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Is Professionalism Going Down The Tubes?

post #1 of 27
Thread Starter 
:rolleyes:This a follow up post.
I am wondering if the following senerio is being accepted as a standard.
For the past 10-15 years we have been getting Start up caterers that go to the Dollar Store for plastic boxes to serve food from and they use Milk jugs for ice tea, 5 gal. pickle buckets for coffee, plastic garbage bags for salad, garbage cans for other liquids and a carboard box lined with foil for the dinner rolls then drive up in a rental van with a service staff that looks like they picked them up at The home less shelter.
I have been in the catering business for over 50 years and I have learned it is not location,location,location. It's Equipment,Equipment,Equipment.
A professioal is judged by the tools he uses .
I had a butcher tell me once that a "butcher has to as sharp as his knife."
In other words if you don't have knowledge you should not be doing it.
There is no way you can get experience of serving 500 people out of a book.
In the last 20 years I have walked into kitchens and seen these imports for equipment , and turn around and said good-bye. If I don't see Hobart, Blodgett,
Alto Sham, Robot Coupe, etc. and Wear Ever on the pot and pans I leave.
To prepare and serve Quality food it take a lot of Quality Equipment.
I have Silver Trays and Tureens that are over 100 years old that some customers think I should use without a service charge just because I happen to have them.
They don't even understand how much work it takes to get them ready for service.
If it's getting that bad, maybe I should consider giving it up, and just go play golf.
My wife is an executive director of a non profit orginazation, So I go to a lot of Banquets. The only ones that I eat are usually at a Country Club.:thumb:
P.S.
I noticed there was a lot of concern about the Health Dept. and temps. on the fantastic job Just Jim posted on Professional Chef Forums 10/30 09.
Hawiian Luau are not held like a Sunday Brunch where food is on a buffet for sometimes 6 hours. Luaus are served like Buffet Banquet and everyone goes through the line at once. I would think the Health Dept would be more concerned about food in garbage bags and garbage cans than a Hawaiian Luau.
A New England Clam Bake, A Maryland Crabfest or a New Orleans Crawfish Boil where everything is dumped out on a table covered with newspaper would concern me more.:thumb:
post #2 of 27
I have 22 years experience in catering and 33 years cooking.

I see the start up caterers as well. But I long ago realized the people that hire them could not afford my services. The start up caterers do serve a purpose for me, I have received some very nice equipment (most have one or two good pieces) at the bankruptcy auctions that are held when they go under.

I never worried about the "utility caterer" they are not in my segment of the market.
I am a reduction of my youthful mistakes mixed with the roux of a few adult successes
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I am a reduction of my youthful mistakes mixed with the roux of a few adult successes
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post #3 of 27
You are right,but unfortunatly good equip cost a lot of money. We purchased more and more as we got bigger. The beginning was unreal , but with a simple ''The customer is right, and would I like that for myself'' we got bigger and better. We became the largest on premise caterer in the US. We started out in 1969 and by the 1980 were grossing 11 million dollars per year. We took a building that no one new what to do with and transformed it into a catering palace. That was a long time ago and things change, sometimes for better sometime for worse. Been dong this over 50. years and would do it all over again.
CHEFED
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CHEFED
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post #4 of 27
A Great caterer is a person with the knowledge to serve a 7 course French dinner out of the back of a van. A great caterer doesn't need all the bells and Whistles to be great. A great caterer takes a difficult situation and turns it into something easy. If all it took was good equipment to make a good caterer then we would have 90 day wonders all over the place. Knowledge and experience is the only equipment needed for a great catering. I have catered everything from Luaus on remote beaches in Hawaii to 7 course French dinners with very little equipment...........Chef Bill
post #5 of 27
off site catering success relies on breadth of knowledge.

