Earlier in my catering career I landed what I thought was a really good 350-person event. A big company was having a picnic for their national sales team and I thought this would get our foot in the door for lucrative future work.
The company’s V.P of Finance was handling the event, and mentioned that while he of course wanted everything to look “great,” he was concerned about the price. Taking that into consideration I gave him a good deal and the company signed with us to do the event.
The company had a strong German heritage, so we worked out a menu with bratwurst and German potato salad among the menu items. Desserts were very important, so we went with upscale German pastries and strudels. For beverages, the V.P. wanted some hearty German beers along with soft drinks.
What He Told Us
We were told that all 350 guests would be arriving at the picnic site by bus after a day-long tour. We thought that four bars would be adequate and we communicated that to our outsourced bartending service.
Although the serving time was 5:00 p.m., we arrived at noon; my wife spent hours intricately decorating all the tables. Everything was on schedule and we felt good about the event.
When talking to the V.P about beverages, we mentioned that we thought that we should have an ample supply of Miller Lite on hand, but this was quickly dismissed as we were told this was a German party and that we need lots of Hacker-Pschorr and those types of beers. I remember distinctly that the V.P. said, “Well, if you must, just get a quarter barrel of Lite.”
What He Didn’t Tell Us
What our customer did not tell us was that 350 people had been on a city tour all day without anything to drink on the busses. It was a warm day, and as soon as the guests arrived--literally dying of thirst--they descended upon the bars and blew away our staff. Then, to compound a slow service issue, it turned out that many of the guests were from the South where pilsner-type beers were preferred--especially in the summer. No one wanted a heavy dark beer, so the Lite ran out in 15 minutes, and that translated into a harrowing 5:30 p.m. Friday night desperation trip to the nearest liquor store for me. We also were running out of ice, and the pre-mix soda tanks we used began to spit out only foam. I was sweating now.
We eventually put out the beverage fire and cooked dinner. Since we almost always had salads left over, we calculated that we would get 40 people out of each 10# box of German potato salad—that formula had never failed us. Amazingly, the guests quickly gobbled up the potato salad and the V.P. noticed we were in danger of running out. Now he was upset and said, “We’re a big company. You could have scheduled more help, and there’s no way we wanted to run out of any food items.” In reality, everyone had enough to drink, and almost everyone got to taste the German potato salad, but the damage had been done.
What We Learned
We thought we knew what we were doing, but we broke two catering rules and it cost us:
1) Never let your customer make edicts about an event that are contrary to what you know. We knew the guests would want a light beer, but we gave in to the customer. What we should have said was, “we’ll have plenty of all types of beer on hand, and we will make some type of arrangement to return any unopened kegs.”
2) We were willing to put an entire event at risk for $10.00. We could have had an extra box of German potato salad at the event. Even if we couldn’t use what was left-over, it certainly would have been better than running out. More about this next week.
Hope you are having a good year thus far, and please contact me personally if you have any questions or comments.