This hand-lettered sign was on the door of a local smoothie outlet:
PLEASE BE ADVISED:
YOU GET WHAT YOU ORDER HERE
IF YOU ORDER A SMOOTHIE AND
THERE IS SOME LEFT OVER
IN THE BLENDER YOU WILL BE CHARGED
FOR THE EXTRA IF YOU WANT IT
Crazy? Apparently customers were noticing that there was a little bit of smoothie left over after their cup was filled and they committed the crime of asking for the extra. Quick-thinking management figured they would put a stop to that practice by letting potential customers know that there would be no way they would get anything for free at this fine smoothie shop. I’m sure a lot of would-be customers are skipping that location.
So what does this have to do with catering? Check out this true story and tell me what you think:
As we all know, it’s hard to turn down a good event even if it is slightly out of your normal every-day operational range. One summer, a client asked if we would cater their 144 person house party. For us, house parties many times equaled trouble. We were used to dealing with straight-forward business events where the customers knew exactly what they wanted and then promptly paid us. Our experiences with private parties had shown us that a number of bad things could happen, but this one seemed OK and we took it anyway.
The menu was simple:
Grilled tenderloin tips
Lightly grilled asparagus in burnt butter
Yukon gold stir-fried potatoes
Sodas, water coffee
We got $27.00 per person plus an 18% service charge and added travel charges plus a fee for paper supplies.
We were great at on-site cooking, so we did everything on top of a Big John charcoal grill. We stayed a little ahead, barely doing more than cooking-to order. By our informal count, after the prescribed two hour serving window had ended, 123 people had passed through the line.
Our theory always was that our job was to make sure all guests at the party were sufficiently served. Of course that entailed estimating the amount of tenderloin to bring. We never told the customer how much we were bringing, and although we had never discussed leftovers, we would always offer to pack up any cooked food so the customer could do what they wanted with it.
I personally babysat this event until I felt it was safe to leave; since everyone was served and happy, I let my staff finish it off.
The next day I got the call. And as David Allan Coe said, “it went something like this here”:
Customer: Where is my meat?
Me: We cooked it and served it.
Customer: I ordered for 144 people and I know we had fewer guests.
Me: Everyone was served and happy.
Customer: Yes, but that meant you had leftovers.
Me: We gave them to you.
Customer: You must have had uncooked tenderloin left.
Me: Maybe we did, but I didn’t personally look.
Customer: Maybe your staff took the meat home to feed their families. (She actually said this.)
Me: I doubt that happened, and furthermore, what would be my motivation for deliberately taking something that you thought belonged to you? Would that foster good customer relations? Did I tell you that you would be entitled to any uncooked food? Did we discuss this? Were we supposed to give you all of the unused plastic forks we brought, for example?
I was now at the point of diminishing returns so this happened:
Me: OK, so what do you want?
Customer: I want my meat.
Me: I don’t have your meat. Do you want $150.00 and we will call it even?
Customer: I guess that would be OK.
Me: Check is going in the mail RIGHT NOW.
You tell me. Should we have included in our proposal what would happen to uncooked product? Should we have offered this customer a couple of bags of raw and dripping tenderloin tips? Should we have given her the two bunches of uncooked asparagus that were in the truck? What about the extra 24-pack of Coke we brought just in case we ran out?
Was she unreasonable, or, in a weird way, was I being as bad as the smoothie-store manager?
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Please email me and let me know.
Contributor – The Corporate Caterer