Most of us would LOVE to have top of the line shtuff loaded out.....but don't.....that's what rental companies are for. Menus designed around what you do have.
Gotta go will post later.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #6 of 27
Thread Starter 
:rolleyes:50 years ago the only freezer in our kitchen was in the pantry for Ice Cream.
Everything was made from scratch. I took my appernticeship in a 300 room hotel and did banquets for over 5,000 people with no freezers but we had 8 large walk-in coolers. Would I do that again YES but would I do it today NO. There was Professionalism back then. Today if you took away the Freezers, Microwaves, Convection Ovens, Food processors, Alto-Shams, and Convection Steamers most kitchens could not function. If I had to start over I would choose HVAC or Law or Medicine.There is an expression going around now that I hate. It's called "catered food" meaning warmed over left over and cold food in the circles of people that go to banquets a lot. A lot of the non-profit and fraternal organizations that rely on caterers are loosing membership because of the food being served. Just ask your local Lions Club members. The food I have always served is Country Club style food. But,Today they want to know why it is more expensive.That is why I changed my pricing format of food cost +labor cost+ expenses and it is working better than I expected.:thumb:
post #7 of 27
Country Club Food? that's not always a positive description.....only a handful of CC here prepare decent food.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #8 of 27
IMO they are losing membership because they are among the cheapest people in the world when it comes to paying for food. I have not done a meal for any of these groups since leaving Utility Catering behind years ago. They want it cheap and they always complain because an eight dollar meal is less money then they spend at McDonalds, but expect prime rib for it because they are a service club.

We did not lose our professionalism behind, we left the clients behind that did not appreciate our efforts.
I am a reduction of my youthful mistakes mixed with the roux of a few adult successes
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I am a reduction of my youthful mistakes mixed with the roux of a few adult successes
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post #9 of 27
Thread Starter 
:rolleyes:The last district meeting I went to, the meal ticket was $35 for dry Chicken Cordon Bleu. our last caterer charged $18 for a monthly luncheon. That's why we go to the local Buffet Restaurant now. I don't Know what a Utility Caterer is unless you mean these that open up on shoe string then within a year the landlord gives them the boot.
I have enough equipment to open 6 full size restaurants and have been called a
LO-Ball caterer because I charge Food cost + Labor cost + Expenses.
Our ancestors were told the airplane would not fly too. When was the last time you served Kobe Beef? Can you imagine serving Kobe beef with the normal catering pricing structure of food cost X 4=total price. Even a Live Lobster at a cost of $15ea.X 4=$60 just for the lobster then 4x the cost of everthing else would be a hard sell. :thumb:
post #10 of 27
I think I agree with you. A little.

On one hand, you are correct that it takes quality equipment to open and maintain a catering business. On the other hand, what exactly do you mean by "quality" equipment? Apparently you decide that based on the name brand or where it was manufactured, which is kind of funny. I don't have a Robot Coupe and I don't own a Hobart mixer. Then again, why should I spend the extra money for a brand name? And I really haven't had the need for that type of equipment anyway.

Methinks you are pretty set in your ways and have a narrow depth of field for the world of catering. The playing field is changing daily and not every caterer is a banquet caterer. And not every caterer is a low priced caterer. My business is growing because we offer great food at a reasonable price. We're not serving Kobe beef and lobster, primarily because the market I go for is not interested. On the flipside, we don't serve chicken cordon bleu, because that is not the market I go for. Fortunately I am able use our unique food as a business building proposition.

FWIW, we did several events this past week and we pulled up in a rental van. Why? Because we don't own any vehicles. Two of the events required only a small van, while three of them required a 15 foot box truck. We would have to own and maintain at least three different trucks in order to fit the needs that I fill using a rental company. If you think I wanted to start up a catering company by buying a fleet of vehicles to maintain, you're out of your mind. I am in the catering biz, not the truck fleet biz. And I am a businessman, not an idealist.

-Kevin
post #11 of 27
Utility caterer is a group that relies on price only to sell its product. Usually very inexpensive, usually the foot in the door to the wide array of target vertical markets that is catering. Usually one in 15 makes it to the next level where they figure out how not to work for nothing.

I guess that is good, but only if that equipment is making money for you. I gave up having equipment in storage years ago, much more import to have the cash for the business, not tied up in a storage room full of cook appliances.

Never have, I have eaten it, but found for the price my purchasing of local cattle directly offers a much better product for much much less. And thanks to the herd purchases, much more profitable. But I would but it if someone asked as was will to pay the price.

I use 3.3 X food costs plus the add ons. Backward integrated most linens and decorations to capture that money on the work as well. Also adjust the prices based on head count. I adjust that price based on RONA and ROI goals I have for the business.

One thing about Catering, change is a sure constant.
I am a reduction of my youthful mistakes mixed with the roux of a few adult successes
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I am a reduction of my youthful mistakes mixed with the roux of a few adult successes
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post #12 of 27
Also adjust the price based on head count.

less is more?
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #13 of 27
Thread Starter 
:rolleyes: Most of my equipment is either in one of my 7 trailers or 4 vans on my own property, I don't pay any storage. It's either copper, silver, stainless steel or aluminum
of better quality than you can buy these days. If your pot washer drops a new 200 pan he has just dented it, mine he could thow across the room and not hurt it. But he would be fired of coarse. It's not making me money 24/7 but the day I get rid of a piece I usually have get another wthin the next week.

