add shtuff to the skewer and make as many as you would have before.

2 hour passed aps is a long long time. 45-1 hour is normal. Is something else going on meanwhile?
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #3 of 9
First of all, this is a $10K deal, so you'd better stop operating ad hoc. Everything must be stipulated by contract, with a substantial upfront payment. "Shortchange them?" Do you really want to stay in business?

You present a menu and price. You negotiate and reach an agreement on price and menu and a contract is written with substantial consideration paid! I do think $3.00/pp additionally for the monkfish is high, depending on how much handwork it will involve. I'd have calculated the actual cost difference between the salmon and monkfish poundage and added that into the TL.
post #4 of 9
Thread Starter 

Live and learn

I think I was just a little mad that things that WERE agreed upon were then... dismissed... when I said anything about shortchanging the client. And there was a contract, and advance warning about additional price for that option, etc. That is what brought on this whole thread.

In the end, I/we are too honest to shortchange anyone... especially since in the end it just means shortchanging yourself. Not to mention, these people came through a referral. How awful would that look. Even if they didn't - how awful would we look, middle of the party, running out of food. We were so afraid that would happen, we actually ended up having tons left over (not a good thing either). Well, tons of monkfish. Which is too bad, it was delicious:blush:

All in all, we want to learn to do things well and do things properly, and still end up charging for things we should, and things we should not. I believe that is only fair.

Other than that, want to say, the party was a success. There were lots of insane things happening (missing rentals, fuses blowing, lack of space - basically, thinking on our feet the whole time and dealing with lost time!), but at the end, the client was happy, the guests were happy, people liked our food, and we received some really nice compliments from a retired caterer that totally made our day!!! How incredible to have this man, our own personal cheerleader, give us this great feedback and have us going harder and stronger. One could not ask for any better. He was our guardian angel. And people liked our food! And the client was happy!!!

As for living and learning on how to charge properly, and what we let go of:

the count went up at the last minute (like, less than 48 hours before event), and we spent time (and gas - gosh, prices are insane on gas!) to make sure that we got everything we needed - and more. You never know if the count goes up again, and you don't want to come up short, like I said. And though we had it in our contract that we could charge more for under 48 hour upchange in count, we didn't.

We didn't charge them extra for the monkfish.

We didn't charge them for the ice (does anyone???) for the bars, and because the AC had gone out, we had to go out and get more - and that came close to $100 in all. We didn't charge them for the bar juices that we provided, even though they said they would pay.

We didn't charge them a delivery fee like other places do, nor anything else (like a service fee).

We did feel that on a job that big, little things should be let go of. Were we right on all counts? Please let me know. I want to do the right thing moving forward, and have the client do the right thing moving forward too.

In the meantime, I do hope that if they did like us, they will use us again. Or refer us further. And stick to things we agree on. Just on principle alone. But god bless them, they tipped our staff, and they tipped us. So we know their heart was in the right place. As was ours. But god help us if we are to prep 900 kebabs again:rolleyes: Unless they're monkfish - it was the easiest to skewer.
post #5 of 9
You simply cannot allow that to happen. The contract, once allowed to be amended, has no value. That's when sometimes you have to tell a client, "I'm sorry, but we have a contract." I'm not surprised. Monkfish, often referred to, in the trade, as "poor man's lobster" is not often a favored item by many diners. It's partly because monkfish is a general term for several species of fish. Tilapia is a worse culprit. The name Tilapia is used for 37 different varieties of fish, of which about seven are commonly sold in the U.S. Terrific That's a mistake. When you realize that you need to charge for an upchange and tell that to a potential client, he may throw it back at you that you didn't charge a previous client. (I'm shaking my head with incredulity.) So, at some point you decided to work for minimum wage?Sorry, but you did not. You absorbed costs that you should not have. You bid out the job, per your first post, at $20-25 a plate less than they paid last year, and you absorbed some of the client's costs. You have to stick to those things you agree upon. Hopefully, you made some money. If your pockets are empty from their add ons, why would you want to work with them again???? So, you're saying you didn't add a %age server gratuity into the contract? Tipped you? Why would the owner of a catering company accept a tip?
post #6 of 9
I agree with RSteve on most but not all......

whatever your contract states, charge for last minute additions at a larger price....that is written into my contracts.

what I'm assuming is that they had the bar and you provided ice/, if they provide the bar they provide EVERYTHING. ice included. If you sent out staff for ice there should be a charge.....

gratuities, I work parties....many times I'm the one in the kitchen. If someone offers me a gratuity you can bet I accept and thank them graciously. My staff are paid premium rates and I don't charge gratuities....though on my contracts it says, "does not include gratuities."

There's a learning curve to catering, offsite catering especially. What to charge to stay in the game.

One thing I highly recommend is keeping really good notes. What was missing, what worked what didn't......what would make it easier, what should be in a contract.......

One thing that is always a great touch is handwriting a thank you note.
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #7 of 9
Thread Starter 

thank you!

thank you shroomgirl for your feedback! i haven't been on here in a while.... i like the touch about the thank you note, will do so!

i agree with the tip thing: my partner and i were doing the executive chef thing in the kitchen the whole time. and part of our tip was redestributed to the staff, the rest to pay for the ice and parking (delivery fee charge, usually) that we didn't charge the client for. in the future, these will be things we will charge for, the ice thing especially.

we did keep great notes on this job, and will hopefully do as well and better next time. the only thing that is hard is the pricing thing still, especially in these times of soaring prices when a party 3 months from now might end up costing us twice the price we thought it would cost our pockets today. struggling to figure out what to price without under/over charging is hard, and harder still when you factor in that.
post #8 of 9
Why I never accept a gratuity...As I've written earlier, I'm 99.9% retired, but on occasion, for a personal friend will accept an event. I consider myself a more than capable chef, who over the past four decades has learned his strengths and weaknesses. I have learned to keep this business on a peer to peer basis. The staff with whom I work is always encouraged to think of themselves as professionals performing a valuable service. Although it has never happened, I have never been above telling a rude, nose-in-the-air client, an hour before service, to put on an apron and "do it yourself."

My clients have typically been people with whom I do business on a regular basis or on a direct referral from them: my attorney, stockbroker, physician, etc. I do not tip any of them for their services. I pay them their billable fees. On occasion, I may make a donation in their honor to a charity I know they support.

My clients know up front, in the contract, that there will be a % gratuity, with the amount depending on the quantity and specificity of service. If we provide bar/bartender service, for a client-paid, non-cash bar, there will be no tip jar.

Truthfully, as my active years in the business waned, I became more and more concerned about dram shop laws, DUIs, and other problems associated with serving and over consuming alcoholic beverages. I actively discouraged clients from having unlimited open bars and encouraged a measured moderate service of better wines and champagne.
post #9 of 9
Truthfully, I think a thank you note may be the second most important element in getting return business from a client. Needless to say, a successful prior event is #1.
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