Kobe Beef or more commonly available Wagyu/Kobe beef has 12 grades from $40-$140&up per lb. Clients would not pay even a mark up of X 3.3 Kobe is only available from Japan. Kobe Beef appeals to the same clients that want fresh Foie Gras at $40 per lb. or Russian Caviar or Dom Perignon Champagne.

When I turn on an oven It takes the same amount of time whether I put in 1 Prime Rib,1 Turkey,1 Leg of lamb or whether I put in 10. If I turn on a 5gal. steam kettle or 10gal.or 20gal. the time is the same. I charge for 1 chef per 100 people avg. $80 to $200 per hour depending on how much manual prep is involved.
Because of this I very seldom turn on my equipment for less than 100 guests.
After all a good lawyer will cost you $!50 or more an hour and he dosen't have $1/2M
invested in equipment. It's my time and my staffs time they are paying me for, they can eat what ever they choose to buy. But, they don't pay for USDA Prime and get USDA Choice or less and they like the honesty.
post #14 of 27
I think there is an acceptable middle ground.
You are referring to extremes, bottom of the barrel to uhigh end.
It sounds like you have some great tools, tools I would be envious of.
But I think a person can do just as fine a job with more medium grade equipment, assuming all knowledge is equal.
I agree, transporting in old tomato boxes, etc. doesn't portray the profession in the best light, but I don't think 200 year old silver is an absolute necessity either, just really nice to have, more important for a high scale function.

BTW, thanks for the kind words about my Luau, it was a blast.
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
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Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
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post #15 of 27
Thread Starter 
:rolleyes: I cook in cooper and serve in silver when ever I can, because that is the way I was trained. It's just not appreciated nowadays. and I haven't seen much medium grade equipment. It's either cheap or quality and very little quality. And my silver is just over 100years old. I have done several Luaus and the cold food never had a chance to get to even 45 degrees. I just think garbage bags and garbage cans should be used for their intended purpose, PERIOD.
post #16 of 27
Thread Starter 
:rolleyes:I just think professonals should present themselves in a professional manner.:thumb:
post #17 of 27
Very interesting idea on your pricing structure. That is why I adjust on head count. At some point I cross the threshhold for gas and electric being covered and everything on top is gravy so I can lower the price a little.

I use copper and Silver as well. But only when the client will pay at the level I need to make it worth risking damage to those items and can make a return on their value.

I feel the same way about my equipment, I have five portable full kitchens fully stocked. Though mine are set up for remote area sustained cooking. (We feed oil rig crews and forest fire fighting units. And whole towns for PR for the oil firms.) We also do a lot of wine dinners in support of our local wineries. That is always Copper and Silver.
I am a reduction of my youthful mistakes mixed with the roux of a few adult successes
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I am a reduction of my youthful mistakes mixed with the roux of a few adult successes
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post #18 of 27

Agree, to a point

I just registered but have been reading this forum and this thread for a week now and really wanted to make a comment.. No, that is not why I registered...

I can see why some want to use cheaper containers to serve as some of the equipment today is WAY over priced.. But I will not elaborate on that...

I DO see your point though. Plastic trash cans and anything plastic, over time develops groves in the sides that just cannot get cleaned out and that becomes a sanitation issue.. And plastic also develops stains that is very unappealing...I think..I mean, here you have some kind of white sauce, (any kind, take your pick) and the inside of the container has red "tomato" stains... Nope, I don't think I would use that...

Now if the container is clean and only used for transfering, say from the off site kitchen to the gig, and IMMEDIATELY put into warmers and other serving equipment, I think that would be ok. BUT only for transfering AND only if those containers were what I call "Dedicated Containers", i.e, NOT EVER used for trash or linens..only and soley for food.


Just my 2 cents...:roll:

ChefJas
post #19 of 27
Thread Starter 
:rolleyes: If you are going to buy "Dedicated Containers" ie. "White Rubbermaid Garbage Cans" you are only a few dollars from a 18X26in. Cambro Food Box of the same size.
Plus you are never sure the garbage can wasn't used for garbage on your day off.
And I know they make clear garbage bags but, I think that is more for security.
The thread was started about Professionalism and not Economy or Versatility :thumb:
post #20 of 27
Yes it was, and I think your methods are very professional.
I also think that there is still a professional middle ground, it doesn't have to be silver or garbage cans.
You are speaking of extremes.
You are not saying "my way is the best way", which is acceptably true, you are saying "my way is the only way".
Or at least that's how I read it, my apologies if I've misinterpretted you.
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
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Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
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post #21 of 27
Thread Starter 
:rolleyes: I still remember when Doctors had problems with cross contamination by not sterlizing their tools properly. I just don't think we should be setting poor examples
for other people to follow. Proper food handling should be practiced by every one.
There is enough programs on TV showing bad habits of employees already. :thumb:
post #22 of 27
Agreed. :thumb:
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
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Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
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post #23 of 27
I've never encountered someone using a can for anything other than their purchased purpose.
I couldn't see it happening unless you weren't in control of your operation.
In catering, what's a "day off?".
I've always been there from open to close, there was never an opportunity for someone to do anything without my knowledge.
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
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Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
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post #24 of 27
Interesting thread.

I've only been cooking for 25 years and ran my own catering biz from '97 to '06.

1) Be gratefull for the cheapo caterers. Why? They make you look
like God himself when the customer finally realizes that it's worth the money to spend on a decent caterer.

If everyone cooked in copper and served on silver, what differentiates you from the other guy? Price? I hate competing on price, kinda like playing strip poker, how low can you go before your cheeks are bare?

During my stint as caterer, we invested heavily in equipment. Buy enough chinaware, glassware etc for 200 pax, and sure as shooting, the next party you do you're gonna need a service for 280.

The way I figured it, you are judged maybe 10% on equipment,(at least what the customer sees) 20% on the contract you issue, 25% on punctuality and professionalism of your staff, 10% on how you deal with the client during and after the event (getting paid), and the rest on quality and originality of food.

One of the most important things I learned with "regular clients" is to MAKE SURE that they DON'T use you for every event, or with corporate catering, every day. NO matter how good you cook or how good your service is, they will tire of you eventually, and then you're gone. I manged to keep some "regs" for almost 5 years this way.

Weddings? I'm sure many here can keep the forum here entertained with "MOB" (mother of bride) stories. I've got a couple that are at least 2 beers long........
...."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"......
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post #25 of 27
Thread Starter 
:rolleyes: Weddings are "supposedly" a once in a lifetime event.
Like the jewelry store, they have one time to sell you a wedding ring
and make 60 to 80% profit, Catering is not that lucrative.
I try hard to avoid them.:thumb:
post #26 of 27
True, all that.

If you notice, I stated I catered, had my own business from '97 to '06. I gave it up.

Why?

People are cheap. Here, there's so much competition, that everyone starting out is pulling their pants lower and lower down just to get the contract. Customers know they are getting crap and know they are paying crap money for crap, but they still do it. We are dealing with people that don't know what good food is, but are very educated in getting quotes, comparing quotes on spreadsheets, and bargaining. They don't know the difference between farm raised poultry and crap vacuum tumbled in a 17% protein solution.

If you have educated customers, Love them. The most difficult part of the catering business is educating the customer. This might take years and several daughter's weddings before they actually smarten up and realize they get what they pay for. Some refuse to be educted. Some insist a caterer is a "wannabee" restauranteur without a restaurant, and is is fair game to be screwed over.



Meh, I now do chocolate and pastry. And I educate, but I set my sights on the future, I educate children. I get them interested, get their hands dirty with high quality chocolate and get them to taste the difference. I'm a chocolate pusher preying on children, brainwashing them to stay away from crap. Will it work? I'll have to wait 10-15 years to find out......
...."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"......
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post #27 of 27
Thread Starter 
[QUOTE=Just Jim;286409]I've never encountered someone using a can for anything other than their purchased purpose.
I couldn't see it happening unless you weren't in control of your operation.
In catering, what's a "day off?".
I've always been there from open to close, there was never an opportunity for someone to do anything without my knowledge.[/QUOTE


:rolleyes:You need to take time off to "recharge" or you will get "burned out".
That's why I Cater, I couldn't do that running a hotel kitchen 7 days a week .
When I did run a hotel kitchen, I would take 1 day off and sometimes it would take
3 days to straight out the problems that occurred on my day off.
You have to have a good Sous Chef to have a smooth operation and they are hard to find. Nowadays they are too competitive for the top position, because that's what the
culinary schools teach them. It use to be the Sous Chef would look for a
Executive Chef position at another house out of respect for the one who taught him.:thumb:
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